In August 1955, a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till went to visit his cousin Simeon Wright in Money, Mississippi. Emmett Till was African American. One day during the visit, the two boys ventured to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, when Emmett decided to whistle at Carolyn Bryant, the white store clerk who owned the store along with her husband, Roy Bryant. That night Roy Bryant showed up at Simeon Wright’s house with his half-brother, and dragged Emmett from his bed. Emmett was beaten, shot, and dumped into the Tallahatchie River. A seventy-five pound gin fan had been tied to his neck with barbed wire. 
The lynching of Emmett Till took place ninety years after the end of the Civil War and twenty-one years after Langston Hughes wrote The Ways of White Folks. Given that lynching continued to be a major problem in the United States more than a century after the Civil War, I ask my audience this, how long does it take to make change?
Langston Hughes was a social activist during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He used his literary abilities to showcase race relations between blacks and whites during that time period. In “Home,” Roy Williams, an African American, journeys back home to the South after spending many years abroad. In Europe, Williams was a well-off and respected musician who was treated as an equal among white Europeans. The European mannerisms he learned while away from home would eventually lead to his death. As shown by the tragic death of Emmett Till, race relations in the South were tense; the slightest wrong movement could provoke a lynching. Such was true for Roy Williams whose casual conversation about music with a white woman led to his being beaten to death and hung from a tree. Because he had been treated as an equal in Europe, Williams forgot about the dangers of living in the South. Talking to a white woman was socially acceptable in Europe but fatalistic in America. 
“Father and Son,” another story published within The Ways of White Folks tells of the relationship between a white sharecrop owner and the Negro son he refused to acknowledge. Like Roy Williams in “Home,” Bert Lewis’ mannerisms led to his downfall. Lewis believed he should not be treated any differently because he was black; he demanded respect from the postal clerk, the black sharecroppers, the white men in the town, and above all, his father. Lewis’ quest to be recognized as Colonel Thomas Norwood’s son ends with him shooting his father, and eventually, himself. Norwood’s refusal to acknowledge his son is another example of how strongly divided race relations were in the South. Acknowledging Bert would have lessened Norwood’s standing in the white community. The story ends with a newspaper report about the death of Norwood and two of his sons. The story states, “It’d be a hell of a lot better lynching a live nigger…” 
Langston Hughes used his writings to bring the current status of race relations in the United States to the attention of the American people. However, despite his efforts, lynchings and intense racial tensions continued to exist even after the outbreak and conclusion of the Second World War. Not until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s were the Jim Crow Laws abolished, and lynchings strictly punished by law.
Today, in the year 2012, how much has changed—since Langston Hughes came out with the stories in The Ways of White Folks, since Emmett Till was lynched, since the Civil Rights Movement? How can we, as Americans, make our country an equal and safe place for all?
 Benson, Christopher, “Eyewitness Account: Emmett Till’s cousin Simeon Wright seeks to set the record straight,” Chicago Magazine, January 2010.
 Hughes, Langston, “Home,” The Ways of White Folks (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933), 33-49.
 Hughes Langston, “Father and Son,” The Ways of White Folks (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933), 207-255.