Monday, March 19, 2012

Langston Hudges - "The Ballad Of The Landlord" Video Recitations

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post includes the words of African American Langston Hughes' poem "The Ballad Of The Landlord". This post also includes a recitation of this poem by Langston Hughes as well as two other videos of this poem. In addition, this post includes three comments from a blogger about a recent incident in Virginia in which a White teacher indicated that a Black student in her classroom needed to be "blacker" in his recitation of "The Ballad Of The Landlord".

I was motivated to showcase the poem "The Ballad Of The Landlord" on this blog by that recent classroom incident. According to multiple news reports, a White high school teacher in Virginia directed a Black student to recite the African American composed poem "The Ballad of The Landlord" "blacker" than he had done. The student refused to do so, and the teacher then recited the poem with a dialect that the student described as that of "a maid on the 1960s"..."like a slave". When the ninth grader asked the teacher if she thought all Black people talked liked that, she reportedly reprimanded him for talking out of turn and told him to sit down.

Editor: That site includes a number of reader comments about this incident. Three of those comments are included in this post.

Here is that poem:

(Langston Hughes)

Landlord, landlord,
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don't you 'member I told you about it
Way last week?

Landlord, landlord,
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It's a wonder you don't fall down.

Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
Ten Bucks you say is due?
Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'l pay you
Till you fix this house up new.

What? You gonna get eviction orders?
You gonna cut off my heat?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?

Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on-till you get through.
You ain't gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.

Police! Police!
Come and get this man!
He's trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!

Copper's whistle!
Patrol bell!
Precinct Station.
Iron cell.
Headlines in press:

[Source: There are numerous online sources for this poem, including the link cited above]

Here's a comment about this poem from

"The Ballad Of The Landlord" From The Landston Hughes Reader, p. 101, © 1957

This poem by Langston Hughes grew out of conditions in New York City’s Harlem in the 1930’s. In graphic terms it describes the escalation of anger and frustration that tenants experienced trying to get landlords to make basic repairs. It is structured like an old time blues song until the final verse where the rhythm changes."
-Charley Noble

The website whose link is posted above includes brief biographical information about Langston Hughes[1902-1967].


Video #1: LH Ballad of the Landlord 1954

Uploaded by moleary1971 on Mar 7, 2012

Langston Hughes from a recording made in 1954.

Video #2: ballad of the landlord

Uploaded by cooldollarbyll on Dec 5, 2008

Editor: This recitation of "The Ballad Of The Landlord" is by William Lyles from the
Carter G. Woodson African American History Club (no city given)

Ballad of the Landlord [animation]

Uploaded by misschris0803 on Apr 27, 2009

Animated Langston Hughes poem for Digital Media 1. First animation. Created using After Effects, Photoshop, and GarageBand

Editor: I agree with these three comments posted by Zen609 on that reader comment thread whose link I gave above.

Disclaimer: I'm not this commenter, and I don't know this commenter.

"The difference between [Langston Hughes'] speech and SAE [Standard American English] Dialect is very slight, much less so than the difference between most dialects of that time and SAE - and VERY different from some stereotypical Southern Dialect.

Langston Hughes was a highly intelligent and educated man, as were most residents of Harlem at that time. Harlem isn't the ghetto - it's not a slum now, and it certainly wasn't a slum in the middle of the century. It wasn't an area populated by the uneducated or underemployed. The residents didn't then or now, speak with stereotypical Southern Accents."
- Sat Mar 17, 2012 11:17 PM EDT


"...people living in Manhattan don't have Southern accents, and most African-Americans don't speak like they came straight from da hood, just like most white Americans don't speak like they come straight from the trailer - that's just TV and movies, it's not real.

But that doesn't mean I think she should be fired."
-Zen609; Sun Mar 18, 2012 3:09 AM EDT


Langston Hughes was not poor, was not uneducated. He did not speak in a Southern dialect - it's Harlem - It's Manhatten.

Harlem is NOT a ghetto, a slum, or da hood. Some people seem to think that because it's a black neighborhood that it must be a ghetto. It's not. And it certainly wasn't in the 20s and 30s. It was an upper middle class neighborhood.

I don't think the teacher should be fired, because I really don't know what she was thinking or that she had some racist intent."
-Sun Mar 18, 2012 4:14 AM EDT


Here are two other recordings uploaded to YouTube of Langston Hughes reciting one of his poems" "Dreams"

and" "I Too".

Also, click for a post on the Langston Hughes' poem "I've Known Rivers"

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