Form and Content
Langston Hughes’s Famous American Negroes is a collection of brief biographical essays highlighting the individual achievements of seventeen African Americans who have contributed to the history and development of the United States. Beginning with the poet Phillis Wheatley, who was born about 1753, and ending with the baseball player Jackie Robinson, who was still alive when this book was published, Hughes has created a highly selective list that is intended to be representative of the range of African-American achievement rather than an exhaustive study. The general format followed in other works in this series, known as “Famous Biographies for Young People,” is an obvious influence in the form followed by Hughes.
Hughes covers the two centuries of the nation’s existence in a series of chapters placing each historical figure’s achievements against the backdrop of United States history as it is traditionally taught. Figures such as Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth century actor, and Charles C. Spaulding, an insurance executive whose life spanned the Reconstruction era and the first half of the twentieth century, are not well known to the general public, having been excluded from generally used textbooks. Nevertheless, these individuals are afforded the same careful treatment as such famous figures as Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Each of the seventeen chapters takes a narrative form, usually beginning with the...
(The entire section is 446 words.)