19 March 2021: Edward Weston, Langston Hughes and the Scottsboro Boys Legal Defense Fund

Edward Weston, Langston Hughes, 1932; Gelatin silver print. (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; NPG.77.264)

Note: Unless stated otherwise, all photographs illustrated in this post are vintage prints currently owned by Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc. All photographs by Edward Weston © Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

It was the heart of the Depression, jobs were scarce and millions of people were hoboing around America in pursuit of employment. On 25 March 1931, nine black youths, ages 13 to 19, a group of white men, and two white women illegally hopped a freight train bound from Chattanooga to Memphis. On this ill-fated journey, a brawl between the young African Americans and the white train hoppers escalated from minor charges of vagrancy and assault to false but perilous accusations of rape brought by the two white women. Those unfortunate nine came to be known as the Scottsboro Boys and their tortuous struggles with trials, pending executions, and appeals—including two at the United States Supreme Court—erupted into a cause célèbre whose tragic consequences reverberated around the world.[1]

The Scottsboro Boys with Alabama National Guardsmen outside the Scottsboro Jail, March 26, 1931. L to R: Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Andy Wright, Willie Roberson, Olin Powell, Eugene Williams, Charlie Weems, Roy Wright and Haywood Patterson. (© Bettmann/CORBIS/Corbis Images)

International outcry over the plight of the Scottsboro Boys engendered countless protests, marches, lobbying, and letter writing campaigns.[2] Embraced by multitudes of ordinary citizens, these endeavors were often sponsored by political, civil rights and labor organizations and promoted by eminent cultural, scientific and legal activists. Poems, plays, films, books, and music interpreted and amplified the tale. Even Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is said to have been inspired by the events. Central to these efforts were legal defense fundraising activities, primarily organized under the aegis of the communist affiliated National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. One such ambitious undertaking—an exhibition and sale of original manuscripts, musical scores and works of art—emerged from Carmel, California in early 1934. Langston Hughes, the eminent African American poet and author was one of its primary organizers. Edward Weston was among its donors and sponsors.

Known as a haven for artists and intellectuals, Carmel was also home to conservatives and simmering racial antipathy. Against this backdrop, Langston Hughes, the eminent African American poet and author, arrived in May 1932 to speak on “From Racial to Proletarian Poetry.”[3]

Weston attended that lecture, and the occasion marked the first time he would meet and photograph Hughes. Although Weston failed to record his impressions of either the talk or the portrait sitting in his Daybook, both are reflected in this brief letter of 4 June 1932[4]:

Letter, Edward Weston to Langston Hughes, dated 4 June 1932. (Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26; Box 169, folder 3098)

The photographer and author clearly warmed to each other, for Weston succeeded in capturing Hughes’ intelligence and amiability in a series of seemingly casual yet insightful portraits. In addition to the engaging example illustrated at the head of this post, the only images from this sitting I have been able to locate are preservation prints based on fragile, deteriorated originals in the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Edward Weston, Portraits of Langston Hughes, 1932, images created from digital scans of a deteriorated studio proof on printing out paper. (Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; Box 455, Folder 11025)

Hughes, an avowed leftist at this time, returned to Carmel in the Fall of 1933 following a fourteen month sojourn in the Soviet Union. On 13 October, The Carmel Pine Cone reported: “Langston Hughs [sic], famous American Negro poet and writer, is spending a few months in Noel Sullivan’s cottage on Carmelo. He has just returned from Russia where he has been collecting material for his new book, which he is writing now.”[5] Thanks to the generosity of Noël Sullivan, Hughes’ San Francisco friend and patron, the writer enjoyed a charming Carmel abode rent-free, utilities, groceries and a cook included, and, for added company, Sullivan’s German shepherd, Greta.[6] This fortuitous arrangement not only relieved Hughes of immediate financial pressure, it provided an environment conducive to his creative and political pursuits. This time, Hughes’ stay would be an extended one.

L: Photographer unknown, [Langston Hughes with dog [Greta] on beach at Carmel],1934. (Courtesy The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection); R: Photographer unknown, Noël Sullivan’s Carmel Cottage, “Ennesfree.”(VoiceMap, Carmel-by-the-Sea Scenic Road Walking Tour)

Weston photographed Hughes again this year, creating portraits strikingly different than those of 1932. Rather than the casual striped t-shirt and suede jacket adorned with a lapel flower seen in the earlier photographs, the author now looks every bit the sophisticated intellectual in a suit and tie. In one portrait he holds a pipe to his lips, head turned to gaze directly at the viewer. In the second, a clenched first replaces the pipe as Hughes looks off to the left. The charismatic yet seemingly impromptu impression captured in 1932 has given way to a more studied, yet equally revealing formality.

Edward Weston, Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1933. (Sotheby’s Sale #6407-SOLSTICE, 6 April 1993, Lot 165)
Edward Weston, Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1933, printed later by Dody Weston Thompson. (Sasse Museum of Art, accession #444.16.10)

Soon after settling in, Hughes joined the Carmel chapter of the marxist John Reed Club and, drawing upon his recent travels, lectured there on “Soviet – Asia.”[7]

Carmel Pine Cone, 20 October 1933, p. 5.

Weston likely attended this lecture as well as other Club events, both out of interest in the programs and because many of his friends were members. Yet he appears to have been more of a sympathetic observer than an active adherent and, as this Daybook entry of 23 April 1932 reveals, his initial reactions were less than enthusiastic:

A “John Reed Club” has been started in Carmel. Many of my friends have joined, or organized it. They want me. I went to a meeting. It was dull, humorless, vague. “Comrade” Weston tickles me: it’s so much like “Brother” Weston of the Methodist Church. Both groups are honest, sincere, no doubt, though one must admit the comrades are more intelligent and contemporary. By joining the club one automatically accepts communism, admits its rightness, countenances revolution, collectivization, and so on into the night!  /  How can I join,—honestly, without reservation agree? “Dialectic materialism”—words and more words, leading where? But maybe this world needs just this materialistic “logical conclusion” (Their very words connote a restraint they deny, a crystalization into unyielding reason) before man can “take off” again for fresh heights.[8]

Hughes, on the other hand, was a dedicated proponent who gained critical support for his political advocacy from fellow Club members. This proved especially relevant to his efforts on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys, whose cause he had promoted since 1931. That year, while on a reading tour through the South, Hughes visited the accused men in Kilby Prison and, on December 1st,  his powerful poem “Christ in Alabama” was published in the literary and social commentary magazine Contempo.[9] This was followed in 1932 by Scottsboro, Limited, a collection of four poems (including “Christ in Alabama”) and a play in verse.

Langston Hughes, “Christ in Alabama,” Contempo: A Review of Books and Personalities, 1 December 1931, p. 1.

So, it comes as no surprise to find Hughes initiating a major Scottsboro Boys Legal Defense fundraising venture soon after returning to Carmel. What emerged after months of detailed planning was an extensive benefit exhibition and sale held from 26–28 February 1934 at the Women’s City Club in San Francisco. The event’s official host and auctioneer was none other than actor James Cagney. Organized under the auspices of the Northern California branch of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Lincoln Steffens, chairman), Hughes, Ella Winter and other members of the John Reed Club solicited an impressive international array of original manuscripts and art. Among the treasures donated were five Edward Weston photographs.

Weston not only donated photographs to the sale, he was a member of the Northern California Branch of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. Indeed, his name appears on the roster of members printed on the organization’s letterhead, as seen in a solicitation letter sent by Hughes to Grant Still, the renowned African-American classical composer, conductor and arranger. Dated 21 November 1933 and hand annotated to apply specifically to Still, Hughes asks the musician to contribute a score to the upcoming benefit. Hughes’ letter reads, in part:

You know, I am sure, that the new trials of the Scottsboro boys will take place in Alabama this month. There is an urgent and immediate need for funds to see that these trials are fought through to the finish and that, if necessary, further appeals be taken to the State and United States Supreme Court in order that lynch laws may not triumph, and that these boys, in spite of pronounced evidence of their innocence, be not again sentenced to death. … / … But our local group here at Carmel have evolved a plan which we feel will raise a considerable sum and to which you can be a most valuable contributor. We intend to hold in the near future an exhibition and sale of original manuscripts of famous living authors, (and the work of those artists and musicians who will contribute a drawing or painting or score), the entire proceeds to go to the Scottsboro Defense Fund. Carmel is noted as an artists’ center. Wealthy and distinguished visitors are continually visiting or in residence here, and we feel that such a sale would attract a large number of collectors and beauty lovers. If you would favor us with an original signed manuscript of a first draft of one of your scores, or a portion of a score, we feel that this could be sold at our exhibition at a price which would aid greatly in the freeing of the nine young Negro boys still under the shadow of death in the South. [10]

Letter from Langston Hughes to Grant Still on “National Committee For the Defense of Political Prisoners Northern California Branch” letterhead, 21 November 1933.” (Private Collection)

The list of contributors to this fundraiser reads like a Who’s Who of 1930s arts and letters. To name but a few: authors Robinson Jeffers, D.H. Lawrence, Theodore Dreiser, Ezra Pound, Countee Cullen, Carl Van Vechten (manuscripts and photographs), Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos and Bertrand Russell; photographers Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Johan Hagemeyer, Consuelo Kanaga, Lewis Hine, Edward Steichen, Sonya Noskowiak, and Ansel Adams; and artists William Steig, John Howard, Max Ernst, Henrietta Shore, Jo Davidson, and Anton Refregier.[11] [See Note 11 for a full list]

As the event drew near, detailed announcements began appearing in newspapers, including this article in The Carmel Pine Cone on 23 February 1934:

Carmel is playing a large part in an event of the near future. Many artists and writers, film and society folk are exhibiting a keen interest in the Exhibition and Sale of original poems, manuscripts, drawings, paintings, etchings, caricatures and musical scores to be auctioned by James Cagney, February 28th at the Womens’ City Club of San Francisco at eight o’clock. The scheme originated with Langston Hughes, Negro poet and novelist now living in Carmel and is being carried out by the National Committee for the Defence [sic] of Political Prisoners of which Lincoln Steffens is National Chairman.  /  Edward Weston, Johan Hagemeyer, Sonia Noskowiak, Sybil Anikeef are contributing photographs, some of them of Robinson Jeffers, noted poet, who himself has given an unpublished poem to the Sale. Other portraits to be sold are of Lincoln Steffens, Langston Hughes, Roland Hayes and D.H. Lawrence. Authors living in Carmel have inscribed their portraits.  /  Contributions have come from many other countries also. Claude McKay sent a manuscript from Africa, Jo Davidson a nude from Paris, Ezra Pound an unprintable letter from Rapallo, Italy, and the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell three essays in his own handwriting from Wales. The English biologist Julian Huxley, who stayed in Carmel as a guest of Dr. D. T. MacDougal last year, sent three poems. Manuscripts and works of art have rained in on the committee from all over this country; Anita Loos sent a page of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a national bestseller a few years ago, for the complete manuscript of which she was offered $2000. John dos Possos [sic], Sherwood Anderson, Archibald MacLeish, Genevieve [sic] William Steig and Gardner Rea, illustrators for the “New Yorker,” Ralph Seymour Fletcher, who owns a house in Carmel, Witter Byner, Granville Hicks, Henretta [sic] Shore, John O’Shea, Stanley Wood and Ray Boynton all donors of their works. John Evans, son of Mabel Dodge Luhan, has sent the manusrpt [sic] of his novel “Andrews Harvest” which he finished writing in the Jeffers’ tower recently and which has attracted wide attention. Lincoln Steffens has given five drafts of a fable, “The Pines and the Borers” which appeared in the American “Spectator” and which tells a story of some bugs in Carmel pines. Photographs have been sent from Edward Steichen, “Vanity Fair” photographer, Brett Weston, Lewis Hine and Margaret Bourke-White, associate editor and chief photographer for “Fortune” and “Esquire.”  /  A preview of these exhibits for the press and art lovers will be held at the home of Noel Sullivan in San Francisco on February 21st. …[12]  

The full extent of Weston’s involvement is unclear, but his participation is noted within the event’s publicity, including the official six page catalogue published in conjunction with the sale.[13] 

Exhibition and Sale Catalogue, February 1934 (Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 512, Folder 12721) 

No mention of a Weston portrait of Hughes appears on any of the checklists I reviewed, however one may have been included in the sale, as indicated by a number of newspaper articles. For example, the 12 January 1934 issue of the California Daily Eagle [Los Angeles] mentions “a photograph of Langston Hughes by Edward Weston”[15] and the 26 January 1934 issue of the Kansas City newspaper The Plaindealer, states: “Already in stock are some original poems in manuscript by D.H. Lawrence, a photograph of Langston Hughes by Edward Weston and etchings by O’Shea, Stanley Wood, Refregier and Louis Lozowick.”[16] Both articles were undoubtedly based on an early press release, so it is possible the inventory changed and a Weston portrait of Hughes never made it into the final selection.

The sale was a success, clearing about $1,100.00 (equivalent to approximately $21,000 in 2021)—a fine result in light of Depression era constraints on pocket books. Unfortunately, prices for “pictures” were not recorded, as commented on by Hughes in this letter of 6 March 1934 to “Dear Hirsch” (possibly Alfred H. Hirsch, secretary NCDPL, New York). The letter reads, in part:

Dear Hirsch,  /  Our Sale is over. We greatly appreciated your letter of greeting from the National Office [National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners]. Cagney made a pretty swell auctioneer and we will probably clear about $1100.00 when the bills are paid. The San Francisco office will report to you directly and forward the check. Here are some of the manuscript prices: Jeffers, 67.00; Erskine Scotts Wood, 55.00; Julia Peterkin (who finally answered with a page of ROLL JOURDAN ROLL, 16.00; Countee Cullen, 25.00; Claude McKay, 12.50. I didn’t keep track myself of the picture prices. We still have left over quite a lot of fairly good things including the Norris manuscript of BREAD, the Granville Hicks, a Jack London, and all the music scores among other things which were never put up for sale as we had to close at midnight…[17] 

This extensive undertaking was not the first Scottsboro Legal Defense Fund event to emerge from Carmel. A Press Release (unidentified sender, likely the John Reed Club), dated 27 November [1933] reports on a range of planned activities, among them a gathering of “Carmel Artists and Writers”:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE  /  CARMEL ARTISTS AND WRITERS HOLD SCOTTSBORO MEETING  /  November 27:  Last night a large group of Carmel writers, artists, and visitors gathered at the Girl Scout’s House to hear Loren Miller, Negro journalist of Los Angeles, speak on the Scottsboro Case. From the meeting a petition bearing the signatures of Albert Rhys Williams and a number of other nationally known people was forwarded to the President at Washington urging him to see that adequate protection and fair trials be granted the nine Negro boys. A telegram to the same effect also went to Attorney-General Knight at Decatur, Alabama.  /  A series of programs, including a lecture on Pushkin by John Pittman, editor of the San Francisco SPOKESMAN, and a concert by the young Negro tenor, David Sands, are scheduled at Carmel in the near future for the benefit of the Scottsboro Defense Fund. An evening of proletarian poetry with Langston Hughes reading his poems on Scottsboro has also been planned.[18]   

Weston patronized these and other related events. For example, on 12 January 1934, The Carmel Pine Cone reported that “Roland Hayes, the noted negro tenor who sang to a capacity audience in Sunset School Auditorium last week, contributed one-quarter of the evening’s proceeds to defense of boys convicted in Scottsboro’s famous assault case. …”[19]  Weston recorded his impressions of Hayes’ recital in his Daybook on 13 February 1934: “I was not disappointed in Roland Hayes; indeed he gave me a deep emotional experience, a real fulfillment. An artist faced his audience and gave to them from his innermost spiritual achievement. There may be greater voices,—louder, with more amazing virtuosity, but Hayes ranged beyond all technical barriers. …  /  Brett had photographed Hayes, and pleased him, so he told me after the concert when I introduced myself as “Brett Weston’s father.” A charming, sincere, vital man whom I wish to know better.”[20] 

Carmel offered fertile ground for such politically nuanced activities and Hughes found camaraderie in fellow artists, intellectuals and politicos like Weston, Robinson and Una Jeffers, Lincoln Steffens, Ella Winter, and others. However, despite its bohemian reputation, the town was rife with racial and political discord. In fact, many of its citizens—from shopkeepers to the growing coterie of wealthy residents—harbored racist views and were both politically conservative and adamantly anti-Socialist. The integrated presence of an African American man combined with Hughes’ overt communist sympathies,[21] John Reed Club activities, and vocal support for organized labor—especially the massive May–July 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike in San Francisco—infuriated many. Eventually, under an imminent threat to his safety and, as he wrote, “not wishing to be tarred and feathered,” Hughes left Carmel.[22] 

Yet, the town and its restorative natural beauty proved a productive muse for Hughes. Over the ensuing years he would return a number of times for stays both brief and extended.[23] He and Weston continued to socialize during these visits, as reflected in this February 1940 Monterey Peninsula Herald society column tidbit :

Mr. and Mrs. Donald Ogden Stewart were hosts at a cocktail party in honor of Langston Hughes, novelist, poet and playwright, who left Carmel Sunday after a six months’ stay here. He has been the guest of Noel Sullivan at Hollow Hills farm in the Carmel valley and has written, while here, a new series of blues, a number of articles, and his autobiography, which will be published by Alfred Knopf in the fall. / Guests at the Stewarts’ party were Edward and Charis Weston, Leon Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson Jeffers and Donnan Jeffers, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dickinson, Mr. and Mrs. John Langley Howard, Marie Short, Chick McCarthy, Mrs. Thea Winter, Pat and John Cunningham, Noel Sullivan, Connie Bell, Miss Betty Vinton and Miss Perkins, both of Washington, D.C.[24]

Hughes 1933–1934 sojourn may have ended in duress, but politics certainly did not hinder his creativity. In addition to a number of articles, he completed The Ways of White Folks, his acclaimed book of short stories, as well as this elegiac poem, “Moonlight Night: Carmel,” published in the 15 June 1934 issue of The Carmel Pine Cone:[25] 

Langston Hughes, Poem, “Moonlight Night: Carmel,” The Carmel Pine Cone, 15 June 1934.


1  The Scottsboro Boys harrowing experience with Jim Crow era racial injustice remains a cornerstone of the American Civil Rights Movement. The nine youths and their ages at the time of arrest were: Olen Montgomery (17), Clarence Norris (18), Haywood Patterson (18), Ozzie Powell (16), Willie Roberson (17), Charley Weems (19), Eugene Williams (13), Andy Wright (19) and his brother Leroy (Roy) Wright (12 or 13). Although they became indelibly linked, five of the nine boys were unknown to each other prior to the 1931 event. (Only the Wright brothers, Patterson and Williams were acquainted.) Following the altercation, all nine—accused by the men with whom they’d fought—were taken from the train in Paint Rock, Alabama and transported to the County Jail in Scottsboro. Originally charged with vagrancy and assault, the situation quickly escalated when the two white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, accused the boys of sexual assault. The atmosphere proved so volatile that the day after the arrests the Alabama National Guard was called in to prevent a lynching. This incendiary situation, both inside and outside the courtroom, coupled with racially biased all-white juries, virtually guaranteed guilty verdicts and their resultant death sentences. The original trials lasted a mere three days (April 6–9). Only Roy Wright escaped the death penalty when, as the youngest defendant, his hearing resulted in a hung jury. Indeed, as minors (under the age of 16) both Roy Wright and Eugene Williams should have been tried in Juvenile Court. It was later shown that Price and Bates had leveled their false rape charges to deflect the possibility of prosecution for vagrancy and prostitution. Although Price never wavered from her allegation, in the Spring of 1933, Ruby Bates officially recanted, testifying for the defense that she and Price had, indeed, fabricated their story. Bates subsequently joined the International Labor Defense and campaigned vigorously for the Boys release. In May 1934, she accompanied the mothers of five of the Scottsboro Boys to a march in Washington, D.C. where they hoped to meet with and petition President Roosevelt for pardons.

Eight of the Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death by electrocution in the original April 1931 set of trials (they were tried separately, not as a group). Thankfully, these sentences were never carried out. Defended through the efforts of the International Defense League, the executions were stayed by a long and complicated series of appeals, fresh trials and re-sentencings that stretched from 1932 into the 1940s. Cases in front of the Alabama Supreme Court triggered two hearings before the United States Supreme Court. The first, in November 1932, found that the defendants’ rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated and the cases were remanded back to Alabama. The second, in April 1935, overturned the convictions of two defendants, Clarence Norris and Haywood Patterson, again citing Fourteenth Amendment violations based on the exclusion of African Americans from the jury rolls. In 1937, rape charges were dropped against Roy Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery and Willie Roberson. Paroles were eventually granted to Charley Weems in 1938, Clarence Norris and Clarence Wright in 1944 (although both Norris and Wright were re-incarcerated for violating the terms of their parole), and Ozzie Powell in 1946. In 1976, Norris, by that time the last surviving Scottsboro Boy, was pardoned by Governor George Wallace. However, it wasn’t until 2013, more than eighty years after the seminal event and its trials, that the Alabama Legislature unanimously exonerated the Scottsboro Boys and posthumous pardons were issued for all nine by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

 2  Sponsorship of the defendants, originally spearheaded by two competing organizations—the Communist affiliated National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (founded in 1931 as an adjunct to the International Labor Defense) and, until 1932, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—framed the discourse and led to numerous fundraising initiatives.

3  “Noted Negro Writer to Make Appearance Here.” The Carmel Pine Cone, 27 May 1932, p. 3.

This article reads: “Lanston [sic] Hughes, noted negro poet and author, will give a lecture in Carmel next Wednesday, June 1, under the auspices of the Carmel Community Playhouse. He will speak on “From Racial to Proletarian Poetry” and will read from his own and other works.  /  Hughes has won three national prizes with his poetry and is also the author of “Not Without Laughter,” a novel. His talk here will undoubtedly be of great interest to many Carmel residents. During the intermission, Noel Sullivan will sing negro spirituals.”

4  Letter, Edward Weston to Langston Hughes, dated 4 June 1932. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26; Box 169, folder 3098: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale).)

5  “The Village News-Reel: Langston Hughs [sic], famous American Negro poet and writer…,” Carmel Pine Cone, 13 October 1933, p. 10. 

6  Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, Vol. I 1902-1941 “I, Too, Sing America,” New York, Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1986, p. 277.

7  “Langston Hughes On “Soviet – Asia”.” Carmel Pine Cone, 20 October 1933, p. 5.

8  Edward Weston, The Daybooks of Edward Weston, vol. 2, California, ed. Nancy Newhall (Millerton, N.Y.,1973), 23 April 1932, p. 257. Chapter 19, “The Mass and the Individual.”

Despite this less than flattering appraisal of the John Reed Club’s proceedings, Weston lent open support to certain of its activities. For example, in August 1932, when controversy raged in Carmel over a donation of leftist publications from the Club to the Carmel Library, Weston spoke out in defense of the donation. See: “ ‘Battle of Books’ Rages Over ‘Red’ Writings, Carmel,” Monterey Peninsula Herald, 13 August 1932, p. 7.

9  Langston Hughes, “Christ in Alabama,” Contempo: A Review of Books and Personalities, Vol. 1, No. 13, 1 December 1931, p. 1. Flanking Hughes’ poem on the front page is an article by Lincoln Steffens titled “Lynching by Law or by Lustful Mob North and South: Red and Black” and an article by Hughes titled “Southern Gentlemen, White Prostitutes, Mill-Owners, and Negroes.” Contempo was a journal of literature and social commentary published from 1931 to 1934 by former University of North Carolina students Milton Abernethy and Anthony Buttitta. In addition to Hughes and Steffens, over time, contributors included Erskine Caldwell, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Kay Boyle, Conrad Aiken, Sherwood Anderson, Hart Crane, Eugene O’Neill, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken, William Faulkner, and many others.

10  Typewritten, hand annotated and signed letter from Langston Hughes to Grant Still on “National Committee For the Defense of Political Prisoners Northern California Branch” letterhead; dated “Carmel, California / P.O. Box 1582 / November 21, 1933.” (Private Collection)

11  Typewritten, 5-page list titled “PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ETC.,” n.d. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 512, folder 12721: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale).)

This appears to be the final, and most detailed, inventory of the items included in the exhibit and sale. The checklist reads: 

PAINTINGS, LITHOGRAPHS, DRAWINGS, ETC.  /  1. Boynton, Ray / Water color, ‘Carmel Mission’  /  2. Boynton, Ray / Charcoal Drawing, ‘Landscape’  / 3. Boynton, Ray / Water color, ‘Landscape’  /  4. Cagney, James / Pen and Ink Sketch, [typed but struck through:] ‘Steffie’ [handwritten insertion, in pencil:] Gorky  /  5. Covarrubias / Cartoon, reprint, signed, ‘W.C. Handy’  /  6. Davidson, Jo / Crayon drawing, ‘Dancer’  /  7. Davidson, Jo / Crayon drawing, ‘Dancer’  /  7. Davidson, Jo / Pencil drawing, ‘Nude’  /  8. G’AG, Wanda / Original drawing for ABC BUNNY, ‘F’ is for Frog’  /  9. W.C. Handy / 3 photographs signed   /  10. Hine, Lewis / Photograph, ‘One Mile From Daylight’  /  11. Lozowick, Louis / Lithograph  /  12. Palmer, Peggy / Water color, mounted and framed, ‘Le Bibliophile’  /  13. Refregier, Anton / 4 drawings / ‘Fisherwoman’ – pencil / ‘Lake’ – water color / ‘N.Y., 1928’ – crayon / ‘Strike’ – water color  /  14. Seymour, Ralph Fletcher / Etching, ‘Luck with Alcario’  /  15. Sheridan, Joseph / Pastel, ‘Gaity’  /  16. Shore, Henrietta / Mounted lithograph, ‘Indian Woman and Child’  /  17. Shore, Henrietta / 2 lithographs, ‘The Women of Oaxactl’  /  18. Steichen / Mounted photograph, ‘Magnolia’  /  19. Steig, William / Original drawing  /  20. Reprint of drawing — Steig  /  21. Wesselhoefft, Mary / Mounted poster, ‘Industry Bound’  /  22. Wesselhoefft, Mary / Water color, ‘Still Life’  /  [p. 2:]  /  PAINTINGS, LITHOGRAPHS, DRAWINGS, etc., page 2.  /  23. Weston, Edward / 5 photographs / ‘Robinson Jeffers’, signed by Jeffers, inscribed to Scottsboro Boys / ‘D.H. Lawrence’ / ‘Lincoln Steffens’, signed by Steffens / 2 Still Life Photographs, signed by Weston, inscribed to Scottsboro Boys  /  24. White, Margaret Bourke / 13 mounted photographs  /  25. Wood, Stanley / Water color, 16” x 20”, ‘The House at Cannery Cove’  /  26. Van Vechten, Carl / 9 photographs of Ethel Waters, signed by Waters and van [sic] Vechten  /  27. Wilson, Barbara / Pencil sketch of a Negro worker, in a frame 18” x 21”  /  28. Young, Ralph / Photograph, ‘Line and Form’  /  29. Ward, Lynd / 4 woodcuts  /  30. Block, Julius / 2 lithographs  /  31. Kanaga, Consuelo / 2 photographs, Negroes  /  32. Hagemeyer, Johan / Photograph, ‘Robinson Jeffers’ / Photograph, ‘Hands’  /  33. Hagemeyer, Johan / Photograph, ‘Bust of Jeffers by Jo Davidson’  /  34. O’Shea, John / Black and White  /  35. Noskowiak, Sonia / Dunes of Oceano  /  MANUSCRIPTS  /  1. Gordon, Taylor, negro playwright / ‘Ziogaboo Dream’, typewritten script, 292 pages  /  Hicks, Granville, American critic / ‘The Great Tradition’, first draft, April, 1931–Oct., 1932, typewritten. 300 pages, signed  /  3. Conroy, Jack, American author / ‘Rubber Heels’, typewritten script of a short story, part of the novel ‘Disinherited’ 26 pages, signed.  / 4. McKay, Claude, Negro poet / ‘Cities’, typewritten script with corrections, signed  /  5. Dos Passos, John, American author / ‘Passport Photo’, hand-written script, signed, 4 pages–portion of a forthcoming book ‘In All Countries’  /  6. Boyd, Thomas, American author / Original manuscript, typed, with corrections in handwriting, short story, 11 pages  /  7. Stacy, Walt / ‘Southern Mill Town’, typewritten script of a poem, signed. 2 pages  /  [p. 3:]  8. Welch, Marie de L., San Francisco poet / Original script of two poems, signed — ‘Shanty’ and ‘Harvests’ 2 pages  /  9. Powys, Llewelyn / Original manuscript of a poem, signed. 1 page  / 10. Cullen, Countee, Negro poet / Original manuscripts of two poems, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Sonnet’, signed. 2 pages  /  11. Kreymborg, Alfred, American poet / ‘Red Chant’, poem, typewritten script, signed. 1 page  /  12. Bontemps, Arna / ‘Saturday Night’ Huntsville’, short story, typewritten script, signed. 5 pages.  /  13. Anderson, Sherwood, American author / Original manuscript, 6 pages  /  14. Leonard, William Ellery, American poet / Author’s manuscript of last section of ‘The Lynching Bee’, signed poem. 2 pages  /  15. Boyd, Ruth Fitch / ‘Scottsboro, 1933,’ a poem, signed manuscript. 1 page  /  16. Mumford, Lewis, American critic / ‘The Task of Modern Biography’, typewritten script of an essay, signed. 11 pages  /  17. Bynner, Witter, American poet / ‘Against the Cold’, signed pamphlet and a long poem  /  18. Deutsch, Babette, American poet / ‘To a Friend Who Fears Revolution’, typewritten poem, signed, 1 page.  /  19. Gold, Michael, American author and critic / ‘A letter to the Author of a First Book’, typewritten script of a review. 4 pages, signed.  /  20. Waters, Jim / ‘Red Messengers’, typewritten poem, signed. 1 page  /  21. Young, Art, American cartoonist / Original manuscript of a letter to the ‘New Masses’, signed / 1 page, ‘Inferno’, signed copy  /  22. Strachey, John, English author / ‘Fascism in America’, typewritten article with corrections, signed. 7 pages / Also, one page of notes in his handwriting with corrections  /  23. Bontemps, Arna / Two poems, typed, signed — ‘Length of Moon’, ‘The Return’. 3 pages  /  24. Riggs, Lynn / 5 drafts of a sonnet, ‘Yet the Earth’, manuscript and type 5 pages  /  25. Locke, Alain, Negro critic / ‘The Poetry of Negro Life’, original manuscript of preface to ‘Four Negro Poets’, signed. 4 pages.  /  26. Schomburg, Arthur / ‘Juan Latino, Magister Latinus’, magazine pages of an article, signed. 4 pages  /  27. Coates, Robert M., American author / ‘Yesterdays’ Burdens’, a novel, complete typewritten copy, with author’s corrections signed. 181 pages.  /  [p.4:] 28. Halper, Albert, American author / ‘Chicago Side-show’, privately printed booklet, signed. 22 pages  /  29. Teasdale, Sara, American poet / Original manuscript of two poems, ‘Song’ and ‘Sonnet’, initialed. 1 page  /  30. Hoyt, Helen, American poet / ‘Apples Here in My Basket’, presentation copy of book of poems, signed. 78 pages.  /  31. Gidlow, Elsa, San Francisco poet / ‘From Alba Hill’, privately printed poem, signed / ‘Criminal Class’, typewritten poem, signed.  /  32. Ornitz, Sam, American playwright and Movie Director / Original draft of the first act of a play, ‘In New Kentucky’’ 70 pages  /  33. Older, Fremont, San Francisco editor and journalist / ‘The Pleasures of Commuting’, original manuscript of an article, signed. 6 pages.  /  34. Dreiser, Theodore, American author / ‘Chief Strong Bow Speaks’, typewritten copy of a poem, signed. 2 pages.  /  35. Scott, Evelyn, American poet / ‘Snow’, a poem, original manuscript, signed. 1 page  /  36. Strachey, John, English author / 1 page of the original manuscript of the ‘Menace of Fadcism [sic]. handwritten with corrections  /  37. Fishback, Margaret, American poet / ‘Shopgirl’s Complaint’, a poem, original manuscript, signed. 1 page.  /  38. Loos, Anita, American playwright / 1 page of the original manuscript of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’  /  39. Steffens, Lincoln, American author / ‘The Pines and the Borers’, 3 drafts of an original manuscript, fable, 12 pages, including final typewritten script  /  40. Powys, John Cower [sic] / ‘The Tragic Nineties’, complete manuscript of an essay, signed. 15 pages  /  41. Powys, John Cowper / ‘Detachment’, complete original manuscript of an essay, signed, 22 pages.  /  42. Steffens, Lincoln, American author / An original unpublished manuscript, signed, ‘It’s All News’. (published in ‘Partisan, No. 3’ 5 pages.  /  43. MacLeish, Archibald, American poet / ‘Seafarer’, a poem, original manuscript, signed. 1 page  /  44. Powys, John Cowper, / ‘The Moon Over Megalopolis’, original manuscript of a poem. 2 pages.  /  45. Ficke, Arthur Davison / ‘Nursery Rhyme’, a poem, typewritten script, signed. 1 page  /  46. Schneider, Isidor / ‘A Night in Late Winter’, original manuscript of a poem published, signed. 1 page.  /  [p. 5:]  47. Huxley, Julian / 3 poems; 2 manuscripts, 1 typewritten with corrections in handwriting. 3 pages  /  48. Steffens, Lincoln, American author / ‘John Reed’, a rare booklet, preface by Clarence Darrow, signed by both. 14 pages  /  49. Russell, Bertrand, English author / 3 short essays in his own hand, signed / ‘Intelligence vs. Cruelty’ 3 pages, ‘Respect for Law’ 3 pages. ‘The End of Intelligence vs. Cruelty’ 3 pages, ‘Respect for Law’ 3 pages, ‘The End of Pioneering’ 4 pages.  /  50. Jeffers, Robinson, American poet / signed manuscript of an unfinished poem — in pencil. 4 pages.  /  51. Wood, Charles Erskine Scott / Poem, ‘O Alabama’  /  52. Field, Sara Bard / Poem, ‘To the Master of the House’  /  53. Pound, Ezra / Letter  /  54. Langston Hughes  /  55. Williams, Albert Rhys  /  56. Darrow, Clarence  /  57. Hagemeyer — Portrait of Roland Hayes  /  58. John O’Shea — Negro head in charcoal  /  59. Ralph Young — 2 Camera Studies  /  60. Frank Swinerton — Manuscript  /  61. Gertrude Atheronon [sic] — Black Oxen, MS.  / 62. Katherline [sic] Norris — Manuscript 

12  “Carmel Takes Part in San Francisco Event,” The Carmel Pine Cone 20:8, 23 February 1934, p. 5.

13  [Exhibition Catalogue] National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, Northern California Branch. Exhibition and Sale of Original Manuscripts of Novels, Poems, Plays, & Essays Drawings, Paintings, Caricatures, Letters, Musical Scores, Books: Women’s City Club 465 Post Street February 26 & 27—10 to 5 February 28—10 to 10. San Francisco, California [Printed by Grabhorn Press]: Scottsboro Defense Fund Northern California, February 1934. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 512, folder 12721: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale).)

14  Identification of the five Weston photographs donated to this sale is based on the following checklists (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 512, folder 12721: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale.):

(1)  Undated, typewritten, two-page checklist titled “Scottsboro Exhibit.” One Weston photograph listed as follows: “Edward Weston ‘White Radish’.” NOTE: A print of White Radish in the collection of the Getty Museum, accession number 84.XM.896.1, is catalogued on the museum website as follows: “Inscr. ro. mount in pencil: 2/50″.; titled, & inscr. “To the Scottsboro Boys” & “56V 2/50” vo. mount in pencil.”

(2)  Undated, typewritten, two-page checklist titled “Scottsboro Exhibit.” Weston listed twice as follows: “Edward Weston Photo Study” and “Edward Weston five photos, 3 portarits [sic].”

(3)  Undated, typewritten, 5-page checklist titled “PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ETC.” Weston is listed as follows: “23. Weston, Edward / 5 photographs / ‘Robinson Jeffers’, signed by Jeffers, inscribed to Scottsboro Boys / ‘D.H. Lawrence’ / ‘Lincoln Steffens’, signed by Steffens / 2 Still Life Photographs, signed by Weston, inscribed to Scottsboro Boys.” For full transcript of this checklist, see Note 11, above.

15  “Carmel Artists To Sell Original Mss. For Alabama Boys,” California Daily Eagle [Los Angeles], 12 January 1934: 1, 2.

16  “Manuscripts To Be Placed On Exhibition For Sottsboro [sic] Fund,” The Plaindealer [Kansas City, Kansas], 26 January 1934: 1, 5. This article reads:

Carmel, Calif., Jan. 26 — (ANP) — More than two hundred leading writers and authors are being solicited by the branch of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners here to co-operate in an exhibition sale of original manuscripts and drawings, the proceeds to be used to help the ‘Scottsboro Boys.’ / Sara Reamer is secretary of the local organization which includes Ella Winter, former wife of Lincoln Steffins [sic], Mr. Steffins [sic] himself, Langston Hughes, Martin Flavin, Marie Short, Adriana Spadoni, J. Kenneth Turner, and Edward Weston. / This group is busy soliciting from writers and artists throughout the United States and abroad original works which may be placed on exhibition and sold. [p. 5:] Among the donations which have already been made are the manuscript of ‘The Great Tradition’ by Granville Hicks a draft of ‘Harvest’ by John Evans Holmes, an autographed poem by Theodore Dreiser, and a rare signed booklet by Albert Halper. Lincoln Steffins [sic], Robinson Jeffers, Jimmie Hopper and many others are giving manuscripts. Already in stock are some original poems in manuscript by D.H. Lawrence, a photograph of Langston Hughes by Edward Weston and etchings by O’Shea, Stanley Wood, Refregier and Louis Lozowick. / Opinions of some of the writers who have submitted manuscripts for sale, give a significant glimpse into the minds of these thinking men and women and their attitude toward the Scottsboro case. Some of these opinions are reproduced here: / After the bitterest emotional contest in civilized history Drewfus [sic] was acquitted and created a Knight of The Legion of Honour, France, to her eternal praise, found men brave enough to reverse the engines of injustice—Will the gentlemen of the South, the greatest gentlemen in the world, suffer their names to be smirched by perjury and false witnessing? Let the nine Scottsboro boys be saved by the gentlemen of the South for their Honour’s sake. ‘And the dwarf said, ‘Something human is dearer to me than all the wrath of the World.’ — Llewelyn Powys. / It is against all odds that those who are innocent should die. The Scottsboro boys should be released. Their suffering should be redeemed, I feel, not only by a legal acquittal by positive actions on the part of all those who know what it is to be caught in a machine. May we help these boys as others have helped us in extreme predicaments. — Jean Toomer. / The case seems to me a striking example of the difficulty of securing justice in a community where race prejudice has been fostered by ignorance and fed by economic insecurity, — all products of a vicious social system. If thoughtful people of good will do not go energetically about curing these evils, the time will soon come when neither intelligence nor sympathy will save them from being victimized as their less fortunately circumstanced fellows are being victimized today.

17  Typewritten letter from Langston Hughes to “Hirsch,” dated 6 March 1934. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 117, folder 3249: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale).)

18  “Carmel Artists and Writers Hold Scottsboro Meeting,” Press Release dated 27 November [1933]. (Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Langston Hughes Papers; JWJ MSS 26, Box 512, folder 12721: Series XIV. Personal Papers, Project Files; National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners (Scottsboro exhibition and sale).)

19  “Scottsboro Defense Is Aided By Roland Hayes,” The Carmel Pine Cone, 12 January 1934, p. 3.

20  Op. Cit. The Daybooks of Edward Weston, 13 February 1934, p. 280.

21  Elizabeth Dilling (Mrs. Albert W. Dilling), The Red Network A “Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots by Elizabeth Dilling (Mrs. Albert W. Dilling). Kenilworth and Chicago, Illinois: Published by the Author, 1934.

Hughes’ Communist activities are enumerated in this notorious book as follows: “Part III, “Who Is Who In Radicalism?”, p. 292 (“lists one or more of the affiliations of about 1,300 persons who are or have been members of Communist, Anarchist, Socialist, I.W.W. or Pacifist-controlled organizations…”): “HUGHES, LANGSTON: Negro Communist author; Communist Lg. P. G. for F. & F. 1932; mem. Negro Delg. to Russia to study Communism 1932; Nat. Com. Def. Pol. Pris.’ Scottsboro Unity Def. Com.; staff “New Masses”; sponsor San Francisco Wkrs. Scho. 1933; Intl. Un. Revol. Writers; perm. contrib. Intl. Lit.; Revol. Writers Fed.; Wkrs. Cultural Fed. (communist); lectured at U. of N.C. 1932; deported from Japan, 1933; Lg. Strugg. Negro Rts.; nat. com. F.S.U. 1934.” Weston did not make it into this compendium.

22  Op. Cit. Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, pp. 291-293. Rampersad writes, in part:

…. the … Longshoremen’s Association began a bitterly contested strike that would close down ports from Seattle to San Diego for ninety days. … virtually every California community was seriously affected; newspaper editors and other leaders charged that communism was behind not only the dock strikes but all labor unrest in California. The Carmel Sun and the Pine Cone, frantic about the loss of tourist revenue and the decline of real-estate values in the area, were quickly among the papers reporting rumors of communist plots to destroy the harvests. For both papers, the time had come for a showdown between local patriots and the radicals in the John Reed Club. … As the most obvious symbol of the left in Carmel, Hughes felt the sudden rise in tension almost at once. Pressured by village merchants and other employers, virtually all the other blacks in the area banded together to affirm their allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and to oppose the strikers and the John Reed Club. Disgusted, Hughes went the opposite way. … In Carmel, when the John Reed Club prepared leaflets supporting the call by the longshoremen for a general strike, members of the arch-patriotic American Legion destroyed all the copies they could find. On July 8, at a stormy public meeting attended by both Hughes and [Noël] Sullivan, the majority of residents voiced bitter opposition against the club and its supporters. …  At a meeting called by the John Reed Club to discuss the situation, American Legionnaires and villagers now openly hostile (“one’s laundry man and one’s druggist,” Hughes noted, “real estate men and hotel keepers, and the young man who sold papers in front of the Post Office”) vastly outnumbered leftists in the jammed hall, and an American Legion stenographer conspicuously took down all the remarks. To his special dismay, Hughes noticed something else: “I was the only Negro there.” A few days later, the Carmel village council ordered the purchase of tear gas in order to be ready for civil insurrection. A citizens’ force, backed by the Legion and armed with riot guns, began to drill on the local polo grounds. … “I, as a Negro member of the Club, seemed to be singled out as especially worthy of attack,” Hughes would soon note. “Rumors of malicious intent filled the town: that I was frequently seen on the beach and in cars in company of white women, that I called them by their first names, that I was a bad influence on the Negroes of the town.” When a club member was told that vigilante action was being planned, “Carmel bubbled with a kind of hysteria.” A leading vigilante leader passed the news to Hughes through another local black “that I was in physical danger, and that there was no way of assuring anyone safety.” On July 24, Marie Short telephoned Hughes to warn him that an attack was imminent. … Langston slipped out of town. … He left Carmel, Hughes would write Sylvia Chen, “not wishing to be tarred and feathered.

23  Steven C. Tracy, editor, A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes, Oxford University Press, 2004 and Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, Vol. I 1902-1941 “I, Too, Sing America,” New York, Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1986.

24  Evelyn Zaches Londahl, editor, “Social, Club and Studio Activities of the Peninsula: The Donald Stewarts Entertain at Party for Langston Hughes,” Monterey Peninsula Herald, 13 February 1940, 8.

25  Langston Hughes, “Moonlight Night: Carmel,” The Carmel Pine Cone, 15 June 1934, p. 8. This poem appears in a bordered column at the center of the page. Above Hughes’ poem is one by Robinson Jeffers titled “Evening Ebb”; below Hughes’ poem is one titled “Craftsman” by Dora Hagemeyer.

2 thoughts on “19 March 2021: Edward Weston, Langston Hughes and the Scottsboro Boys Legal Defense Fund

  1. Hi Sarah. Oh my, mea culpa. We caught that after the initial announcement went out but corrected it immediately. Your eagle eye response was too quick for us!


  2. I was impressed and fascinated by your latest blog post. My imagination took off at the idea of seeing all of those manuscripts, photographs, and other artwork donated by such a pantheon of legendary artists, assembled in one place, and available to purchase at auction. Oh to have been there.


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