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Text № 8 something to lean on

By Langston Hughes

“A bar is something to lean on”, said Simple.

“You lean on bars very often”, I remarked.

“I do”, said Simple.


“Because everything else I lean on falls down”, said simple, “including my people, my wife, my boss and me”.

“How do you mean?”

“My people brought me into the world”, said Simple, “but they didn’t have no money to put me through school. When I were knee-high to a duck I had to go to work.”

“That happens to a lot of kids”, I said.

“Most particularly colored”, said Simple. “And my wife, I couldn’t depend on her. When the depression come and I was out of job, Isabel were no prop to me. I could not lean on her”.

“So you started to leaning on bars”, I said.

“No”, said Simple. “I was leaning on bars before I married. I started to leaning on bars soon as I got out of short pants".

“Perhaps if you belonged to the church you would have something stronger on which to lean”.

“You mean lean on the Lord? Daddy-o, too many falks are leaning on Him now. I believe the Lord helps them that helps them that helps themselves – and I am a man who tries to help himself. That is the way white folks got way up where they are in the world – while colored’s been leaning on the Lord”.

“And you have been leaning on bars”.

“What do you think I do all day long” Simple objected. “From eight in the morning to five at night, I di not lean on no bar. I work! Ask my bass-man out at the plant. He knows I work. He claims he likes me, too. But that raise he promised me way last winter, have I got it yet? Also the advancement? No! I have not! I see them white boys get advancements while I stay where I am. Black – so i know I ain’t due to go but so far. I bet you if I was white i would be somewhere in this world”.

“There you go with that old color argument as an excuse again”, I said.

“I bet you i would not be poor. All the opportunities a white man’s got, there ain’t no sense in his being poor. He can get any kind of job, anywhere. He can be President. Can I?”

“Do you have the qualifications?”

“Answer my question”, said Simple, “and don’t ask me another one. Gain I be President? Truman can, but can I? Is he any smaret than me?”

“I am not acquainted with Mr. Truman, so I don’t know.”

“Does he look any smarter?” asked Simple.

“I must admit he does not”, I said.

“Then why can’t I be President, too? Because I am colored, that’s why”.

“So you spend your evenings leaning on bars because you cannot be President”, I said. “What kind of reasoning is that?”

“Reason enough”, said Simple. “If anybody else in America can be President, I want to be President. The Constitution guarantees us equal rights, but I have got’em? No. It’s fell down on me”.

“You figure the constitution has fallen down on you?”

“I do”, said Simple. “Just like it fell down on that poor Negro lynched last month. Did anybody out of that mob go to jail? Not a living soul! But just kidnap some little small white baby and take it across the street, and you will do twenty years. The FBI will spread its dragnet and drag in forty suspections before morning. And, if you are colored, don’t be caught selling a half pint of bootleg licker, or writing a few numbers. They will put you in every jail there is! But Southerners can beat you, burn you, lynch you, and hang you to a tree – and every one of them will go scot-free. Gimme another beer, Tony! I can lean on this bar, but ain’t got another thing in the USA on which to lean”.