News | January 22, 2024

New Langston Hughes Exhibition Focuses on Relationships with Black Artists and Writers

Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives

Langston Hughes

The long-standing friendship between poet Langston Hughes and pioneer photographer Griffith J. Davis is at the centre of the new exhibition The Ways of Langston Hughes: Griff Davis and Black Artists in the Making at the Schomburg Center, a research division of The New York Public Library.

Langston Hughes and Griffith Davis’s friendship began in Hughes’ classroom at Atlanta University where Davis was a student. Multiple professional collaborations emerged from the mentorship, as well as an enduring friendship. From Davis’s career as the first roving reporter at Ebony Magazine through his 35-year career as a pioneering U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Liberia, Davis (1923 - 1993) stayed in touch with his mentor and friend until Hughes died in 1967.

The exhibition - running February 1 - July 8 - offers a photographic look at Langston Hughes, the Poet Laureate of Harlem and champion of Black artists across generations and disciplines, including Dizzy Gillespie, Dorothy West, and Arna Bontemps. Griff Davis’s photography is complemented by personal correspondence between him and Hughes and archival collections from the Schomburg Center’s five divisions, and Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference. 

Notable additions to the exhibition from the Schomburg’s collections include a watercolor by Joseph Barker of Langston Hughes home on East 127th Street, a letter from Hughes to playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and four LPs of poetry, two featuring Hughes as a collaborator with Harry Belafonte and Margaret Danner.

“When I first encountered the catalog reflecting Langston Hughes’s relationship with Griff Davis, it amplified other stories I read about in the Schomburg’s collection, Hughes as champion, mentor, collaborator, and admirer," said Novella Ford, Associate Director of Public Programs and Exhibitions at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

"Working with Davis’s daughter, Dorothy, this exhibition offers a glimpse of Hughes in community with other artists and students, while also being head down and deeply engaged in his writing whether he was in Harlem or Atlanta. The images are intimate and so are the relationships."

Dorothy M. Davis, President of Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives added: “Langston Hughes and my dad were best friends for 20 years. Their friendship spanned the African diaspora. The photographs and personal letters between them in the exhibition provide a rare insight into how these two men supported each other in their pursuit of their respective dreams against all odds. Having the exhibition at the Schomburg is like bringing my dad back to his Harlem neighborhood to see an old friend.”

The Schomburg Center has long been intertwined with the legacy of Langston Hughes (1901 - 1967). Notably, it is home to the public art installation Rivers, featuring verses from Hughes’ first published poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers. The poet’s ashes are interred in a book-shaped urn under the floor, allowing his final resting place to be a public and accessible place for visitors to pay their respects to the Harlem Renaissance icon. 

The Ways of Langston Hughes: Griff Davis and Black Artists in the Making is adapted from the traveling exhibition Griff Davis-Langston Hughes, Letters, and Photographs, 1947 – 1967: A Global Friendship, which originated at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.