James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best-known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "Harlem was in vogue".
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and her husband James Nathaniel Hughes (1871–1934). Both parents were mixed race, and Langston Hughes was of African American, European American and Native American descent. He grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Both his paternal and maternal great-grandmothers were African American, and both his paternal and maternal great-grandfathers were white: one of Scottish and one of Jewish descent. Hughes was named after both his father and his grand-uncle, John Mercer Langston who, in 1888, became the first African American to be elected to the United States Congress from Virginia. Hughes' maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she first married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race. He joined the men in John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds.
In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African American, Native American, and Euro-American ancestry. He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858.