African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

Langston Hughes, "Ruby Brown" (1926)

She was young and beautiful
And golden like the sunshine that warmed her body.
And because she was colored
Mayville had no place to offer her,
Nor fuel for the clean flame of joy
That tried to burn within her soul.

So one day,
Sitting on old Mrs. Latham’s back porch
Polishing the silver,
She asked herself two questions.
And they ran something like this:
What can a colored girl do
On the money from a white woman’s kitchen?
And: Ain’t there any joy in this town?

Now the streets down by the river
Know more about this pretty Ruby Brown,
And the sinister shuttered houses of the Bottoms
Hold a yellow girl
Seeking an answer to her questions.
The good church folk do not mention her mame any more.

But the white men, habitués of the high shuttered houses,
Pay more money to her now than they ever did before,
When she worked in their kitchens.


Published in The Crisis, August 1926

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