My name is Johnson–

This poem is an uplifting tribute by Langston Hughes to strong, determined women battling the odds to overcome adversity. It is written in the first person, capturing the voice of a woman who has constantly strived to make the best of her life and done what she needed to do to bounce back from setbacks. The period is the 1930s, the place is the USA, most likely the Harlem district of New York City, and the context is the great depression in which millions of Americans became unemployed, leading to poverty and misery.

But the human spirit triumphs, and this is what Hughes is celebrating with the story of Madam Alberta K. Johnson.

Madam’s Past History

My name is Johnson–
Madam Alberta K.
The Madam stands for business.
I’m smart that way.

I had a
The depression put
The prices lower.

Then I had a
Till I got mixed up
With a no-good man.

Cause I had a insurance
Said, We can’t use you
Wealthy that way.

I said,
Just like the song,
You WPA folks take care of yourself–
And I’ll get along.

I do cooking,
Day’s work, too!
Alberta K. Johnson–
Madam to you.

Langston Hughes

From <;

The whole tone of the poem is of a can-do, positive attitude. Madam Johnson shows pride in her efforts and achievements, by insisting on the use of Madam, by emphasising the businesses she has run, and her independence. The WPA was a government agency in the 1930s set up to provide work to the mass unemployed. But Madam Johnson seems delighted that she is not eligible for their programmes. She will get along on her own merits and efforts, whether it is by cooking , or any other work she can get. This is the American way.

The Poetry Dude


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