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Hughes, who was writing during the 1920's, was responding to the fact that civil rights had yet to be realized by Black Americans during his lifetime. His rather anguished question was asked by many African Americans during this time because of the "Harlem Renaissance", a time when many Black poets, writers and musicians were being recognized for their literary talents yet they could not stay in the best hotels, own property in "white" neighborhoods and in many cases, were not allowed to even vote for their elected officials. So Hughes asks, how can everyone else in America participate in the democratic process except people like me (who are Black)?
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