What did Langston Hughes mean when he said, "The Depression brought everybody down a peg or two, and the Negros had but few pegs to fall"?

When Langston Hughes wrote this, he meant that the Depression affected everyone, but the poorest people were hit hardest, and most African Americans were in this category.

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In his autobiography The Big Sea, Langston Hughes recalls "the gay times of the New Negro era in Harlem." He says that this era was already waning in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash, and that after this, "the Depression brought everybody down a peg or two. And the Negroes had but few pegs to fall."

Popular images of the Wall Street crash include former millionaires committing suicide by jumping out of their penthouse suites, having been left with nothing. Hughes's view, however, is more realistic than this stereotype, since he says that everyone was somewhat affected, but most people who were rich would still be relatively comfortable. The rich, after all, had assets they could sell, and the middle classes would suffer a decline in social status, but no serious hardship.

However, those lower down the social scale would not need to fall far in order to be altogether destitute. Most African Americans were close to the bottom of the scale in any case. If they were precariously housed and living in poverty, they would only have to slip down a peg or two to be sleeping on the street and queuing outside soup kitchens. Hughes's point is that the people in society who already had the least were disproportionately harmed by the crash and the ensuing Depression.

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