Beale Street Love
by Langston Hughes
Where It All Goes Down
If you're hoping that Beale Street is a real place, you're in luck. As it turns out, it's in Memphis, Tennessee, and it's famous. Beale Street runs right through downtown, and it has the kind of history other streets envy. Broadway wishes it could be Beale Street.
Why? Because Beale street is all about the blues. It was once the center of African American culture in Memphis, and when this poem was written, it was lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and music halls, where blues notes would float out through the doors and into the street. Even today, Memphis has an annual music festival called the Beale Street Music Festival in celebration of its heritage.
Though Beale Street did a lot to advance African-American culture, it was not exactly a wholesome, happy place. For one thing, Memphis is, of course, in the American South. So while the setting of this poem is a place where the black community can celebrate its culture, rampant racism encroached from all sides.
Plus, along with packed streets and amazing music resonating from bar after bar after bar came trouble—fights, crime, public drunkenness. Beale Street may have been the place to find an up-and-coming musician, or to kick back with some friends, but it was probably not the place to look for a healthy, long-term relationship. We might think of it as a charged atmosphere, where a violent outburst was just one drink away.