From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Hughes, James Nathaniel

(born: 1871  -  died: 1934) 

James Hughes was born in Charlestown, IN,  the son of Emily Cushenberry and James H. Hughes. He was the father of Langston Hughes.

James H. Hughes had been enslaved. His mother was also enslaved; her father was Silas Cushenberry, a Jewish  trader of the enslaved from Clark County, KY. James H. Hughes's father, also enslaved, was the son of Sam Clay, a distiller from Henry County, KY.

It is not known exactly when the Hughes family left Kentucky, where their four oldest children were born, but it is believed the family left prior to the Civil War.

Their son, James Nathaniel Hughes, lived in Louisville, KY for a brief period, where he passed the postal civil service exam but was not hired by the post office. He eventually moved to Oklahoma, where he married Carrie Langston in the late 1890s.

After their first child died in 1900 and Langston Hughes was born in 1902, James left his family. He settled in Mexico, never to return to the United States,  remarried, practiced law, and was a land owner.

For more about the Hughes Family see Langston: My Cousin, by the Hughes Family Interest, Inc.; F. Berry, Langston Hughes, pp. 1-2; Langston Hughes of Kansas, by M. Scott [excerpt from Kansas History, vol. 3, issue 1 (Spring 1980), pp. 3-25]; The big sea: an autobiography, by L. Hughes; and The Life of Langston Hughes, vol. I: 1902-1941, by A. Rampersad.

Additional information for this entry was provided by Marjol Collet, Director of the Langston Hughes Family Museum in Gary, IN.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Langston: my cousin (program literature)
NKAA Source: Langston Hughes, before and beyond Harlem
NKAA Source: Big sea: an autobiography by Langston Hughes
NKAA Source: The Life of Langston Hughes (2 volumes)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Hughes, James Nathaniel,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-07-13 15:55:09