A Night in Harlem

Elizabeth Shrode, Guest Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






“We want equality for all”

It was March 19, 1935. The day of the Harlem riot. A teenage boy had been beaten by a store owner and people were going into quite a frenzy about it. The thought of him beaten and bruised for no good reason sickened me. It is just not right, I thought to myself, What could I do to stop this from happening again?

“We want equality for all” they kept chanting.

***

I walked home from the market with my best friend, Beth, and two blocks away from my house she exclaimed,

“Hey Katie! How about we go into town tonight to meet your parents on Fourth Street for supper.”

My family is one of the most prestigious families in town, so naturally parents want me to marry a respectable man, but marriage is the last thing on my mind right now. Sometimes I feel as though I’m not meant to be only a wife, going to fancy events and such. I would rather find a man on my own time without being pressured into marriage, the society pressures are to much for a girl like me. We live on the Upper East Side of New York in an apartment near the top of the building. Beth lives in the penthouse apartment above us, and we love to go onto the roof and watch the sunset with enjoying a bottle of champagne.

***

March 19, 1924.

“So what did you guys do today at the market?…. Did you see any men you thought that we should meet?” Oh my goodness mom, get over the fact that I don’t want to get married right now!

“No, Mom. I shopped for dresses today for a dinner party.”

“Oh that sounds exciting darling, figure out what you want to eat.”

As dinner went on, I grew more and more bored. I glanced over to a nearby bar on Fifth Street and spied a sign that read “New Negro Movement.” I quickly looked away because I did not want to be exposed. I’m surprised that Mama and Father want to eat so close to Harlem. Ignoring the sign, I continued talking to my parents until I heard wonderful jazz music coming from across the

street.

***

I’ve recently been interested in Harlem and because of all the new music and poems that are being written. I enjoy listening to jazz music, and when people like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday started becoming big in the music industry, I enjoy listening even more. I own many records by them, but I can never listen to them when my parents are home. They would never approve of my secret obsession with jazz, so I sneak off every Wednesday and Thursday night to go watch people sing.

***

I opened the mail at home later that night and an invitation to the Civic Club Dinner fell onto the counter. Oh, that will be exciting to see everybody in person, I thought to myself. My mother was trying to determine whether she had the right dress to wear to the event.

“I could wear this dress, but I’m not sure it it will match the venue or if I’ll be to over dressed.”

“You’re always overdressed anyways Mama, why were we even invited anyways?”

“Honey, it’s because they want a higher class family there just so the dinner will get more publicity, and you can wear your new dress that you got today!”

***

The night of the dinner party had come. I was excited to have been invited even if it was just publicity.  I am going to hear many influential people speak.

They sat us  down at a table near the side of the room and I had a perfect view of the stage, So many influential people are going to speak. The whole night went by so fast and I just wish the Langston Hughes would have been there, I want to meet him so bad. I would love a chance to talk to him and get to know his story and how has lives his life.

As I got ready for bed that night after the dinner, I went back and through about the amazing day that I had and I fell asleep dreaming about meeting Langston Hughes.

***

March 19, 1935. A few years had passed since the Civic Club dinner, and I had given up my dreams of meeting Langston Hughes. To my surprise one day, walking down the street on my way to my favorite jazz club, The Apollo Theater and I bumped into somebody.

People need to watch where they are walking! Goodness gracious! I thought to myself.

Watch it!” I said. The voice that answered back took me by surprise.

IT IS LANGSTON HUGHES, I CANNOT BELIEVE IT! I was just rude to him. Oh No, he’s gonna hate me now. I just ruined my chances to get to know him.

“Oh I’m so sorry miss, I didn’t mean to run into you”

“Oh I’m sorry Mr. Hughes” I said right after him.

We talked for a bit on the street and then I told him that I was such a fan and that I would love to get coffee sometime and learn more about his life. He told me about his childhood and what motivated him to write poems and songs, it was very inspirational. Makes me wanna go off and campaign for equality.

***

We were deep into conversation about his life when I heard yelling outside of the cafe window. People were yelling quite loudly, more loud than the street usually sounds at this time of day.

“We want equality for all”

Suddenly I felt an urge to join them, I joined them because I was tired of seeing discrimination against colored people. I wanted equality for all. For all blacks and all whites, all men and women worldwide. Langston and I got up at the same time, we started walking hand in hand to join the chanting of the protesters. I finally felt truly happy and like I was doing what I was meant to do.

***

I opened the front door and mama ran and hugged me,

“What were you doing out this late darling, I was worried about you.”

Oh boy, I’m gonna have to tell her about Langston and the riot and everything. She looked confused because she has no idea about Langston and my obsession with music and Harlem in general.

“What is this sash that you have on?… Harlem forever?”

“Yes mama, I participated in the riot and I felt like I had a real meaning in life, I felt so alive and happy mama. I want to join the movement full time instead of looking for a husband. I can find someone and fall in love on my own time.”

“No Katherine, I will not allow you to do such a thing. You are the perfect age to get married and start a family. You know I’ve always wanted little grandchildren running around in the backyard. What would people think of you? I-I just can’t accept that.”

“Well if you can’t embrace what I want to do and who I want to be then I don’t feel safe to follow my own path. Mama, this isn’t fair to me. I’ve felt this way for a while now. This lifestyle has always been for you, I don’t fit in here. I-I I have to get out of here. I have to leave.”

***

A couple months later, I found myself living alone in a new neighborhood fully involved with the Renaissance. I worked closely with many stars, and got to know Langston Hughes fairly well. As I looked back on my life before Harlem I realized that I may have closed the door to my entire past that  afternoon, but I opened another door to the rest of my life.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Johnson, Charles. “The Civic Club Dinner, March 21, 1924.” The Civic Club Dinner, March 21, 1924, Charles Johnson, 1 Jan. 1970.

“Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance: Poems of the Jazz Age.” Study.com, Study.com, 2003.

Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes, before and beyond Harlem. Carol Pub. Group, 1992.

Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: from the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century. Oxford University Press, 2009.

litgeek42. “Harlem by Langston Hughes.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYKiXg4rNOY.

“Art and Culture of the Harlem Renaissance: Artists, Poets, Authors & Music.” Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/art-and-culture-of-the-harlem-renaissance-artists-poets-authors-music.html. litgeek42. “Harlem by Langston Hughes.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYKiXg4rNOY.

“Art and Culture of the Harlem Renaissance: Artists, Poets, Authors & Music.” Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/art-and-culture-of-the-harlem-renaissance-artists-poets-authors-music.html.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email