Laura Bush likes Langston Hughes; why doesn't James Taranto?

››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

In the May 24 edition of his "Best of the Web Today" column, The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com editor, James Taranto, wrote: "Langston Hughes, the poet who inspired John Kerry's new campaign slogan, 'Let America be America again,' turns out to be a favorite of communists."

In his zeal to conflate Senator John Kerry with communism, Taranto ignored the greater cultural context of Hughes's work -- including winning the Witter Bynner Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship -- and, of course, his pivotal role in the Harlem Renaissance. First Lady Laura Bush even recited a Hughes poem at a 2002 White House event, describing the Renaissance as follows:

The Harlem Renaissance brought great change to American letters and it broadened the influence of literature and social commentary. The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance spans decades and generations. We recognize and appreciate it today, in our society and in works of contemporary writers.

In February 2001, President George W. Bush cited Langston Hughes as one of the writers "that inspire us" in a proclamation celebrating Black History Month. Hughes even received "one of the nation's highest honors" when the U.S. Postal Service printed 120 million stamps bearing his portrait. In the The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Hughes is described as "perhaps the most original of African American poets and, in the breadth and variety of his work, assuredly the most representative of African American writers."

In 1953, Hughes was a target of an interrogation before Senator Joseph McCarthy's infamous Senate Committee on Government Operations' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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