Updated: Mar 30, 2022
This short poem was written in 1940. Langston intensively wanted to raise a voice against the injustice to black people. The verses are designed as a conversation between a landlord and a tenant. They no longer persist to be on good terms. The landlord keeps ignoring the tenant’s demands and throws him into jail.
Landlord, landlord, My roof has sprung a leak. Don't you 'member I told you about it Way last week?
Landlord, landlord, These steps is broken down. When you come up yourself It's a wonder you don't fall down. Ten Bucks you say I owe you? Ten Bucks you say is due? Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'l pay you Till you fix this house up new. What? You gonna get eviction orders? You gonna cut off my heat? You gonna take my furniture and Throw it in the street? Um-huh! You talking high and mighty. Talk on-till you get through. You ain't gonna be able to say a word If I land my fist on you.
Police! Police! Come and get this man! He's trying to ruin the government And overturn the land! Copper's whistle! Patrol bell! Arrest. Precinct Station. Iron cell. Headlines in press: MAN THREATENS LANDLORD TENANT HELD NO BAIL JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!
In the very first stanza, the tenant politely reminds the landlord that there is a leak and it needs to be repaired. He wonders how the broken staircase does not collapse when the landlord climbs up. He gets frustrated and says he pays the money only when the house is fixed. The landlord against the tenant’s resistance says he is getting an eviction order and throws his furniture into the streets. He goes on to call the cops, falsely accusing the tenant of breaking the laws. The headlines on the newspaper the next day come out as ‘Judge gives negro 90 days in county jail’.
The verses escalate from exploitation under capitalism to racism. The tenant denied his basic demands because of the skin color he was born with. This very much explains the struggle; Afro-Americans go through in the racist-structured society of America.
Rampersad, Arnold- The Life of Langston Hughes- New York: Oxford University Press- 1986
Opportunity- Vol 18- National Urban League- 1940