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Red-Headed Baby by Langston Hughes

This story comes out of the Harlem Renaissance. It is a story of racism that directly affected African-American women in the Americana of the 1930’s.

The story began in the intimate mind of a Caucasian man who bitterly expressed his opinions regarding race, his immediate environment in Florida and his occupation as a third mate on a boat.

The boat was delayed at port and he was in need of a place to spend his time and money. He remembered being stationed there three years, ago.

He walked to a house occupied by an older black-skinned woman who had a daughter who was much lighter than her. His previous stay was implanted in his memory because the girl who was seventeen at the time complimented him on his red hair.

The bigoted voice of the first person narrative was mean. He was cynical. He reasoned with himself that these women were unscrupulous and cheap.

Yet, he returned.

The young girl he deflowered three years ago was different. She was sassy and experienced. She drank “licker” and wore rouge.

While he was there drinking and flirting with the haughty young woman, a small child emerged from the back room to stare at him. The boy-child was fairer in color than his mother with red hair and blue eyes.

This was a courageous story for its day because it exposed the long held secrets of American’s institution of slavery.

Millions of children were enslaved by their own fathers in the days of antebellum and the years following the American Civil War.

Langston, through the weave of fiction, brought to light how the African-American woman was corralled into the slavery of prostitution and other illegal activities for economic survival.

The man’s reaction to the child was hostile. He was offended by the child’s presence.

Another revelation attributed to the author: The children created were unwelcomed, uninvited and undesirable. Women who bore these undesirable children were treated with malice and held in the restraints of servitude as before emancipation.

This was a difficult story to read. The voice of hatred was very intense and detailed. There was anger toward the man and pity for the women, and a generational horror that continued to survive with each woman.

Yes, this was a disturbing tale but a much needed eye-opener. It disclosed an honest portrayal of history as it was really lived and not something white-washed across a page in a politically correct environment that clouded the truth.

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