“[Langston Hughes and Nina Simone] first met when Simone was still Eunice Waymon from Tryon, North Carolina: an aspiring classical pianist, ‘president of the 11th-grade class and an officer with the school’s NAACP chapter,’ explains Andrew J. Fletcher, a board member of the Nina Simone Project in Asheville.
“This was 1949, and Hughes had come to Asheville to address Allen High School, the private school for African-American girls Simone attended through a scholarship that her music teacher and early champion collected from her hometown. The poet ‘could not have known,’ Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, ‘that [Simone] would soon revolutionize the music canon under her stage name.’ But nearly 10 years later, he recognized her talent immediately.
“On the release of Simone’s first album, Little Girl Blue, [in 1958] Hughes was ‘so stunned that he lauded it with lyrical ardor’ in his column for the Chicago Defender:
“She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis, and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl. She is a club member, a coloured girl, an Afro-American, a homey from Down Home. She has hit the Big Town, the big towns, the LP discs and the TV shows — and she is still from down home. She did it mostly all by herself. Her name is Nina Simone.”
— From “Nina Simone Writes an Admiring Letter to Langston Hughes: ‘Brother, You’ve Got a Fan Now!’ (1966)” at openculture.com (Aug. 24, 2020)
“Our engagement here in High Point has been most pleasant. This morning, I read to the various colored schools, and at the white high school. Sold gangs of books….”
–From a letter from Langston Hughes to Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP (Dec. 8, 1931).
As noted by Nicholas Graham, Hughes’ eventful stay in Chapel Hill has been well chronicled. Less so his subsequent visit to High Point. I haven’t been able to find an account of his appearance at “the white high school” (High Point High), but the student newspaper at (white) High Point College covered what seems to have been a thoroughly uninflammatory reading at (black) William Penn High School:
“Langston Hughes, called by some ‘the greatest living negro poet,’… explained his compositions by telling the stories and incidents which gave rise to them….
“[His] love poems expressed the colored peoples’ life of romance. Most of the poems were short, with a clever sense of realism and emotion.
“Spiritual or religious poems…expressed the negroes’ emotions. Just opposite his spirituals are his ‘blues’ poems. They represent the emotional life of the negro, dealing with his troubles and loneliness….
“Perhaps his best known poem is ‘The Negro Mother,’in which he pays tribute to the colored race of all past ages and predicts for ‘the colored children’ happier and more worthy achievements.
“[Professor of religion] Dr. P. E. Lindley…reports a very enjoyable and delightful evening. He considers Hughes a very prominent rising negro scholar and poet.”