. . . 1934, working on ``The Ways of White Folks,'' his friends included Robinson and Una Jeffers, Sinclair Lewis and Lincoln Steffens and other members of the rich literary and artists colony. All of those people were white.
Arnold Rampersad, in his brilliant two-volume biography of Hughes, ``The Life of Langston Hughes,'' said there were few other black people in Carmel at that time.
According to Rampersad, a prolific writer and professor of English at Stanford University, if Hughes wanted to talk to another black person, he would sometimes drive several miles across the Monterey Peninsula to Pacific Grove, where there were two or three people of African-American descent.
There might have been several more in nearby Monterey, but that would have been about it. Monterey has much more racial diversity now, but Carmel and Pacific Grove, while a bit more balanced than they had been, have been for some time and still are heavily white.
That's why I was surprised to read that a Pacific Grove native, Benjamin Todd Jealous, is the new president of the NAACP. It struck me as welcome but ironic news. Jealous, at 35, is the youngest president in NAACP history.
A former news executive (he was managing editor of Mississippi's oldest black newspaper, the Jackson Advocate), he was born in Pacific Grove and attended its schools through his years at Pacific Grove Middle School. His high school education came at York School, a fine private school in Monterey.
Jealous' parents still make their home on the Monterey Peninsula. Jealous now lives in San Francisco's East Bay in Alameda, with his wife and daughter.
About Hughes, I've always wondered if he got to know John Steinbeck at all, since Steinbeck was in Pacific Grove in the 1930s. So far, I haven't found a reference to them getting together, though they knew many of the same writers and artists. But Hughes did take a road trip or two from Carmel into California's Central Valley and considered writing something about the migrant field workers and their terrible working conditions.
He decided against it, Steinbeck decided to do it, and won the Pulitzer for ``The Grapes of Wrath.'' Hughes had his hands full with the short stories that make up ``The Ways of White Folks,'' and, likely, was busy turning over ideas for poetry, novels and plays, being, like Steinbeck, an incredibly versatile writer.
He had a decent social life in Carmel in 1934, too. He picnicked with the Jeffers, attended parties, and made many friends. Volume I of Rampersad's work shows him in photographs on Carmel Beach with a woman and a German Shepherd, picnicking in Big Sur with Una Jeffers, each holding a bottle of wine, and posing dramatically for an interior portrait.
He also made enemies, not in any overt way, but just by being himself and for being black. And when it became known the local chapter of the John Reed Club sponsored one of his readings, the Right looked at him suspiciously and a newspaper, the Sun, began attacking him for his politics and for associating with whites.
Interestingly, when I did a piece in February on Steinbeck being armed because of threats to his life, I got a call from a Carmel woman saying those things don't happen. When I said, ``Yes, they do,'' she finally said, a bit angrily,``Well, that wouldn't happen in Carmel.''
It was not long after that I began reading Rampersad's Hughes biography and became particularly interested in Hughes' time in Carmel, quickly discovering that that did ``happen'' in Carmel.
There was unrest and anti-Communist fervor all up and down the coast, and in Carmel, according to Rampersad, a citizens group began drilling, armed with riot guns. Hughes commented that he, ``as a Negro,'' was being singled out.
With a kind of hysteria coming over Carmel, and with the leader of a vigilante group warning Hughes through another local black that he, Hughes, was in physical danger, this very important American writer fled, taking the less popular route of through the Santa Cruz Mountains to reach San Francisco, probably to shake off any possible pursuers.
Steep, winding Highway 17 is a testing drive in the best of times; for Hughes that night, possibly being followed, it must have been frightening and nerve-racking.
I think Langston Hughes would be pleased that the Monterey Peninsula he had to flee from nearly seventy-five years ago has, today, produced the new president of the NAACP.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...