“Not South”: The Great Migration in Langston Hughes’ “One-Way Ticket”

by Adriano Elia

Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, Langston Hughes became the most significant personality of the New Negro Movement, later called the Harlem Renaissance. His poem “One-Way Ticket” (1949) is an ideal means for delving into the cultural milieu of the Great Migration – a pivotal moment in shaping new identities in the African-American community. It is a remarkable example of militant poetry, epitomising in simple and effective lines the great urge of his generation. Reconsidering the past experience and achievements of the Harlem Renaissance thirty years later, Hughes looked in retrospect at the drive that pushed massive numbers of African Americans to leave the South to move to northern cities. This essay will explore Hughes’ minimal style and manipulation of the blues form as instrumental in conveying a new spirit of strength and assertiveness. We shall see how the poem’s formal simplicity and directness share with the blues the objective of delivering a political message resulting in a communitarian ideological transformation.