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Hello, and welcome to Poetry Soup! I’m your host, Emma Catherine Hoff. Today, I’ll be talking about the poem, “Kids Who Die,” by Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1901, in Joplin, Missouri. As an African American alive at the time of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wrote influential poetry, prose, and plays. These often talked about the lives of Black people and fought against racism. Many of his poems serve as empowering anthems for Black people. 

Hughes was raised by his grandmother after his father left his family and his mother had to seek employment. In high school, he began to write in all genres, in addition to editing the school yearbook. Hughes attended Columbia at first, writing poetry all the while, but left soon after because of racism. He eventually settled at Lincoln University, from which he earned a B.A. degree.

Langston Hughes was a communist. Much of his writing, especially from the 30s (in fact, “Kids Who Die” was written in 1938), shows this, in uniting Black and white working people to achieve one goal – a communist revolution. This can be seen in “Kids Who Die.”

This is for the kids who die,

Black and white,

For kids will die certainly.

The old and rich will live on awhile,

As always,

Eating blood and gold,

Letting kids die.


Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi

Organizing sharecroppers

Kids will die in the streets of Chicago

Organizing workers

Kids will die in the orange groves of California

Telling others to get together

Whites and Filipinos,

Negroes and Mexicans,

All kinds of kids will die

Who don't believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment

And a lousy peace.


Of course, the wise and the learned

Who pen editorials in the papers,

And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names

White and black,

Who make surveys and write books

Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,

And the sleazy courts,

And the bribe-reaching police,

And the blood-loving generals,

And the money-loving preachers

Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,

Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets

To frighten the people—

For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—

And the old and rich don't want the people

To taste the iron of the kids who die,

Don't want the people to get wise to their own power,

To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together


Listen, kids who die—

Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you

Except in our hearts

Maybe your bodies'll be lost in a swamp

Or a prison grave, or the potter's field,

Or the rivers where you're drowned like Leibknecht

But the day will come—

You are sure yourselves that it is coming—

When the marching feet of the masses

Will raise for you a living monument of love,

And joy, and laughter,

And black hands and white hands clasped as one,

And a song that reaches the sky—

The song of the life triumphant

Through the kids who die.

Langston Hughes directs this poem towards the “kids who die.” These people are brave children of all races who organize people to fight for a better future. These children are found all over the world, receiving backlash due to their discontentment with the injustice they face now, their want for something more, for equality and for unity.

These children are imprisoned and killed because they fight for their basic human rights. They are forgotten by people who don’t want change – by generals and police officers and the rich. They are wiped out, written over. Their stories are buried, and in that way, important nutrients are being taken away from the people – the children are iron being taken out of their blood.

Hughes incorporates a turn into his poem as well, in the last stanza. The rest of the poem describes the deaths of the “kids who die,” and acknowledges that in the society we live in, they will continue to die. However, in the last stanza, he speaks directly to these young victims, singing a song of hope, writing that they will eventually succeed and people of all races will be united. This is a change both in tone and in audience – a very skillful and powerful way to end the poem.

One of the most important things about this poem, however, is that it isn’t about Black people fighting against white people, or vice versa. It is, instead, about the fight of working people of all races against the rich, the prejudiced, and those that wish to silence others. Langston Hughes emphasizes the fact that equality and solidarity are key parts of a better world. So the kids who die are dying not only for people of their race, they are dying for all people. The kids who die are not only dying for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all. This message comes across beautifully in Hughes’ writing.

In “Kids Who Die,” Hughes portrays a struggle that we should all participate in, a fight that we should all try to win. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Poetry Soup, and I’ll see you soon with the next one!

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