Closing the Wardman Park Hotel where Langston Hughes was a busboy and poet.

 

 

There is a popular cafe and book store in Washington D.C. called Busboys and Poets.

When I’m in D.C. to attend a union convention or a protest, I try to drop by.

Busboys and Poets is a community, even as it is located in seven different neighborhoods.

The name Busboys and Poets refers to American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the up-scale Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s prior to gaining fame as a poet.

A few years ago I was attending a meeting of education activists at the Wardman Park when I discovered a plaque to Langston Hughes while searching for a bathroom.

In late November of 1925, American poets Vachel Lindsay of Springfield, Illinois  and Langston Hughes met in in the Wardman Park Hotel dining room.

Lindsay was a guest. Hughes was a busboy.

Lindsay was eating supper with his wife.

At the time, Lindsay was perhaps the most popular American spoken work artist, especially famous for performing his poems, “The Congo: A Stud of the Negro Race,” “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,” and “General William Booth Enters Heaven.”

Hughes gave his three poems “Jazzonia,” “The Weary Blues,” and ” Negro Dancers” to Lindsay.

Lindsay read them and became convinced of Hughes’ talent as a poet and the next night he publically performed these three poems at a reading at the Wardman Park Hotel.

Langston Hughes was 23 at the time, a Columbia University dropout, international traveler, a cook and poet.

By the time of this meeting Hughes was already well- connected with the New York literary and cultural world through Carl Van Vechten who was also Gertrude Stein’s literary executor.  A wealthy native of Iowa, Van Vechten became Langston Hughes’ lifetime friend. They collaborated in “The Harlem Renaissance,” which included writers Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and American jazz musicians,, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Willie “The Lion” Smith.

Langston Hughes went on to write nine full-length plays, 10 books of poetry, nine books of fiction, nine juvenile books, two autobiographies. For years he was a columnist for the Chicago Defender. He went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War for the Baltimore Afro-American. He did the libretto for Kurt Weill’s opera, “Street Scene.”

The memory of my encounter with the back-of-the-hotel plaque at the Wardman Park came back to me this morning as I read that the hotel was shutting down after 102 years of operation.

The hotel’s staff, including the current busboys will be added to the millions of unemployed.

According to Teffera, Local 25 Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Boardman announced that all indications point to Marriott and Wardman Park majority-equity owner, Pacific Life Insurance Company, formally ceasing operations on or around August 21. The Local 25 teleconference lasted around 45 minutes. A second union call was conducted in Spanish.

As Samson Solomon understood it, the hotel plans to provide severance to its more than 525 Local 25 employees, but that multi-tiered pyramid is capped at 10 weeks of pay. Solomon, who has worked at the high-end hotel since 1980, called the current proposal unjust.

“We should get paid according to how many years we served this company,” argued Solomon who, like Teffera, is assigned to the banquet department. “They cannot just tell us, ‘This is the maximum we’re going to pay, 10 weeks.’ That’s not fair.”

Hughes, the busboy and poet, would not be pleased.

 

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