The HARLEM RENAISSANCE
Valley High School
Opening Activity: Stripped of a Voice
Brainstorm a list of elements that influence, mold, and shape an individual’s identity.
It might be beneficial to brainstorm a list of products of popular culture. Then, write a definition of popular
1. Consider about the following questions: When you look at popular culture today, what are some aspects of
it that capture the essence of teen life? What are some ways in which teens today are able to express
themselves as a collective group? What are some aspects of popular culture that reflect who you are as a
teenager? What aspects of popular culture express the teenage identity?
2. What if these items were taken away? You now live in a society that doesn't recognize their
individuality. Nothing about popular culture reflects who they are. Respond: How would you feel if these items
were taken away? How would your life be different without those items?
4. Imagine a world where you saw no teenagers on television or in movies. All music, magazines, books,
movies, food, and television were made for people over fifty. Imagine a world where you wore the same style
of clothes as your parents? How would you feel?
The Harlem Renaissance: Important Features
1. Harlem Renaissance (HR) is the name given to the period from the end of World War I and through the
middle of the 1930s Depression, during which a group of talented African-American writers produced a
sizable body of literature in the four prominent genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and essay.
2. The notion of "twoness,” a divided awareness of one's identity, was introduced by W.E.B. Du Bois, one
of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).and the
author of the influential book The Souls of Black Folks (1903): "One ever feels his two-ness - an
American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled stirrings: two warring ideals in one dark
body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
3. Common themes: alienation, marginality, the use of folk material, the use of the blues tradition, the
problems of writing for an elite audience.
4. HR was more than just a literary movement: it included racial consciousness, "the back to Africa"
movement led by Marcus Garvey, racial integration, the explosion of music particularly jazz, spirituals
and blues, painting, dramatic revues, and others.
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Harlem Renaissance - An Introduction." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A
Research and Reference Guide. Web. 17 Feb. 2007.
African-American Writer, Poet, Kansan | February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967
(James) Langston Hughes began writing in high school, and even at this early age
was developing the voice that made him famous. Hughes was born in Joplin,
Missouri, but lived with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas until he was thirteen
and then with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio where he went to
high school. Hughes's grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, was
prominent in the African American community in Lawrence. Her first husband had
died at Harper's Ferry fighting with John Brown; her second husband, Langston
Hughes's grandfather, was a prominent Kansas politician during Reconstruction.
During the time Hughes lived with his grandmother, however, she was old and
poor and unable to give Hughes the attention he needed. Besides, Hughes felt hurt
by both his mother and his father, and was unable to understand why he was not
allowed to live with either of them. These feelings of rejection caused him to grow
up very insecure and unsure of himself.
When Langston Hughes's grandmother died, his mother summoned him to her
Langston Hughes in his twenties, circa 1930.
home in Lincoln, Illinois. Here, according to Hughes, he wrote his first verse and
was named class poet of his eighth grade class. Hughes lived in Lincoln for only a
year, however; when his step-father found work in Cleveland, Ohio, the rest of the
family then followed him there. Soon his step-father and mother moved on, this time to Chicago, but Hughes stayed in
Cleveland in order to finish high school. His writing talent was recognized by his high school teachers and classmates, and
Hughes had his first pieces of verse published in the Central High Monthly, a sophisticated school magazine. Soon he was
on the staff of the Monthly, and publishing in the magazine regularly. An English teacher introduced him to poets such as
Carl Sandburg and Walk Whitman, and these became Hughes' earliest influences. During the summer after Hughes's junior
year in high school, his father reentered his life. James Hughes was living in Toluca, Mexico, and wanted his son to join him
there. Hughes lived in Mexico for the summer but he did not get along with his father. This conflict, though painful,
apparently contributed to Hughes's maturity. When Hughes returned to Cleveland to finish high school, his writing had
also matured. Consequently, during his senior year of high school, Langston Hughes began writing poetry of distinction.
After graduating from high school, Hughes planned to return to Mexico to visit with his father, in order to try to convince
him that he should pay for his son's college education at Columbia University in New York City. At Columbia, Hughes
thought, he could get a college education but also begin his career as a writer. On his way to Mexico on the train, while
thinking about his past and his future, Hughes wrote the famous poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." After arriving in
Mexico, the tension between Hughes and his father was strong. Hughes wanted to be a writer; his father wanted him to be
an engineer. After Hughes sent some of his poetry to the Brownies Book and Crisis magazines and it was accepted, his
father was impressed enough to agree to pay for a year at Columbia University.
Hughes entered Columbia University in the fall of 1921, a little more than a year after he had graduated from Central High
School. Langston stayed in school there for only a year; meanwhile, he found Harlem. Hughes quickly became an integral
part of the arts scene in Harlem, so much so that in many ways he defined the spirit of the age, from a literary point of
view. The Big Sea, the first volume of his autobiography, provides such a crucial first-person account of the era and its key
players that much of what we know about the Harlem Renaissance we know from Langston Hughes's point of view.
Hughes began regularly publishing his work in the Crisis and Opportunity magazines. He got to know other writers of the
time such as Countee Cullen, Claude McCay, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Weldon Johnson. When his poem "The Weary
Blues" won first prize in the poetry section of the 1925 Opportunity magazine literary contest, Hughes's literary career was
launched. His first volume of poetry, also titled The Weary Blues, appeared in 1926.
In Langston Hughes's poetry, he uses the rhythms of African American music, particularly blues
and jazz. This sets his poetry apart from that of other writers, and it allowed him to experiment
with a very rhythmic free verse. Hughes's second volume of poetry, Fine Clothes to the Jew
(1927), was not well received at the time of its publication because it was too experimental.
Now, however, many critics believe the volume to be among Hughes's finest work.
Langston Hughes returned to school in 1926, this time to the historically black Lincoln University
in Pennsylvania. He was supported by a patron of the arts, a wealthy white woman in her
seventies named Charlotte Osgood Mason. Mason directed Hughes's literary career, convincing
him to write the novel Not Without Laughter; the two had a dispute in 1930, however, and the
relationship came to an end. At this point in Hughes's life he turned to the political left and
began to develop his interest in socialism. He published poetry in New Masses, a journal
associated with the Communist Party, and in 1932 sailed to the Soviet Union with a group of young Portrait of Langston Hughes,
African Americans. Later in the 1930s, Hughes's primary writing was for the theater. His drama Feb. 29, 1936; by Carl Van
Vechten, Library of Congress.
about miscegenation and the South - "Mulatto" - became the longest running Broadway play
written by an African American until Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (1958).
In 1942, during World War II, Hughes began writing a column for the African American
newspaper, the Chicago Defender. In 1943 he introduced the character of Jesse B.
Semple, or Simple, to his readers. This fictional everyman, while humorous, also allowed
Hughes to discuss very serious racial issues. The Simple columns were also popular--and
they ran for twenty years and were collected in several books.
Money was a nagging concern for Hughes throughout his life. While he managed to
support himself as a writer, no small task, he was never financially secure. In 1947,
however, through his work writing the lyrics for the Broadway musical "Street Scene,"
Hughes was finally able to earn enough money to purchase a house in Harlem, which
had been his dream. He continued to write: "Montage of a Dream Deferred," one of his
best known volumes of poetry, was published in 1951; and from that time until his
Langston Hughes by Gordon death sixteen years later he wrote more than twenty additional works.
Parks, 1943, Library of Congress
Langston Hughes was, in his later years, deemed the "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race,"
a title he encouraged. Hughes meant to represent the race in his writing and he was, perhaps, the most original of all
African American poets. On May 22, 1967 Langston Hughes died after having had abdominal surgery. Hughes' funeral, like
his poetry, was all blues and jazz: the jazz pianist Randy Weston was called and asked to play for Hughes's funeral. Very
little was said by way of eulogy, but the jazz and the blues were hot, and the final tribute to this writer so influenced by
African American musical forms was fitting.
Dream Variations by Langston Hughes
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me--
That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Langston Hughes, circa 1940s
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.
Po' Boy Blues by Langston Hughes I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
When I was home de I, too, sing America.
Sunshine seemed like gold.
When I was home de I am the darker brother.
Sunshine seemed like gold. They send me to eat in the kitchen
Since I come up North de When company comes,
Whole damn world's turned cold. But I laugh,
And eat well,
I was a good boy, And grow strong.
Never done no wrong.
Yes, I was a good boy, Tomorrow,
Never done no wrong, I'll be at the table
But this world is weary When company comes.
An' de road is hard an' long. Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
I fell in love with "Eat in the kitchen,"
A gal I thought was kind. Then.
Fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind. Besides,
She made me lose ma money They'll see how beautiful I am
An' almost lose ma mind. And be ashamed--
Weary, weary, I, too, am America.
Weary early in de morn.
Early, early in de morn.
I's so weary
I wish I'd never been born.
Theme for English B by Langston Hughes
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--
although you're older--and white--
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
Two Different Voices
In his poetry, Langston Hughes used both standard and nonstandard English, depending upon
the theme of the poem. In your opinion, did this technique add to or detract from the purpose?
Did this technique alienate his potential audience? Explain your answer.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Thank You, Ma'm
by Langston Hughes
She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and
she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o’clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a
boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from
behind. But the boy’s weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of
taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. The large
woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down,
picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.
After that the woman said, “Pick up my pocketbook, boy, and give it In the space below, sketch how you imagine
here.” She still held him. But she bent down enough to permit him to the woman may look. Highlight or underline
stoop and pick up her purse. Then she said, “Now ain’t you ashamed text that support your sketch.
Firmly gripped by his shirt front, the boy said, “Yes’m.”
The woman said, “What did you want to do it for?”
The boy said, “I didn’t aim to.”
She said, “You a lie!”
By that time two or three people passed, stopped, turned to look, and
some stood watching.
“If I turn you loose, will you run?” asked the woman.
“Yes’m,” said the boy.
“Then I won’t turn you loose,” said the woman. She did not release
“I’m very sorry, lady, I’m sorry,” whispered the boy.
“Um-hum! And your face is dirty. I got a great mind to wash your face for you. Ain’t you got nobody home to
tell you to wash your face?”
“No’m,” said the boy.
“Then it will get washed this evening,” said the large woman starting up the street, dragging the frightened boy
behind her. He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and willow-wild, in tennis shoes and blue jeans.
The woman said, “You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong. Least I can do right now is to
wash your face. Are you hungry?”
“No’m,” said the being dragged boy. “I just want you to turn me loose.”
“Was I bothering you when I turned that corner?” asked the woman.
“But you put yourself in contact with me,” said the woman. “If you think that that contact is not going to last
awhile, you got another thought coming. When I get through with you, sir, you are going to remember Mrs.
Luella Bates Washington Jones.”
Sweat popped out on the boy’s face and he began to struggle. Mrs. Jones stopped, jerked him around in front of
her, put a half-nelson about his neck, and continued to drag him up the street. When she got to her door, she
dragged the boy inside, down a hall, and into a large kitchenette-furnished room at the rear of the house. She
switched on the light and left the door open. The boy could hear other roomers laughing and talking in the large
house. Some of their doors were open, too, so he knew he and the woman were not alone. The woman still had
him by the neck in the middle of her room.
In the space below, sketch how you imagine
She said, “What is your name?” the boy may look. Using a different color or
line pattern, highlight or underline text that
“Roger,” answered the boy. support your sketch.
“Then, Roger, you go to that sink and wash your face,” said the
woman, whereupon she turned him loose—at last. Roger looked at
the door—looked at the woman—looked at the door—and went to the
Let the water run until it gets warm,” she said. “Here’s a clean towel.”
“You gonna take me to jail?” asked the boy, bending over the sink.
“Not with that face, I would not take you nowhere,” said the woman.
“Here I am trying to get home to cook me a bite to eat and you snatch
my pocketbook! Maybe, you ain’t been to your supper either, late as
it be. Have you?”
“There’s nobody home at my house,” said the boy.
“Then we’ll eat,” said the woman, “I believe you’re hungry—or been
hungry—to try to snatch my pocketbook.”
“I wanted a pair of blue suede shoes,” said the boy.
“Well, you didn’t have to snatch my pocketbook to get some suede shoes,” said Mrs. Luella Bates Washington
Jones. “You could of asked me.”
The water dripping from his face, the boy looked at her. There was a long pause. A very long pause. After he had
dried his face and, not knowing what else to do, dried it again, the boy turned around, wondering what next. The
door was open. He could make a dash for it down the hall. He could run, run, run, run, run!
The woman was sitting on the day-bed. After a while she said, “I were young once and I wanted things I could
There was another long pause. The boy’s mouth opened. Then he frowned, but not knowing he frowned.
The woman said, “Um-hum! You thought I was going to say but, didn’t you? You thought I was going to say,
but I didn’t snatch people’s pocketbooks. Well, I wasn’t going to say that.” Pause. Silence. “I have done things,
too, which I would not tell you, son—neither tell God, if he didn’t already know. So you set down while I fix us
something to eat. You might run that comb through your hair so you will look presentable.”
In another corner of the room behind a screen was a gas plate and an icebox. Mrs. Jones got up and went behind
the screen. The woman did not watch the boy to see if he was going to run now, nor did she watch her purse
which she left behind her on the day-bed. But the boy took care to sit Why did the boy want Mrs. Jones to trust
on the far side of the room where he thought she could easily see him him?
out of the corner of her eye, if she wanted to. He did not trust the
woman not to trust him. And he did not want to be mistrusted now.
“Do you need somebody to go to the store,” asked the boy, “maybe to
get some milk or something?”
“Don’t believe I do,” said the woman, “unless you just want sweet
milk yourself. I was going to make cocoa out of this canned milk I
“That will be fine,” said the boy.
She heated some lima beans and ham she had in the icebox, made the cocoa, and set the table. The woman did
not ask the boy anything about where he lived, or his folks, or anything else that would embarrass him. Instead,
as they ate, she told him about her job in a hotel beauty-shop that
Why was Mrs. Jones being nice to the boy
who tried to mug her? stayed open late, what the work was like, and how all kinds of
women came in and out, blondes, red-heads, and Spanish. Then
she cut him a half of her ten-cent cake.
“Eat some more, son,” she said.
When they were finished eating she got up and said, “Now, here,
take this ten dollars and buy yourself some blue suede shoes. And
next time, do not make the mistake of latching onto my
What would you have done in Mrs. Jones’s
pocketbook nor nobody else’s—because shoes come by devilish
like that will burn your feet. I got to get my rest now. But I wish
you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.”
She led him down the hall to the front door and opened it. “Good-
Or in Roger’s situation? night! Behave yourself, boy!” she said, looking out into the street.
The boy wanted to say something else other than “Thank you,
m’am” to Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, but he couldn’t
do so as he turned at the barren stoop and looked back at the large
woman in the door. He barely managed to say “Thank you”
before she shut the door. And he never saw her again.
After reading the story, to whom do you think Hughes was writing (audience)?
Why did Hughes write this story (purpose)?
Modern Am. Lit.
Valley High School
In your small group, discuss the following terms. Attempt to agree on a general definition, and jot
down that definition.
Now think about power. What role does power play in the above terms? Think about an individual’s
role in the above terms--provide examples of the power that individuals may exercise. Think about
economic, class, and social factors which all add up to power—provide examples of such power as it
relates to the above terms.
We all have personal power, and how we exercise it is very important. Do we stand up for the right
things? Who gets to make the rules and who do those rules benefit (individual or institutional power)?
Ralph Ellison (1914-1994)--Excerpt From Survey of American Literature, 1992
Principal literary achievement
Ralph Ellison's single published novel, Invisible Man, is recognized as one of the finest achievements in modern American
fiction as well as one of the most complete statements of the African-American experience.
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 1, 1914. His father, Lewis Ellison, was an adventurous
and accomplished man who had served in the military overseas and had lived in Abbeville, South Carolina and
Chattanooga, Tennessee before moving to Oklahoma a short time after the former Indian territory achieved statehood. In
Oklahoma City Lewis Ellison worked in construction and started his own ice and coal business. Ellison's mother, Ida Millsap
Ellison, who was known as "Brownie," was a political activist who campaigned for the Socialist Party and against the
segregationist policies of Oklahoma's governor "Alfalfa Bill" Murray. After her husband's death, Ida Ellison supported Ralph
and his younger brother Herbert by working at a variety of jobs. Although the family was sometimes short of money,
Ellison and his younger brother did not have deprived childhoods.
Ellison benefited from the advantages of the Oklahoma public schools but took odd jobs to pay for supplemental
education. His particular interest was music, and in return for yard work, Ellison received lessons from Ludwig Hebestreit,
the conductor of the Oklahoma City Orchestra. At nineteen, with the dream of becoming a composer, he accepted a state
scholarship and used it to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Unlike the protagonist of Invisible Man, Ellison was not expelled from Tuskegee, but like the character he later created,
Ellison did not graduate. Instead, he travelled to New York City in 1936 to find work during the summer between his junior
and senior years, intending to return to Tuskegee in the fall. Soon after his arrival in New York, however, Ellison happened
to meet Alain Locke and Langston Hughes, major literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Through his acquaintance with
Hughes, Ellison was introduced to Richard Wright, who encouraged Ellison to write and published his first review in New
Challenge, a journal that Wright edited.
Ellison supported himself with a variety of jobs during his first years in Harlem. In 1938, he joined the Federal Writer's
Project where he and others employed by the Living Lore Unit gathered urban folklore materials. This experience
introduced Ellison to the richness of black urban culture and provided him with a wealth of folklore materials that he used
effectively in Invisible Man. In the early 1940's Ellison published several short stories.
During World War II, Ellison served as a cook on a merchant marine ship. At the war's end, he travelled to New Hampshire
to rest, and there he began work on Invisible Man. With the financial assistance of a Rosenwald Foundation Grant, Ellison
worked on the novel for several years, publishing it in 1952.
Invisible-Man was controversial, attacked by militants as reactionary and banned from schools because of its explicit
descriptions of black life. Literary critics, however, generally agreed on the book's significance. In 1965, a poll of literary
critics named it the outstanding book written by an American in the previous twenty years, placing it ahead of works by
Faulkner, Hemingway, and Bellow. Ellison received many awards for his work, including the National Book Award (1953),
the Russwurm Award (1953), the Academy of Arts and Letters Fellowship to Rome (1955-1957), the Medal of Freedom
(1969), and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Artes et Lettres (1970).
In 1958 Ellison accepted a teaching position at Bard College. In subsequent years he taught at Rutgers University, the
University of Chicago, and New York University from which he retired in 1979. He has accepted numerous honorary
doctorates and published two collections of essays. The essays in Shadow and Act (1964) focus on three topics: African-
American literature and folklore; African-American music; and the interrelation of African-American culture and the
broader culture of the United States. Going to the Territory (1986) collected sixteen reviews, essays, and speeches that
Ellison had published previously.
Since the 1960's Ellison has worked on a second novel that he reputedly plans to publish as a trilogy. His work on the novel
was disrupted when about 350 pages of its 1,000 page manuscript were destroyed in a house fire in 1967. Several
selections from the book have been published in journals.
Booker T. Washington’s Educational Doctrine: Washington’s educational philosophy for African Americans was
industrial education or today, vocational education. Washington did not deprecate the study of history,
mathematics, or science but he viewed these subjects as impractical for the education of African Americans. Growing
out of his successful experiment at Tuskegee Institute, Washington believed African Americans should be trained to
become farmers, mechanics, or domestic servants who would provide many of the services and much of the produce
that the white community needed. At the same time this training diminished the hostility among the white
community that often occurred when schools for blacks were established. Washington stressed if African Americans
were to succeed there needed to be an economic foundation generated from land ownership, agriculture, and
industry. The importance of cultivating friendly relations with southern white people must also be encouraged. He
counseled African Americans to remain in rural areas and not to leave the south.
John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. wrote that the particular type of industrial education Washington
emphasized was outmoded at the time he enunciated it. Washington did not seem to grasp the effect of the
Industrial Revolution upon the tasks that had been done by the hands of workers for centuries. Many of these jobs
were being reduced to a minimum or disappearing altogether.
In the south from the 1880’s to the eve of World War I, much of education of blacks in the south
reaped benefits from industrial philanthropists represented by large educational foundations in
the north. So of the philanthropic foundations were the Phelps-Stokes, the John D. Rockefeller,
the Anna T. Jeanes, the Julius Rosenwald, the Peabody Education, the John F. Slater, and the
General Education Board. The interest and financial support of these industrialists to educate
African Americans in the south generated from the ascendancy of Booker T. Washington as the
spokesman for the kind of education best suited for African Americans. His influence and his
notions for education became so widespread that until his death in 1915 most African
Americans recognized him as their leader, and few whites had serious discussions about race
relations without his counsel. Thus Washington’s doctrine and practices of education continued
to influence education in the north and south well into the Harlem Renaissance.
W.E.B. DuBois's Educational Philosophy: There were African Americans who vigorously opposed
Washington's leadership, and offered valid arguments opposing his notions of education for
Leading the opposition to Washington’s view was W.E.B. DuBois, an African American scholar and
teacher, born in Massachusetts and educated at Fisk University, Harvard University and Berlin.
DuBois, who had done a series of studies of African Americans in the South while teaching at
Atlanta University, censured Washington’s views as too narrow, too economic in its objectives,
too deprecatory to higher institutions of learning, too conciliatory to the south’s virtual
destruction of political and civil status of African Americans.
DuBois, through critical essays in which he assailed Washington’s Doctrine, advocated an educational concept for African
Americans labeled “The Talented Tenth”. The Talented Tenth represented the small number of well-educated
professionals as a vanguard of African Americans, mobilized and committed to improving race relations in a time of
extreme nation-wide backlash following WWI. “The basic role of the Talented Tenth was to “civilize and refine, uplift and
elevate the benighted masses.” The intellectual leaders of the Harlem Renaissance held similar views. (see critique of
DuBois in Microsoft Encarta Africana 2000 CD ).
In 1925, the Harlem Renaissance was recognized by a special publication of the Survey Graphic, The Harlem Number, Vol.
Vi. No 6, edited by Alain Locke (link to Tumba’s site). Survey Graphic was the premier journal of social work in the United
States during the 1920’s and Alain Locke had been asked to design and edit a special issue about the Renaissance then
underway in Harlem.
Although DuBois’ arguments were persuasive among the intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro
Movement, it is important to remember the vast influence Booker T. Washington’s doctrine had on education for African
Americans in the nation even after his death in 1915, His influence had spread to northern educational circles and there
were communities that sought to meet the educational demands of newly arrived blacks from the south by adopting or
adapting Washington’s notions on education
A look at the Table of Contents in which Alain Locke first uses the term, the New Negro, reveals one will find articles,
poetry, and prose by the intellectual talented tenth to which DuBois refers. In this edition are contributions by Alain Locke,
James W. Johnson, Charles S. Johnson, Rudolph Fisher, W.A. Domingo, Rudolph Fisher, W.E.B. DuBois, and A. Schomburg.
There are poems by Countee Cullen, Anne Spencer, Angelina Grimke, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Langston Hughes.
J.A. Rogers writes about jazz and Albert C. Barnes about Negro Art and America. In the area of race relations, articles by
Walter White, Kelly Miller, George E. Haynes, and Melville J. Herkovitz were included as well as “Portraits of Negro
Women” by Winold Reiss, a white person who provided illustrations for Alain Locke’s, The New Negro. Within a year’s
time, Locke expanded the contents of the Survey Graphic and published the New Negro Anthology.
The numbers among the talented tenth (physicians, educators, lawyers, ministers, morticians, dentists, and business
people) were small, only about 10,000 out of a total population of more than 10,000,000 in 1920. However, it was the
efforts of these talented tenth that jump-started the new Negro Movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance, through
organizations, such as the American Negro Academy, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) publication, The Crisis, and the Urban League publication, Opportunity.
The American Negro Academy was a learned society for African American men of letters, arts, and science. Its goals were
to insure recognition of the advances of African Americans in science, literature and art and to challenge and refute racist
and erroneous information about African American life and culture. The organization embraced DuBois’ doctrine of the
talented tenth and other philosophical differences in education that prevented Booker T. Washington, the era’s most
powerful African American leader, from joining the Academy.
The American Negro Academy (ANA) held conferences, meetings, did research and data collection, and youth outreach,
disseminating the thinking of leading African American intellectuals on a wide variety of issues. Academy members such as
Alain Locke, Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois were instrumental in the formation of similar intellectual organizations that
displayed African American intellect and achievement. Two of these, The NAACP and the Association for the Study of Afro-
American Life and History (ASALH) continue their influence today.
“Battle Royal,” from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had
When have you felt invisible?
been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried
to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they
were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive.
I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself
questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time
and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a
realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am
nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible
And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or
unequal) eighty-five years ago. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only
ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told they were
free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social,
separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They
What does it mean to stay “in their place”?
exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and
brought up my father to do the same. But my grandfather is the
one. He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I
take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his
deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm
What does grandfather mean in stating that gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but
their “life is a war”?
our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy
in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the
Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want
you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins,
What kind of “good fight” did grandfather agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they
ask his son to keep up? vomit or bust wide open." They thought the old man had gone
out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger
children were rushed from the room, the shades drawn and the
flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick
like the old man's breathing. "Learn it to the younguns," he
whispered fiercely; then he died.
But my folks were more alarmed over his last words than
over his dying. It was as though he had not died at all, his words Why did the family want the narrator “to
forget” what grandfather had said?
caused so much anxiety. I was warned emphatically to forget what
he had said and, indeed, this is the first time it has been mentioned
outside the family circle. It had a tremendous effect upon me,
however. I could never be sure of what he meant. Grandfather had
been a quiet old man who never made any trouble, yet on his
deathbed he had called himself a traitor and a spy, and he had Why did the narrator think he was carrying
out his grandfather’s advice?
spoken of his meekness as a dangerous activity. It became a constant
puzzle which lay unanswered in the back of my mind. And whenever
things went well for me I remembered my grandfather and felt guilty
and uncomfortable. It was as though I was carrying out his advice in
spite of myself. And to make it worse, everyone loved me for it. I was
praised by the most lily-white men in town. I was considered an
example of desirable con- duct-just as my grandfather had been. And
what puzzled me was that the old man had defined it as treachery.
When I was praised for my conduct I felt a guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against
the wishes of the white folks, that if they had understood they would have desired me to act just the opposite,
that I should have been sulky and mean, and that that really would have been what they wanted, even though
they were fooled and thought they wanted me to act as I did. It made me afraid that some day they would look
upon me as a traitor and I would be lost. Still I was more afraid to act any other way because they didn't like
that at all. The old man's words were like a curse. On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I
showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed this-how could I,
remembering my grandfather?—I only believed that it worked.) It was a great success. Everyone praised me
and I was invited to give the speech at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens. It was a triumph for the
What is a battle royal?
It was in the main ballroom of the leading hotel. When I got
there I discovered that it was on the occasion of a smoker, and I was
told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in
the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of
the entertainment. The battle royal came first.
All of the town's big shots were there in their tuxedoes, wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer
and whiskey and smoking black cigars. It was a large room with a high ceiling. Chairs were arranged in neat
rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring. The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of
polished floor. I had some misgivings over the battle royal, by the way. Not from a distaste for fighting but
because I didn't care too much for the other fellows who were to take part. They were tough guys who seemed
to have no grandfather's curse worrying their minds. No one could mistake their toughness. And besides, I
suspected that fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity
of my speech. In those pre-invisible days I visualized myself as a What did Booker T. Washington believe in?
potential Booker T. Washington. But the other fellows didn't care too
much for me either, and there were nine of them. I felt superior to
them in my way, and I didn't like the manner in which we were all
crowded together in the servants' elevator. Nor did they like my
being there. In fact, as the warmly lighted floors flashed past the
elevator we had words over the fact that I, by taking part in the fight,
had knocked one of their friends out of a night's work.
We were led out of the elevator through a rococo hall into
an anteroom and told to get into our fighting togs. Each of us was Why do you think the narrator agreed to
issued a pair of boxing gloves and ushered out into the big mirrored
hall, which we entered looking cautiously about us and whispering,
lest we might accidentally be heard above the noise of the room. It
was foggy with cigar smoke. And already the whiskey was taking
effect. I was shocked to see some of the most important men of the
town quite tipsy. They were all there-bankers, lawyers, judges,
Why does Ellison choose to include
doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more
stereotypes and derogatory terms in this
fashionable pastors. Something we could not see was going on up piece?
front. A clarinet was vibrating sensuously and the men were standing
up and moving eagerly forward. We were a small tight group,
clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with
anticipatory sweat: while up front the big shots were becoming
increasingly excited over something we still could not see. Suddenly I
heard the school superintendent, who had told me to come, yell,
"Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring up the little shines!"
We were rushed up to the front of the ballroom, where it smelled even more strongly of tobacco and
whiskey. Then we were pushed into place. I almost wet my pants. A sea of faces, some hostile, some amused,
ringed around us, and in the center, facing us, stood a magnificent blonde—stark naked. There was dead
silence. I felt a blast of cold air chill me. I tried to back away, but they were behind me and around me. Some of
the boys stood with lowered heads, trembling. I felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear. My teeth chattered, my
skin turned to goose flesh, my knees knocked. Yet I was strongly attracted and looked in spite of myself. Had
the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked. The hair was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll,
the face heavily powdered and rouged, as though to form an abstract mask, the eyes hollow and smeared a
cool blue, the color of a baboon's butt. I felt a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body.
Her breasts were firm and round as the domes of East Indian
temples, and I stood so close as to see the fine skin texture and This a shocking image! What was Ellison
beads of pearly perspiration glistening like dew around the pink and thinking? Why would Ellison include this
erected buds of her nipples. I wanted at one and the same time to image?
run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover
her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel
the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and to
murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the
small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a
capital V. I had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with
her impersonal eyes.
And then she began to dance, a slow sensuous movement; the smoke of a hundred cigars clinging to
her like the thinnest of veils. She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veils calling to me from the angry surface
of some gray and threatening sea. I was transported. Then I became aware of the clarinet playing and the big
shots yelling at us. Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not. On my right I saw one boy faint.
And now a man grabbed a silver pitcher from a table and stepped close as he dashed ice water upon him and
stood him up and forced two of us to support him as his head hung and moans issued from his thick bluish lips.
Another boy began to plead to go home. He was the largest of the group, wearing dark red fighting trunks much
too small to conceal the erection which projected from him as though in answer to the insinuating low-
registered moaning of the clarinet. He tried to hide himself with his boxing gloves.
And all the while the blonde continued dancing, smiling
faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly What is the power of shame and humiliation?
smiling at our fear. I noticed a certain merchant who followed her
hungrily, his lips loose and drooling. He was a large man who wore
diamond studs in a shirtfront which swelled with the ample paunch
underneath, and each time the blonde swayed her undulating hips
he ran his hand through the thin hair of his bald head and, with his
arms upheld, his posture clumsy like that of an intoxicated panda,
wound his belly in a slow and obscene grind. This creature was
completely hypnotized. The music had quickened. As the dancer How does Ellison portray the power of shame
flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men and humiliation in this piece?
began reaching out to touch her. I could see their beefy fingers sink
into her soft flesh. Some of the others tried to stop them and she
began to move around the floor in graceful circles, as they gave
chase, slipping and sliding over the polished floor. It was mad. Chairs
went crashing, drinks were spilt, as they ran laughing and howling
after her. They caught her just as she reached a door, raised her
from the floor, and tossed her as college boys are tossed at a hazing,
and above her red, fixed-smiling lips I saw the terror and disgust in
her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of
the other boys. As I watched, they tossed her twice and her soft
breasts seemed to flatten against the air and her legs flung wildly as she spun. Some of the more sober ones
helped her to escape. And I started off the floor, heading for the anteroom with the rest of the boys.
Some were still crying and in hysteria. But as we tried to
Again, why does the narrator continue to
leave we were stopped and ordered to get into the ring. There was participate in this battle royal?
nothing to do but what we were told. All ten of us climbed under
the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad
bands of white cloth. One of the men seemed to feel a bit
sympathetic and tried to cheer us up as we stood with our backs
against the ropes. Some of us tried to grin. "See that boy over
there?" one of the men said. "I want you to run across at the bell
and give it to him right in the belly. If you don't get him, I'm going
to get you. I don't like his looks." Each of us was told the same. The
blindfolds were put on. Yet even then I had been going over my speech. In my mind each word was as bright as
a flame. I felt the cloth pressed into place, and frowned so that it would be loosened when I relaxed.
But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness, it was as though I had suddenly
found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths. I could hear the bleary voices yelling
insistently for the battle royal to begin.
"Get going in there!"
"Let me at that big nigger!"
Ellison does not soften his language in this
piece? Why would he choose to include this
I strained to pick up the school superintendent's voice, as
though to squeeze some security out of that slightly more familiar
"Let me at those black sonsabitches!" someone yelled.
"No, Jackson, no!" another voice yelled. "Here, somebody,
help me hold Jack."
"I want to get at that ginger-colored nigger. Tear him limb
from limb," the first voice yelled.
I stood against the ropes trembling. For in those days I was what they called ginger-colored, and he
sounded as though he might crunch me between his teeth like a crisp ginger cookie.
Quite a struggle was going on. Chairs were being kicked about and I could hear voices grunting as with
terrific effort. I wanted to see, to see more desperately than ever before. But the blindfold was as tight as a
thick skin, puckering scab and when I raised my gloved hands to push the layers of white aside a voice yelled,
“Oh, no you don't, black bastard! Leave that alone!"
"Ring the bell before Jackson kills him a coon!" someone boomed in the sudden silence. And I heard the
bell clang and the sound of the feet scuffling forward.
A glove smacked against my head. I pivoted, striking out stiffly as someone went past, and felt the jar
ripple along the length of my arm to my shoulder. Then it seemed as though all nine of the boys had turned
upon me at once. Blows pounded me from all sides while I struck out as best I could. So many blows landed
upon me that I wondered if I were not the only blindfolded fighter in the ring, or if the man called Jackson
hadn't succeeded in getting me after all.
Blindfolded, I could no longer control my motions. I had no dignity. Recall that the narrator initially felt
I stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man. The smoke had become proud to receive the invitation to
thicker and with each new blow it seemed to sear and further restrict my speak in front of “a gathering of the
lungs. My saliva became like hot bitter glue. A glove connected with my town's leading white citizens.”
head, filling my mouth with warm blood. It was everywhere. I could not tell if the moisture I felt upon my body
was sweat or blood. A blow landed hard against the nape of my neck. I felt myself going over, my head hitting
the floor. Streaks of blue light filled the black world behind the blindfold. I lay prone, pretending that I was
knocked out, but felt myself seized by hands and yanked to my feet. "Get going, black boy! Mix it up!" My arms
were like lead, my head smarting from blows. I managed to feel my way to the ropes and held on, trying to
catch my breath. A glove landed in my midsection and I went over again, feeling as though the smoke had be-
come a knife jabbed into my guts. Pushed this way and that by the legs milling around me, I finally pulled erect
and discovered that I could see the black, sweat- washed forms weaving in the smoky, blue atmosphere like
drunken dancers weaving to the rapid drum-like thuds of blows.
Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group
fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves
attacked. Blows landed below the belt and in the kidney, with the gloves open as well as closed, and with my
eye partly opened now there was not so much terror. I moved carefully, avoiding blows, although not too many
to attract attention, fighting group to group. The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to
protect their midsections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their arms stretched nervously
before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. In one
comer I glimpsed a boy violently punching the air and heard him scream in pain as he smashed his hand against
a ring post. For a second I saw him bent over holding his hand, then going down as a blow caught his
unprotected head. I played one group against the other, slip- ping in and throwing a punch then stepping out of
range while pushing the others into the melee to take the blows blindly aimed at me. The smoke was agonizing
and there were no rounds, no bells at three minute intervals to relieve our exhaustion. The room spun round
me, a swirl of lights, smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. I bled from both nose and
mouth, the blood spattering upon my chest.
The men kept yelling, "Slug him, black boy! Knock his guts out!"
"Uppercut him! Kill him! Kill that big boy!"
Taking a fake fall, I saw a boy going down heavily beside me as though we were felled by a single blow,
saw a sneaker-clad foot shoot into his groin as the two who had knocked him down stumbled upon him. I rolled
out of range, feeling a twinge of nausea.
The harder we fought the more threatening the men How could the narrator continue to worry
became. And yet, I had begun to worry about my speech again. How about his speech?
would it go? Would they recognize my ability? What would they
I was fighting automatically when suddenly I noticed that
one after another of the boys was leaving the ring. I was surprised,
filled with panic, as though I had been left alone with an unknown
danger. Then I understood. The boys had arranged it among themselves. It was the custom for the two men left
in the ring to slug it out for the winner's prize. I discovered this too late. When the bell sounded two men in
tuxedoes leaped into the ring and removed the blindfold. I found myself facing Tatlock, the biggest of the gang.
I felt sick at my stomach. Hardly had the bell stopped ringing in my ears than it clanged again and I saw him
moving swiftly toward me. Thinking of nothing else to do I hit him smash on the nose. He kept coming, bringing
the rank sharp violence of stale sweat. His face was a black blank of a face, only his eyes alive-with hate of me
and aglow with a feverish terror from what had happened to us all. I became anxious. I wanted to deliver my
speech and he came at me as though he meant to beat it out of me. I smashed him again and again, taking his
blows as they came. Then on a sudden impulse I struck him lightly and we clinched. I whispered, "Fake like I
knocked you out, you can have the prize."
"I'll break your behind," he whispered hoarsely.
"For me, sonafabitch!”
They were yelling for us to break it up and Tatlock spun me half around with a blow, and as a joggled
camera sweeps in a reeling scene, I saw the howling red faces crouching tense beneath the cloud of blue-gray
smoke. For a moment the world wavered, unraveled, flowed, then my head cleared and Tatlock bounced
before me. That fluttering shadow before my eyes was his jabbing left hand. Then falling forward, my head
against his damp shoulder, I whispered.
"I'll make it five dollars more."
"Go to hell!"
But his muscles relaxed a trifle beneath my pressure and I breathed, "Seven?"
"Give it to your ma," he said, ripping me beneath the heart.
And while I still held him I butted him and moved away. I After putting the narrator through the battle
felt myself bombarded with punches. I fought back with hopeless royal, do you think the men cared about his
desperation. I wanted to deliver my speech more than anything else ability?
in the world, because I felt that only these men could judge truly
my ability, and now this stupid clown was ruining my chances. I
began fighting carefully now, moving in to punch him and out again
with my greater speed. A lucky blow to his chin and I had him going
too—until I heard a loud voice yell, "I got my money on the big
Hearing this, I almost dropped my guard. I was confused: What do you think? Was this a moment for
Should I try to win against the voice out there? Would not this go humility? For nonresistance?
against my speech, and was not this a moment for humility, for
nonresistance? A blow to my head as I danced about sent my right
eye popping like a jack-in-the-box and settled my dilemma. The
room went red as I fell. It was a dream fall, my body languid and
fastidious as to where to land, until the floor became impatient and
smashed up to meet me. A moment later I came to. An hypnotic
voice said FIVE emphatically. And I lay there, hazily watching a dark
red spot of my own blood shaping itself into a butterfly, glistening
and soaking into the soiled gray world of the canvas.
When the voice drawled TEN I was lifted up and dragged to a chair. I sat dazed. My eye pained and
swelled with each throb of my pounding heart and I wondered if now I would be allowed to speak. I was
wringing wet, my mouth still bleeding. We were grouped along the wall now. The other boys ignored me as
they congratulated Tatlock and speculated as to how much they would be paid. One boy whimpered over his
smashed hand. Looking up front, I saw attendants in white jackets rolling the Portable ring away and placing a
small square rug in the vacant space surrounded by chain. Perhaps, I thought, I will stand on the rug to deliver
Then the M.C. called to us. "Come on up here boys and get your money."
We ran forward to where the men laughed and talked in their chairs, waiting. Everyone seemed
"There it is on the rug," the man said. I saw the mg covered with coins of all dimensions and a few
crumpled bills. But what excited me, scattered here and there, were the gold pieces.
"Boys, it's all yours," the man said. "You get all you grab."
After everything that has happened thus far,
"That's right, Sambo," a blond man said, winking at me do you think there’s a catch to this scenario?
I trembled with excitement, forgetting my pain. I would get
the gold and the bills. I thought. I would use both hands. I would
throw my body against the boys nearest me to block them from the
"Get down around the rug now," the man commanded,
"and don't anyone touch it until I give the signal."
"This ought to be good," I heard.
As told, we got around the square rug on our knees. Slowly the man raised his freckled hand as we
followed it upward with our eyes.
I heard, "These niggers look like they're about to pray!"
Then, "Ready", the man said. "Go!"
I lunged for a yellow coin lying on the blue design of the carpet, touching it and sending a surprised
shriek to join those around me. I tried frantically to remove my hand but could not let go. A hot, violent force
tore through my body, shaking me like a wet rat. The rug was electrified. The hair bristled up on my head as I
shook myself free. My muscles jumped, my nerves jangled, writhed. But I saw that this was not stopping the
other boys. Laughing in fear and embarrassment, some were holding back and scooping up the coins knocked
off by the painful contortions of others. The men roared above us as we struggled.
"Pick it up, goddamnit, pick it up!" someone called like a bass-voiced parrot. "Go on, get it!"
I crawled rapidly around the floor, picking up the coins,
How does this scenario further the power of
trying to avoid the coppers and to get greenbacks and the gold. shame and humiliation?
Ignoring the shock by laughing, as I brushed the coins off quickly, I
discovered that I could contain the electricity—a contradiction but it
works. Then the men began to push us onto the rug. Laughing
embarrassedly, we struggled out of their hands and kept after the
coins. We were all wet and slippery and hard to hold. Suddenly I saw
a boy lifted into the air, glistening with sweat like a circus seat, and
dropped, his wet back landing flush upon the charged rug, heard him yell and saw him literally dance upon his
back, his elbows beating a frenzied tattoo upon the floor, his muscles twitching like the flesh of a horse stung by
many flies. When be finally rolled off, his face was gray and no one stopped him when he ran from the floor
amid booming laughter.
"Get the money," the M.C. called. "That's good hard American cash!"
And we snatched and grabbed, snatched and grabbed. I was careful not to come too close to the rug
now, and when I felt the hot whiskey breath descend upon me like a cloud of foul air I reached out and grabbed
the leg of a chair. It was occupied and I held on desperately.
"Leggo, nigger! Leggo!"
The huge face wavered down to mine as he tried to push me free. But my body was slippery and he was
too drunk. It was Mr. Colcord, who owned a chain of movie houses and "entertainment palaces." Each time he
grabbed me I slipped out of his hands. It became a real struggle. I feared the rug more than I did the drunk, so I
held on, surprising myself for a moment by trying to topple him upon the rug. It was such an enormous idea
that I found myself actually carrying it out. I tried not to be obvious, yet when I grabbed his leg, trying to tumble
him out of the chair, he raised up roaring with laughter, and, looking at me with soberness dead in the eye,
kicked me viciously in the chest. The chair leg flew out of my hand and I felt myself going and rolled. It was as
though I had rolled through a bed of hot coals. It seemed a whole century would pass before I would roll free, a
century in which I was seared through the deepest levels of my body to the fearful breath within me and the
breath seared and heated to the point of explosion. It'll all be over in a flash, I thought as I rolled clear. It'll all
be over in a flash.
But not yet, the men on the other side were waiting, red faces swollen as though from apoplexy as they
bent forward in their chairs. Seeing their fingers coming toward me I rolled away as a fumbled football rolls off
the receiver's finger, tips, back into the coals. That time I luckily sent the rug sliding out of place and heard the
coins ringing against the floor and the boys scuffling to pick them up and the M.C. calling, "All right, boys, that's
all. Go get dressed and get your money."
I was limp as a dish rag. My back felt as though it had been beaten with wires. When we had dressed
the M.C. came in and gave us each five dollars, except Tatlock, who got ten for being the last in the ring. Then
he told us to leave. I was not to get a chance to deliver my speech, I thought. I was going out into the dim alley
in despair when I was stopped and told to go back. I returned to the ballroom, where the men were pushing
back their chairs and gathering in small groups to talk.
The M.C. knocked on a table for quiet. "Gentlemen," he said, "we almost forgot an important part of
the program. A most serious part, gentlemen. This boy was brought here to deliver a speech which he made at
his graduation yesterday . . ."
"I'm told that he is the smartest boy we've got out there in How could the narrator give his speech after
Greenwood. I'm told that he knows more big words than a pocket- what he had just been through?
Much applause and laughter.
"So now, gentlemen, I want you to give him your
There was still laughter as I faced them, my mouth dry, my
eyes throbbing. I began slowly, but evidently my throat was tense,
because they began shouting.
"We of the younger generation extol the wisdom of that great leader and educator," I shouted, "who
first spoke these flaming words of wisdom: 'A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel.
From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: "Water, water; we die of thirst!" The answer from
the friendly vessel came back: "Cast down your bucket where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at
last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh sparkling water from the mouth of
the Amazon River.' And like him I say, and in his words, 'To those of my race who depend upon bettering their
condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the
Southern white man, who is his next-door neighbor, I would say: "Cast down your bucket where you are'!—cast
it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded . . ."'
I spoke automatically and with such fervor that I did not
realize that the men were still talking and laughing until my dry Why weren’t the men paying attention? After
all, they had invited him to speak?
mouth, filling up with blood from the cut, almost strangled me. I
coughed, wanting to stop and go to one of the tall brass, sand-
filled spittoons to relieve myself, but a few of the men, especially
the superintendent, were listening and I was afraid. So I gulped it
down, blood, saliva and all, and continued. (What powers of
endurance I had during those days! What enthusiasm! What a
belief in the rightness of things!) I spoke even louder in spite of the
pain. But still they talked and still they laughed, as though deaf
with cotton in dirty ears. So I spoke with greater emotional
emphasis. I closed my ears and swallowed blood until I was
nauseated. The speech seemed a hundred times as long as before,
but I could not leave out a single word. All had to be said, each
memorized nuance considered, rendered. Nor was that all. Whenever I uttered a word of three or more
syllables a group of voices would yell for me to repeat it. I used the phrase "social responsibility" and they
"What's the word you say, boy?"
"Social responsibility," I said.
"Social . . ."
". . . responsibility."
The room filled with the uproar of laughter until, no doubt, distracted by having to gulp down my
blood, I made a mistake and yelled a phrase I had often seen denounced in newspaper editorials, heard
debated in private.
Why did the men react so negatively to the
"Social . . ." narrator’s mistaken use of “social equality”?
"What?" they yelled.
". . . equality—.”
The laughter hung smokelike in the sudden stillness. I
opened my eyes, puzzled. Sounds of displeasure filled the room.
The M.C. rushed forward. They shouted hostile phrases at me. But I did not understand.
A small dry mustached man in the front row blared out, “Say that slowly, son!
"What you just said!"
"Social responsibility, sir,” I said.
"You weren't being smart, were you boy?" he said, not unkindly.
"You sure that about 'equality' was a mistake?"
"Oh, yes, Sir," I said. "I was swallowing blood."
What did the man mean my “know your
"Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can
place at all times?”
understand. We mean to do right by you, but you've got to know your
place at all times. All right, now, go on with your speech."
I was afraid. I wanted to leave but I wanted also to speak and I How does this relate to what the grandfather
was afraid they'd snatch me down. said earlier?
"Thank you, Sir," I said, beginning where I had left off, and
having them ignore me as before.
Yet when I finished there was a thunderous applause. I was surprised to see the superintendent come
forth with a package wrapped in white tissue paper, and, gesturing for quiet, address the men.
"Gentlemen, you see that I did not overpraise the boy. He What does the superintendent most likely
makes a good speech and some day he'll lead his people in the proper mean by saying that one day the narrator will
paths. And I don't have to tell you that this is important in these days “lead his people in the proper paths”?
and times. This is a good, smart boy, and so to encourage him in the
right direction, in the name of the Board of Education I wish to present
him a prize in the form of this . . ."
He paused, removing the tissue paper and revealing a
gleaming calfskin briefcase.
". . . in the form of this first-class article from Shad Whitmore's shop."
"Boy," he said, addressing me, "take this prize and keep it well. Consider it a badge of office. Prize it.
Keep developing as you are and some day it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny
of your people."
I was so moved that I could hardly express my thanks. A rope of bloody saliva forming a shape like an
undiscovered continent drooled upon the leather and I wiped it quickly away. I felt an importance that I had
"Open it and see what's inside," I was told.
My fingers a-tremble, I complied, smelling fresh leather and finding an official-looking document inside.
It was a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. My eyes filled with tears and I ran awkwardly off the floor.
I was overjoyed; I did not even mind when I discovered the gold pieces I had scrambled What?!!!
for were brass pocket tokens advertising a certain make of automobile.
When I reached home everyone was excited. Next day the neighbors came to congratulate me. I even
felt safe from grandfather, whose deathbed curse usually spoiled my triumphs. I stood beneath his photograph
with my briefcase in hand and smiled triumphantly into his stolid black peasant's face. It was a face that
fascinated me. The eyes seemed to follow everywhere I went.
That night I dreamed I was at a circus with him and that he refused to laugh at the clowns no matter
what they did. Then later he told me to open my briefcase and read what was inside and I did, finding an official
envelope stamped with the state seal: and inside the envelope I found another and another, endlessly, and I
thought I would fall of weariness. "Them's years," he said. "Now open that one." And I did and in it I found an
engraved stamp containing a short message in letters of gold. "Read it," my grandfather said. "Out loud."
"To Whom It May Concern," I intoned. "Keep This Nigger-Boy Running."
I awoke with the old man's laughter ringing in my ears.
After reading Ellison’s story, jot down your initial reactions—thoughts, questions,
Mod. Am. Lit. NAME:
Valley High School
“Battle Royal,” from Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1. “Battle Royal” critiques the ideals of Booker T. Washington (paragraph 2, “About eighty-five years ago
they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the
common good…”). What is Ellison’s alternative strategy (see Grandfather’s words)?
2. Explain the possible interpretations of Grandfather’s words: “Live with your head in the lion’s mouth.”
3. What is the battle royal?
4. What is the subtle lesson behind the blond girl’s presence prior to the battle?
5. During the battle, the narrator asserts that he “had no dignity” and that it was “complete anarchy.”
How did the narrator survive the experience?
6. Why did the narrator so desperately want to deliver his speech?
7. Why did the narrator continue to grab the money after he knew the consequences?
8. The narrator was finally allowed to give his speech; however, the audience doesn’t appear to listen. At
what point does the narrator gain everyone’s attention? How? Why was this mistake scrutinized?
9. Was the “gleaming calfskin brief case” worth the humiliation the narrator endured? Why or why not?
10. Interpret the possible meaning of the narrator’s dream in which his grandfather instructs him to read a
11. Many readers have noted Ellison’s use of irony in his pieces. Identify two or three ironic passages and
explain the significance of each in relation to the entire piece.
12. Some readers have suggested that the narrator is the white man’s protégé. Would you agree or
disagree with this statement? Why?
Ellison’s “Battle Royal”—discussion questions
1. Explain surrealism and how it plays a role in this piece.
2. What power lies in the ritual of humiliation?
3. How do you connect with the ritual of humiliation?
4. Ellison makes numerous references to the circus. List some of those references and
speculate as to why he continually returned to this metaphor.
5. The narrator's grandfather tells him to "overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with
grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide
open." [p. 16] How does the narrator's interpretation of this advice change during the
course of the novel?
6. Great numbers of black Southerners emigrated to the cities of the North during the
Twenties and Thirties. The new lives of these urban African-Americans in the industrial
North were radically different from those they had led in the agrarian South. On the
surface, they confronted much less prejudice. What were the differences in racial attitudes
between the two cultures? Was the prejudice of the North less real because it was better
1. Some claim that Ellison portrays a picaresque view of the world in this piece. Do you agree or
2. How do you define social responsibility?
3. What are some contemporary examples of social responsibility?
4. How does Ellison mock the ideals of Booker T. Washington?
5. The town leaders at the battle royal tell the narrator, "We mean to do right by you, but you've
got to know your place at all times." [p. 31] What kind of help are the men actually offering?
What "place" in the world do they plan for young black people? Is there any real benevolence
included in their wish to dominate?
6. At the end of the novel, Invisible Man says, "Whence all this passion toward conformity
anyway?—diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states.
Why, if they follow this conformity business they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to
become white, which is not a color but the lack of one....America is woven of many strands; I
would recognize them and let it so remain." [p. 577] The debate between the value of diversity
versus conformity--or consensus--is still very much alive today, more than forty years after the
appearance of Invisible Man. Based upon what you’ve read and heard, what contribution
might the novel make to this cultural debate?
About Zora Neale Hurston
"I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than
climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions."
- Letter from Zora Neale Hurston to Countee Cullen
Zora Neale Hurston knew how to make an entrance. On May 1, 1925, at a literary awards dinner sponsored
by Opportunity magazine, the earthy Harlem newcomer turned heads and raised eyebrows as she claimed
four awards: a second-place fiction prize for her short story "Spunk," a second-place award in drama for her
play Color Struck, and two honorable mentions.
The names of the writers who beat out Hurston for first place that night would soon be forgotten. But the
name of the second-place winner buzzed on tongues all night, and for days and years to come. Lest anyone
forget her, Hurston made a wholly memorable entrance at a party following the awards dinner. She strode
into the room--jammed with writers and arts patrons, black and white--and flung a long, richly colored scarf
around her neck with dramatic flourish as she bellowed a reminder of the title of her winning play:
"Colooooooor Struuckkkk!" Her exultant entrance literally stopped the party for a moment, just as she had
intended. In this way, Hurston made it known that a bright and powerful presence had arrived. By all
accounts, Zora Neale Hurston could walk into a roomful of strangers and, a few minutes and a few stories
later, leave them so completely charmed that they often found themselves offering to help her in any way
Gamely accepting such offers--and employing her own talent and scrappiness--Hurston became the most
successful and most significant black woman writer of the first half of the 20th century. Over a career that
spanned more than 30 years, she published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous
short stories, and several essays, articles and plays.
Born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when
she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston,
Eatonville was always home.
Established in 1887, the rural community near Orlando was the nation's first incorporated black township.
It was, as Hurston described it, "a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three
hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse."
In Eatonville, Zora was never indoctrinated in inferiority, and she could see the evidence of black
achievement all around her. She could look to town hall and see black men, including her father, John
Hurston, formulating the laws that governed Eatonville. She could look to the Sunday Schools of the town's
two churches and see black women, including her mother, Lucy Potts Hurston, directing the Christian
curricula. She could look to the porch of the village store and see black men and women passing worlds
through their mouths in the form of colorful, engaging stories.
Growing up in this culturally affirming setting in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a
relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father, who sometimes sought to
"squinch" her rambunctious spirit, she recalled. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her
seven siblings to "jump at de sun." Hurston explained, "We might not land on the sun, but at least we would
get off the ground."
Hurston's idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, though, when her mother died in 1904. Zora was only 13
years old. "That hour began my wanderings," she later wrote. "Not so much in geography, but in time. Then
not so much in time as in spirit."
After Lucy Hurston's death, Zora's father remarried quickly--to a young woman whom the hotheaded Zora
almost killed in a fistfight--and seemed to have little time or money for his children. "Bare and bony of
comfort and love," Zora worked a series of menial jobs over the ensuing years, struggled to finish her
schooling, and eventually joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as a maid to the lead singer. In 1917,
she turned up in Baltimore; by then, she was 26 years old and still hadn't finished high school. Needing to
present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public schooling, she lopped 10 years off her life--giving her
age as 16 and the year of her birth as 1901. Once gone, those years were never restored: From that moment
forward, Hurston would always present herself as at least 10 years younger than she actually was.
Apparently, she had the looks to pull it off. Photographs reveal that she was a handsome, big-boned woman
with playful yet penetrating eyes, high cheekbones, and a full, graceful mouth that was never without
Zora also had a fiery intellect, an infectious sense of humor, and "the gift," as one friend put it, "of walking
into hearts." Zora used these talents--and dozens more--to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of
the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters.
Though Hurston rarely drank, fellow writer Sterling Brown recalled, "When Zora was there, she was the
party." Another friend remembered Hurston's apartment--furnished by donations she solicited from
friends--as a spirited "open house" for artists. All this socializing didn't keep Hurston from her work,
though. She would sometimes write in her bedroom while the party went on in the living room.
By 1935, Hurston--who'd graduated from Barnard College in 1928--had published several short stories and
articles, as well as a novel (Jonah's Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore
(Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early '40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her
masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo
practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her
autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned
acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who's Who in America, Current Biography
and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.
Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. (The largest royalty she ever earned from
any of her books was $943.75.) So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960--at age 69, after suffering a stroke--her
neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her February 7 funeral. The collection didn't
yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked
That summer, a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of
the author who had so inspired her own work. Walker found the Garden of Heavenly Rest, a segregated
cemetery at the dead end of North 17th Street, abandoned and overgrown with yellow-flowered weeds.
Back in 1945, Hurston had foreseen the possibility of dying without money--and she'd proposed a solution
that would have benefited her and countless others. Writing to W.E.B. Du Bois, whom she called the "Dean
of American Negro Artists," Hurston suggested "a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead" on 100 acres of
land in Florida. Citing practical complications, Du Bois wrote a curt reply discounting Hurston's persuasive
argument. "Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in
inconspicuous forgetfulness," she'd urged. "We must assume the responsibility of their graves being known
As if impelled by those words, Walker bravely entered the snake-infested cemetery where Hurston's
remains had been laid to rest. Wading through waist-high weeds, she soon stumbled upon a sunken
rectangular patch of ground that she determined to be Hurston's grave. Unable to afford the marker she
wanted--a tall, majestic black stone called "Ebony Mist"--Walker chose a plain gray headstone instead.
Borrowing from a Jean Toomer poem, she dressed the marker up with a fitting epitaph: "Zora Neale
Hurston: A Genius of the South."
By Valerie Boyd (http://www.zoranealehurston.com/biography.html)
How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston
I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances
except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose
grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.
I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I
lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored
town. The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or
coming from Orlando. The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern
tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles. The town knew
the Southerners and never stopped cane chewing when they passed. But the
Northerners were something else again. They were peered at cautiously from
behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the
porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as
the tourists got out of the village.
The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a
gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gate-post. Proscenium box
for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the
actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at
them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this:
"Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?" Usually automobile or the
horse paused at this, and after a queer exchange of compliments, I would
probably "go a piece of the way" with them, as we say in farthest Florida. If one
of my family happened to come to the front in time to see me, of course
negotiations would be rudely broken off. But even so, it is clear that I was the
first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian, and I hope the Miami Chamber of
Commerce will please take notice.
During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rose through town and never lived
there. They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me
generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so
much that I needed bribing to stop. Only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored
any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the
But changes came in the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville,
the town of the oleanders, as Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It
seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored
girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to
rub nor run.
But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I
do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given
them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my
life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep
at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register
depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well,
thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said "On the line!" The
Reconstruction said "Get set!"; and the generation before said "Go!" I am off to a flying start and I must not halt
in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with
me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a
greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any
act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the
national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or weep.
The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I
sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so
exciting as the game of getting.
I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I
feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
For instance at Barnard. "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I
am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I
am; and the ebb but reveals me again.
Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just as sharp
for me. For instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my
color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz
waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in
circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and
narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with
primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen--follow
them exultingly. I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it
true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow
and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something--give pain,
give death to what, I do not know. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their
fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting
motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.
"Good music they have here," he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips.
Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far
away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with
his whiteness then and I am so colored.
At certain times I have no race, I am me . When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh
Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance. So
far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately
carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I
belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.
I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul
that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong.
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any
deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.
But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with
other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things
priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a
door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be,
a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your
hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could
they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of
any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags
filled them in the first place--who knows?
Zora Neale Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits"
It was a Negro yard around a Negro house in a Negro settlement that looked to the payroll of the G. and G. Fertilizer
works for its support.
But there was something happy about the place. The front yard was parted in the middle by a sidewalk from gate to
doorstep, a sidewalk edged on either side by quart bottles driven neck down into the ground on a slant. A mess of homey
flowers planted without a plan but blooming cheerily from their helter-skelter places. The fence and house were whitewashed.
The porch and steps scrubbed white.
The front door stood open to the sunshine so that the floor of the front room could finish drying after its weekly
scouring. It was Saturday. Everything clean from the front gate to the privy house. Yard raked so that the strokes of the rake
would make a pattern. Fresh newspaper cut in fancy edge on the kitchen shelves.
Missie May was bathing herself in the galvanized washtub in the bedroom. Her dark-brown skin glistened under the
soapsuds that skittered down from her washrag. Her stiff young breasts thrust forward aggressively, like broad-based cones
with the tips lacquered in black.
She heard men's voices in the distance and glanced at the dollar clock on the dresser.
"Humph! Ah'm way behind time t'day! Joe gointer be heah 'fore Ah git mah clothes on if Ah don't make haste."
She grabbed the clean mealsack at hand and dried herself hurriedly and began to dress. But before she could tie
her slippers, there came the ring of singing metal on wood. Nine times.
Missie May grinned with delight. She had not seen the big tall man come stealing in the gate and creep up the walk grinning
happily at the joyful mischief he was about to commit. But she knew that it was her husband throwing silver dollars in the door
for her to pick up and pile beside her plate at dinner. It was this way every Saturday afternoon. The nine dollars hurled into
the open door, he scurried to a hiding place behind the Cape jasmine bush and waited.
Missie May promptly appeared at the door in mock alarm.
"Who dat chunkin' money in mah do'way?" she demanded. No answer from the yard. She leaped off the porch and
began to search the shrubbery. She peeped under the porch and hung over the gate to look up and down the road. While
she did this, the man behind the jasmine darted to the chinaberry tree. She spied him and gave chase.
"Nobody ain't gointer be chunkin' money at me and Ah not do 'em nothin'," she shouted in mock anger. He ran
around the house with Missie May at his heels. She overtook him at the kitchen door. He ran inside but could not close it after
him before she crowded in and locked with him in a rough-and-tumble. For several minutes the two were a furious mass of
male and female energy. Shouting, laughing, twisting, turning, tussling, tickling each other in the ribs; Missie May clutching
onto Joe and Joe trying, but not too hard, to get away.
"Missie May, take yo' hand out mah pocket!" Joe shouted out between laughs.
"Ah ain't, Joe, not lessen you gwine gimme whateve' it is good you got in yo' pocket. Turn it go, Joe, do Ah'll tear yo' clothes."
"Go on tear 'em. You de one dat pushes de needles round heah. Move yo' hand, Missie May."
"Lemme git dat paper sak out yo' pocket. Ah bet it's candy kisses."
"Tain't. Move yo' hand. Woman ain't got no business in a man's clothes nohow. Go way."
Missie May gouged way down and gave an upward jerk and triumphed.
"Unhhunh! Ah got it! It 'tis so candy kisses. Ah knowed you had somethin' for me in yo' clothes. Now Ah got to see
whut's in every pocket you got."
Joe smiled indulgently and let his wife go through all of his pockets and take out the things that he had hidden for
her to find. She bore off the chewing gum, the cake of sweet soap, the pocket handkerchief as if she had wrested them from
him, as if they had not been bought for the sake of this friendly battle.
"Whew! dat play-fight done got me all warmed up!" Joe exclaimed. "Got me some water in de kittle?"
"Yo' water is on de fire and yo' clean things is cross de bed. Hurry up and wash yo'self and git changed so we kin
eat. Ah'm hongry." As Missie said this, she bore the steaming kettle into the bedroom.
"You ain't hongry, sugar," Joe contradicted her. "Youse jes' a little empty. Ah'm de one whut's hongry. Ah could eat
up camp meetin', back off 'ssociation, and drink Jurdan dry. Have it on de table when Ah git out de tub."
"Don't you mess wid mah business, man. You git in yo' clothes. Ah'm a real wife, not no dress and breath. Ah might
not look lak one, but if you burn me, you won't git a thing but wife ashes."
Joe splashed in the bedroom and Missie May fanned around in the kitchen. A fresh red-and-white checked cloth on
the table. Big pitcher of buttermilk beaded with pale drops of butter from the churn. Hot fried mullet, crackling bread, ham
hock atop a mound of string beans and new potatoes, and perched on the windowsill a pone of spicy potato pudding.
Very little talk during the meal but that little consisted of banter that pretended to deny affection but in reality flaunted
it. Like when Missie May reached for a second helping of the tater pone. Joe snatched it out of her reach.
After Missie May had made two or three unsuccessful grabs at the pan, she begged, "Aw, Joe, gimme some mo' dat
"Nope, sweetenin' is for us menfolks. Y'all pritty lil frail eels don't need nothin' lak dis. You too sweet already."
"Naw, naw. Ah don't want you to git no sweeter than whut you is already. We goin' down de road a lil piece t'night so
you go put on yo' Sunday-go-to-meetin' things."
Missie May looked at her husband to see if he was playing some prank. "Sho nuff, Joe?"
"Yeah. We goin' to de ice cream parlor."
"Where de ice cream parlor at, Joe?"
"A new man done come heah from Chicago and he done got a place and took and opened it up for a ice cream
parlor, and bein', as it's real swell, Ah wants you to be one de first ladies to walk in dere and have some set down."
"Do Jesus, Ah ain't knowed nothin' bout it. Who de man done it?"
"Mister Otis D. Slemmons, of spots and places--Memphis, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and so on."
"Dat heavyset man wid his mouth full of gold teeths?"
"Yeah. Where did you see 'im at?"
"Ah went down to de sto' tuh git a box of lye and Ah seen 'im standin' on de corner talkin' to some of de mens, and
Ah come on back and went to scrubbin' de floor, and he passed and tipped his hat whilst Ah was scourin' de steps. Ah
thought Ah never seen him befo'."
Joe smiled pleasantly. "Yeah, he's up-to-date. He got de finest clothes Ah ever seen on a colored man's back."
"Aw, he don't look no better in his clothes than you do in yourn. He got a puzzlegut on 'im and he so chuckleheaded
he got a pone behind his neck."
Joe looked down at his own abdomen and said wistfully: "Wisht Ah had a build on me lak he got. He ain't
puzzlegutted, honey. He jes' got a corperation. Dat make 'm look lak a rich white man. All rich mens is got some belly on
"Ah seen de pitchers of Henry Ford and he's a spare-built man and Rockefeller look lak he ain't got but one gut. But
Ford and Rockefeller and dis Slemmons and all de rest kin be as many-gutted as dey please, Ah's satisfied wid you jes' lak
you is, baby. God took pattern after a pine tree and built you noble. Youse a pritty man, and if Ah knowed any way to make
you mo' pritty still Ah'd take and do it."
Joe reached over gently and toyed with Missie May's ear. "You jes' say dat cause you love me, but Ah know Ah
can't hold no light to Otis D. Slemmons. Ah ain't never been nowhere and Ah ain't got nothin' but you."
Missie May got on his lap and kissed him and he kissed back in kind. Then he went on. "All de womens is crazy
'bout 'im everywhere he go."
"How you know dat, Joe?"
"He tole us so hisself."
"Dat don't make it so. His mouf is cut crossways, ain't it? Well, he kin lie jes' lak anybody else."
"Good Lawd, Missie! You womens sho is hard to sense into things. He's got a five-dollar gold piece for a stickpin
and he got a ten-dollar gold piece on his watch chain and his mouf is jes' crammed full of gold teeths. Sho wisht it wuz mine.
And whut make it so cool, he got money 'cumulated. And womens give it all to 'im."
"Ah don't see whut de womens see on 'im. Ah wouldn't give 'im a wink if de sheriff wuz after 'im."
"Well, he tole us how de white womens in Chicago give 'im all dat gold money. So he don't 'low nobody to touch it at
all. Not even put day finger on it. Dey told 'im not to. You kin make 'miration at it, but don't tetch it."
"Whyn't he stay up dere where dey so crazy 'bout 'im?"
"Ah reckon dey done made 'im vast-rich and he wants to travel some. He says dey wouldn't leave 'im hit a lick of
work. He got mo' lady people crazy 'bout him than he kin shake a stick at."
"Joe, Ah hates to see you so dumb. Dat stray nigger jes' tell y'all anything and y'all b'lieve it."
"Go 'head on now, honey, and put on yo' clothes. He talkin' 'bout his pritty womens--Ah want 'im to see mine."
Missie May went off to dress and Joe spent the time trying to make his stomach punch out like Slemmons's middle.
He tried the rolling swagger of the stranger, but found that his tall bone-and-muscle stride fitted ill with it. He just had time to
drop back into his seat before Missie May came in dressed to go.
On the way home that night Joe was exultant. "Didn't Ah say ole Otis was swell? Can't he talk Chicago talk? Wuzn't
dat funny whut he said when great big fat ole Ida Armstrong come in? He asted me, 'Who is dat broad wid de forte shake?'
Dat's a new word. Us always thought forty was a set of figgers but he showed us where it means a whole heap of things.
Sometimes he don't say forty, he jes' say thirty-eight and two and dat mean de same thing. Know whut he told me when Ah
wuz payin' for our ice cream? He say, 'Ah have to hand it to you, Joe. Dat wife of yours is jes' thirty-eight and two. Yessuh,
she's forte!' Ain't he killin'?"
"He'll do in case of a rush. But he sho is got uh heap uh gold on 'im. Dat's de first time Ah ever seed gold money. It
lookted good on him sho nuff, but it'd look a whole heap better on you."
"Who, me? Missie May, youse crazy! Where would a po' man lak me git gold money from?"
Missie May was silent for a minute, then she said, "Us might find some goin' long de road some time. Us could."
"Who would be losin' gold money round heah? We ain't even seen none dese white folks wearin' no gold money on
dey watch chain. You must be figgerin' Mister Packard or Mister Cadillac goin' pass through heah."
"You don't know whut been lost 'round heah. Maybe somebody way back in memorial times lost they gold money
and went on off and it ain't never been found. And then if we wuz to find it, you could wear some 'thout havin' no gang of
womens lak dat Slemmons say he got."
Joe laughed and hugged her. "Don't be so wishful 'bout me. Ah'm satisfied de way Ah is. So long as Ah be yo'
husband. Ah don't keer 'bout nothin' else. Ah'd ruther all de other womens in de world to be dead than for you to have de
toothache. Less we go to bed and git our night rest."
It was Saturday night once more before Joe could parade his wife in Slemmons's ice cream parlor again. He worked
the night shift and Saturday was his only night off. Every other evening around six o'clock he left home, and dying dawn saw
him hustling home around the lake, where the challenging sun flung a flaming sword from east to west across the trembling
That was the best part of life--going home to Missie May. Their whitewashed house, the mock battle on Saturday,
the dinner and ice cream parlor afterwards, church on Sunday nights when Missie outdressed any woman in town--all,
everything, was right.
One night around eleven the acid ran out at the G. and G. The foreman knocked off the crew and let the steam die
down. As Joe rounded the lake on his way home, a lean moon rode the lake in a silver boat. If anybody had asked Joe about
the moon on the lake, he would have said he hadn't paid it any attention. But he saw it with his feelings. It made him yearn
painfully for Missie. Creation obsessed him. He thought about children. They had been married more than a year now. They
had money put away. They ought to be making little feet for shoes. A little boy child would be about right.
He saw a dim light in the bedroom and decided to come in through the kitchen door. He could wash the fertilizer
dust off himself before presenting himself to Missie May. It would be nice for her not to know that he was there until he
slipped into his place in bed and hugged her back. She always liked that.
He eased the kitchen door open slowly and silently, but when he went to set his dinner bucket on the table he
bumped it into a pile of dishes, and something crashed to the floor. He heard his wife gasp in fright and hurried to reassure
"Iss me, honey. Don't git skeered."
There was a quick, large movement in the bedroom. A rustle, a thud, and a stealthy silence. The light went out.
What? Robbers? Murderers? Some varmint attacking his helpless wife, perhaps. He struck a match, threw himself
on guard and stepped over the doorsill into the bedroom.
The great belt on the wheel of Time slipped and eternity stood still. By the match light he could see the man's legs fighting
with his breeches in his frantic desire to get them on. He had both chance and time to kill the intruder in his helpless
condition--half in and half out of his pants--but he was too weak to take action. The shapeless enemies of humanity that live
in the hours of Time had waylaid Joe. He was assaulted in his weakness. Like Samson awakening after his haircut. So he
just opened his mouth and laughed.
The match went out and he struck another and lit the lamp. A howling wind raced across his heart, but underneath
its fury he heard his wife sobbing and Slemmons pleading for his life. Offering to buy it with all that he had. "Please, suh,
don't kill me. Sixty-two dollars at de sto'. Gold money."
Joe just stood. Slemmons looked at the window, but it was screened. Joe stood out like a rough-backed mountain
between him and the door. Barring him from escape, from sunrise, from life.
He considered a surprise attack upon the big clown that stood there laughing like a chessy cat. But before his fist
could travel an inch, Joe's own rushed out to crush him like a battering ram. Then Joe stood over him.
"Git into yo' damn rags, Slemmons, and dat quick."
Slemmons scrambled to his feet and into his vest and coat. As he grabbed his hat, Joe's fury overrode his intentions
and he grabbed at Slemmons with his left hand and struck at him with his right. The right landed. The left grazed the front of
his vest. Slemmons was knocked a somersault into the kitchen and fled through the open door. Joe found himself alone with
Missie May, with the golden watch charm clutched in his left fist. A short bit of broken chain dangled between his fingers.
Missie May was sobbing. Wails of weeping without words. Joe stood, and after a while he found out that he had
something in his hand. And then he stood and felt without thinking and without seeing with his natural eyes. Missie May kept
on crying and Joe kept on feeling so much, and not knowing what to do with all his feelings, he put Slemmons's watch charm
in his pants pocket and took a good laugh and went to bed.
"Missie May, whut you cryin' for?"
"Cause Ah love you so hard and Ah know you don't love me no mo'."
Joe sank his face into the pillow for a spell, then he said huskily, "You don't know de feelings of dat yet, Missie May."
"Oh Joe, honey, he said he wuz gointer give me dat gold money and he jes' kept on after me--"
Joe was very still and silent for a long time. Then he said, "Well, don't cry no mo', Missie May. Ah got yo' gold piece
The hours went past on their rusty ankles. Joe still and quiet on one bed rail and Missie May wrung dry of sobs on
the other. Finally the sun's tide crept upon the shore of night and drowned all its hours. Missie May with her face stiff and
streaked towards the window saw the dawn come into her yard. It was day. Nothing more. Joe wouldn't be coming home as
usual. No need to fling open the front door and sweep off the porch, making it nice for Joe. Never no more breakfast to cook;
no more washing and starching of Joe's jumper-jackets and pants. No more nothing. So why get up?
With this strange man in her bed, she felt embarrassed to get up and dress. She decided to wait till he had dressed
and gone. Then she would get up, dress quickly and be gone forever beyond reach of Joe's looks and laughs. But he never
moved. Red light turned to yellow, then white.
From beyond the no-man's land between them came a voice. A strange voice that yesterday had been Joe's.
"Missie May, ain't you gonna fix me no breakfus'?"
She sprang out of bed. "Yeah, Joe. Ah didn't reckon you wuz hongry."
No need to die today. Joe needed her for a few more minutes anyhow.
Soon there was a roaring fire in the cookstove. Water bucket full and two chickens killed. Joe loved fried chicken
and rice. She didn't deserve a thing and good Joe was letting her cook him some breakfast. She rushed hot biscuits to the
table as Joe took his seat.
He ate with his eyes in his plate. No laughter, no banter.
"Missie May, you ain't eatin' yo' breakfus'."
"Ah don't choose none, Ah thank yuh."
His coffee cup was empty. She sprang to refill it. When she turned from the stove and bent to set the cup beside
Joe's plate, she saw the yellow coin on the table between them.
She slumped into her seat and wept into her arms.
Presently Joe said calmly, "Missie May, you cry too much. Don't look back lak Lot's wife and turn to salt."
The sun, the hero of every day, the impersonal old man that beams as brightly on death as on birth, came up every
morning and raced across the blue dome and dipped into the sea of fire every morning. Water ran downhill and birds nested.
Missie knew why she didn't leave Joe. She couldn't. She loved him too much, but she could not understand why Joe
didn't leave her. He was polite, even kind at times, but aloof.
There were no more Saturday romps. No ringing silver dollars to stack beside her plate. No pockets to rifle. In fact,
the yellow coin in his trousers was like a monster hiding in the cave of his pockets to destroy her.
She often wondered if he still had it, but nothing could have induced her to ask nor yet to explore his pockets to see
for herself. Its shadow was in the house whether or no.
One night Joe came home around midnight and complained of pains in the back. He asked Missie to rub him down
with liniment. It had been three months since Missie had touched his body and it all seemed strange. But she rubbed him.
Grateful for the chance. Before morning youth triumphed and Missie exulted. But the next day, as she joyfully made up their
bed, beneath her pillow she found the piece of money with the bit of chain attached.
Alone to herself, she looked at the thing with loathing, but look she must. She took it into her hands with trembling
and saw first thing that it was no gold piece. It was a gilded half dollar. Then she knew why Slemmons had forbidden anyone
to touch his gold. He trusted village eyes at a distance not to recognize his stickpin as a gilded quarter, and his watch charm
as a four-bit piece.
She was glad at first that Joe had left it there. Perhaps he was through with her punishment. They were man and
wife again. Then another thought came clawing at her. He had come home to buy from her as if she were any woman in the
longhouse. Fifty cents for her love. As if to say that he could pay as well as Slemmons. She slid the coin into his Sunday
pants pocket and dressed herself and left his house.
Halfway between her house and the quarters she met her husband's mother, and after a short talk she turned and
went back home. Never would she admit defeat to that woman who prayed for it nightly. If she had not the substance of
marriage she had the outside show. Joe must leave her. She let him see she didn't want his old gold four-bits, too.
She saw no more of the coin for some time though she knew that Joe could not help finding it in his pocket. But his
health kept poor, and he came home at least every ten days to be rubbed.
The sun swept around the horizon, trailing its robes of weeks and days. One morning as Joe came in from work, he
found Missie May chopping wood. Without a word he took the ax and chopped a huge pile before he stopped.
"You ain't got no business choppin' wood, and you know it."
"How come? Ah been choppin' it for de last longest."
"Ah ain't blind. You makin' feet for shoes."
"Won't you be glad to have a lil baby chile, Joe?"
"You know dat 'thout astin' me."
"Iss gointer be a boy chile and de very spit of you."
"You reckon, Missie May?"
"Who else could it look lak?"
Joe said nothing, but he thrust his hand deep into his pocket and fingered something there.
It was almost six months later Missie May took to bed and Joe went and got his mother to come wait on the house.
Missie May was delivered of a fine boy. Her travail was over when Joe come in from work one morning. His mother
and the old woman were drinking great bowls of coffee around the fire in the kitchen.
The minute Joe came into the room his mother called him aside.
"How did Missie May make out?" he asked quickly.
"Who, dat gal? She strong as a ox. She gointer have plenty mo'. We done fixed her wid de sugar and lard to
sweeten her for de nex' one."
Joe stood silent awhile.
"You ain't ask 'bout de baby, Joe. You oughter be mighty proud cause he sho is de spittin' image of yuh, son. Dat's
yourn all right, if you never git another one, dat un is yourn. And you know Ah'm mighty proud too, son, cause Ah never
thought well of you marryin' Missie May cause her ma used tuh fan her foot round right smart and Ah been mighty skeered
dat Missie May wuz gointer git misput on her road."
Joe said nothing. He fooled around the house till late in the day, then, just before he went to work, he went and
stood at the foot of the bed and asked his wife how she felt. He did this every day during the week.
On Saturday he went to Orlando to make his market. It had been a long time since he had done that.
Meat and lard, meal and flour, soap and starch. Cans of corn and tomatoes. All the staples. He fooled around town
for a while and bought bananas and apples. Way after while he went around to the candy store.
"Hello, Joe," the clerk greeted him. "Ain't seen you in a long time."
"Nope, Ah ain't been heah. Been round in spots and places."
"Want some of them molasses kisses you always buy?"
"Yessuh." He threw the gilded half dollar on the counter. "Will dat spend?"
"What is it, Joe? Well, I'll be doggone! A gold-plated four-bit piece. Where'd you git it, Joe?"
"Offen a stray nigger dat come through Eatonville. He had it on his watch chain for a charm--goin' round making out
iss gold money. Ha ha! He had a quarter on his tiepin and it wuz all golded up too. Tryin' to fool people. Makin' out he so rich
and everything. Ha! Ha! Tryin' to tole off folkses wives from home."
"How did you git it, Joe? Did he fool you, too?"
"Who, me? Naw suh! He ain't fooled me none. Know whut Ah done? He come round me wid his smart talk. Ah hauled off and
knocked 'im down and took his old four-bits away from 'im. Gointer buy my wife some good ole lasses kisses wid it. Gimme
fifty cents worth of dem candy kisses."
Fifty cents buys a mighty lot of candy kisses, Joe. Why don't you split it up and take sme chocolate bars, too? They
eat good, too."
"Yessuh, dey do, but Ah wants all dat in kisses. Ah got a lil boy chile home now. Tain't a week old yet, but he kin
suck a sugar tit and maybe eat one them kisses hisself."
Joe got his candy and left the store. The clerk turned to the next customer. "Wisht I could be like these darkies.
Laughin' all the time. Nothin' worries 'em."
Back in Eatonville, Joe reached his own front door. There was the ring of singing metal on wood. Fifteen times.
Missie May couldn't run to the door, but she crept there as quickly as she could.
"Joe Banks, Ah hear you chunkin' money in mah do'way. You wait till Ah got mah strength back and Ah'm gointer fix
you for dat."
Modern American Literature
Valley High School
“Gilded Six-Bits” by Zora Neale Hurston
1. Why does Joe throw money at Missie May when he comes home?
2. Why is Joe so impressed by Mister Otis D. Slemmon?
3. Why does Joe want to parade his wife in front of Slemmons? What happens as a result of showing off his wife?
4. How does Missie May explain her adultery?
5. Why doesn’t Joe leave Missie May?
6. Joe kept the gold piece from Slemmons as a reminder of how both he and his wife had been duped. Later, Joe left
the coin under Missie May’s pillow. What did Missie May discover about the coin? What is the significance of this
7. Why didn’t Missy May tell Joe about her pregnancy? How did Joe reveal that he knew she was pregnant?
8. After the birth of his son, Joe’s mother told him, “Dat’s yourn all right, if you never git another one, dat un is yourn.”
What is the message behind this statement?
9. In the end, do you feel that the relationship between Joe and Missie May changed? If so, how and way? If not, why
10. Hurston often focused on gender relations in her stories. How does this theme evolve in “Gilded Six-Bits”?
Style Analysis Names:
Directions: For this activity, read and explore the style of Zora Neale Hurston. Indicate the line number, the
quotation (you can use ellipsis to skip middle words in longer quotations), the technique (you may refer to your
lit. terms handout), and the way that the stylistic choices affect the meaning.
Paragraph Quotation Technique How does the style add to meaning?
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was born May 19, 1930 in Chicago and raised in a
middle-class family. When she was 7 or 8 her family moved to a restricted
white neighborhood which was against the law at that time. The Hansberrys
had to go to court in order to remain in their home which was vandalized on
several occasions. Lorraine Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin,
studied at Roosevelt University, attended the New School for Social Research,
and studied African Culture and History with W.E.B. DuBois at the Jefferson
School for Social Sciences in New York. During that time she wrote for Paul
Robeson's Freedom magazine and participated in liberal causes. In 1953 she
married Robert Nemiroff, a white writer and activist; they were divorced in 1964.
The production of her play, A Raisin in the Sun catapulted Hansberry into the forefront of the theatre
world. She was named most promising playwright of the season by Variety's poll of New York Drama
Critics. Upon receiving that year's Drama Desk Award, Lorraine Hansberry became the youngest
person and the first African-American to win that distinguished honor. In 1961 the film version of the
play, starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee opened; Hansberry won a special award at
the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a Screen Writer's Guild Award for her screenplay. A
second television adaptation of the play aired in 1989 starring Danny Glover, Esther Rolle, and Kim
Hansberry's second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window was not as successful. The show ran
for only 101 performances and closed on January 12, 1965, the very day that Lorraine Hansberry died
at 34 of cancer, cutting short a glorious career and leaving behind several unfinished works such as
Toussaint, an opera based on the life of the 18th C. Haitian leader. Robert Nemiroff, her ex-husband
and the executor of her estate, published Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry
in 1972, which contained The Drinking Gourd, Les Blancs, and What Use are Flowers.
When I think of contemporary groups that experience
discrimination, I think of….
I think these groups are discriminated against because…
"Heard 'Em Say" – Kanye West
(feat. Adam Levine of Maroon 5)
Wake up Mr. West [echoes]
Uh, Yeah, Uh, yeah, uh, yeah, uh, yeah
And I heard 'em say, nothin ever promised tomorrow today.
From the Chi, like Tim its the Hard-a-way,
So this is in the name of love, like Robert says
Before you ask me to get a job today, can I at least get a raise on a minimum wage?
And I know the government administered AIDS,
So I guess we just pray like the minister say,
Allah o Akbar and throw em some hot cars,
Things we see on the screen are not ours,
But these n----- from the hood so these dreams not far,
Where I’m from, the dope boys is the rock stars,
But they can't cop cars without seein' cop cars,
I guess they want us all behind bars.
I know it.
[Chorus (Adam Levine)]
Uh, And I heard 'em say, nothin ever promised tomorrow today.
And I heard 'em say, nothin ever promised tomorrow today.
(Nothing's ever promised tomorrow today.)
But we'll find a way
(And nothing lasts forever but be honest babe, it hurts but it may be the only way)
They say people in your life are seasons, What happens to a dream deferred?
And anything that happen is for a reason,
And n----- guns a clappin and keep to squeezin',
And Gran (Grandma) keep prayin' and keep believin', Does it dry up
And Jesus and one day that ya see him, like a raisin in the sun?
Till they walk in his footsteps and try to be him, Or fester like a sore -
The devil is alive I feel him breathin', And then run?
Claimin' money is the key so keep on dreamin', Does it stink like rotten meat?
And put them lottery tickets just to tease us,
My aunt Pam can't put those cigarettes down, Or crust and sugar over -
Now my lil cousin smokin those cigarettes now, like a syrupy sweet?
His job trying to claim that he too n-------- now,
Is it cuz his skin blacker than licorice now? Maybe it just sags
I can't figure it out...
like a heavy load.
I’m stickin around....
[Chorus (Adam Levine)] Or does it explode?
Uh, And I heard 'em say, nothin ever promised tomorrow today.
And I heard 'em say, nothin ever promised tomorrow today.
- Langston Hughes, 1951
(Nothing's ever promised tomorrow today.)
But we'll find a way
(And nothing lasts forever but be honest babe, it hurts but it may be the only way)
(Cuz every worthless word we get more far away, and nothing's ever promised tomorrowWhat happens to a dream
And nothing lasts forever but be honest babe, it hurts but it may be the only way) deferred?
[Beat Changes] Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten
Or crust and sugar over - 45
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
“Harlem: A Poem” By Walter Dean Myers
Read online for text notes (in bold):
They took the road in Waycross, Georgia http://faculty.lagcc.cuny.edu/eiannotti/harlem/harlem.htm
Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis
Took the bus from Holly Springs
Hitched a ride from Gee’s Bend
Took the long way through Memphis
The third deck down from Trinidad For a slideshow of the poem, visit:
A wrench of heart from Goree Island
A wrench of heart from Goree Island http://www.childrenslibrary.org/icdl/BookReader?bookid=m
To a place called yrhrlm_00260006&twoPage=true&route=text&size=0&fulls
Harlem was a promise
Of a better life,
of a place where a man
Didn’t have to know his place
He was Black
They brought a call
First heard in the villages of
Calls and songs and shouts
Heavy hearted tambourine rhythms
Loosed in the hard city
Like a scream torn from the throat
Of an ancient clarinet
A new sound, raucous and sassy
Cascading over the asphalt village
Breaking against the black sky over
Riffing past resolution
Yellow, tan, brown, black, red
Green, gray, bright
Colors loud enough to be heard
Light on asphalt streets
Sun yellow shirts on burnt umber
Demanding to be heard
Sending out warriors
From streets known to be
Mourning still as a lone radio tells us how
Is doing with our hopes.
We pray Blocks, bricks
Our black skins Fat, round woman in a rectangle
Reflecting the face of God Sunday night gospel
In storefront temples “Precious Lord…take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand…”
Jive and Jehovah artists
Lay out the human canvas Caught by a full lipped
The mood indigo Full hipped Saint
Washing collard greens
A chorus of summer herbs In a cracked porcelain sink
Of mangoes and bar-b-que Backing up Lady Day on the radio
Of perfumed sisters
Hip strutting past Brother so black and blue
Fried fish joints Patting a wide foot outside the
On Lenox Avenue in steamy August Too hot Walk-up
A carnival of children You ought to find the guys who told you
People in the daytime streets you could play some checkers
Ring-a-levio warriors ‘cause he done lied to you!”
Hide-and-seek knights and ladies Cracked reed and soprano sax laughter
Waiting to sing their own sweet songs Floats over
Living out their own slam-dunk dreams a fleet of funeral cars
For the coming of the blues In Harlem
Sparrows sit on fire escapes
A weary blues that Langston knew Outside rent parties
And Countee sung To learn the tunes.
A river of blues
Where Du Bois waded In Harlem
And Baldwin preached The wind doesn’t blow past Smalls
It stops to listen to the sounds
There is lilt
Tempo Serious business
Cadence A poem, rhapsody tripping along
A language of darkness Striver’s Row
Darkness known Not getting it’s metric feel soiled
Darkness sharpened at Mintons On the well-swept walks
Darkness lightened at the Cotton Club Hustling through the hard rain at two o’clock
Sent flying from Abyssinian Baptist In the morning to its next gig.
To the Apollo.
A huddle of horns
The uptown A And a tinkle of glass
Rattles past 110th Street A note
Unreal to real Handed down from Marcus to Malcolm
Relaxing the soul To a brother
Too bad and too cool to give his name.
Shango and Jesus
Asante and Mende Sometimes despair
One people Makes the stoops shudder
A hundred different people Sometimes there are endless depths of pain
Huddled masses Singing a capella on street corners
And crowded dreams
And sometimes not.
Sometimes it is the artist
looking into the mirror
Painting a portrait of his own heart.
Memories of feelings
A journey on the A train
That started on the banks of the Niger
And has not ended
My thoughts about Harlem:
A Raisin in the Sun: ACT I
1. Why does the author go into great detail when describing the Younger’s apartment and its furnishings?
2. Based upon what the character of the family and what the family says about Mr. Younger, how would
you describe Walter and Beneatha’s father?
3. Who has Ruth actually gone to see instead of the doctor? Why does she consider taking this route?
4. What does Beneatha mean by the term “assimilationist”? List some other words or phrases that mean
the same thing.
5. What African name has Asagai given Beneath, and what does it mean? Why is Beneatha satisfied when
Asagai translates it for her?
6. Mama tells Walter that something is eating him up, something that is more than just money. What do
you thing this is?
7. Mama says to Walter, “You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home…,
that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar” (577). Is Walter’s life indeed
better, from a material and political point of view, than is parents’ was? Explain your answer.
8. Hansberry prefaces her play with a poem by Langston Hughes. In what way is the concept of the
“dream” important to the play? Which characters specifically discuss their dreams?
9. Do dreams ever become destructive, a substitute for action? Or is it absolutely essential to keep a
dream alive? Explain your answer.
A Raisin in the Sun: ACT II
10. Except for Asagai, none of the characters in the play has been to Africa. What do Africa and Africanness
signify to each character?
11. What does Asagai expect from a woman? What does George expect from a woman? Would either of
them be happy with Beneatha? Could she be happy with either of them?
12. What does the Youngers’ new house signify to Ruth? To Mama? Why does Walter strongly dislike the
idea of moving?
13. What does Walter mean when he says that money is “life”? Of what different important things (i.e. his
sense of manhood, of pride, of love, etc.) does Walter think that lack of money has deprived him? Why
does poverty appear to be so much harder on him than on the rest of the family?
14. How does Lindner use language to make his proposal to the Youngers sound almost reasonable? Do you
think that “a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have the neighborhood he lives in a certain
kind of way” (595)? Why or why not?
15. Mama says, “It *the little plant+ expresses me.” What does she mean by this? Why is the plant so
16. Although many of the Youngers’ problems are specific to the African-American family, others are
problems that every family must deal with. Explain several universal problems found in the play.
17. Because she has not given Walter the role as head of family, is Mama to blame for the flaws in Walter’s
A Raisin in the Sun: ACT III
18. After Walter loses the family money, Beneatha’s belief in the importance of doctors and medicine
changes. How and why does this change occur?
19. Why is Asagai able to identify himself so intensely with the future (good or bad) of his country? Why
can’t Beneatha do the same at this point?
20. After he has been robbed, Walter says that life is divided “between the takers and the ‘tooken” (610).
Do the final events of the play prove him wrong? If so, how?
21. In Walter’s view, what does it mean to be a “man”?
22. In your opinion, can the ending of this play be seen as happy, or as promising hope or greater strength
for the Younger’s as a family? Explain.
23. Why couldn’t the Younger family just take the money Linder offered and move to another
24. Mama told Ruth that Walter “finally come into his manhood today…kind of like a rainbow after the
rain…” (615). Do you believe that Walter did indeed learn how to be a man? Why or why not?
Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" Theory and the Younger Family in
Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun
Directions: Situate the Younger family at one of the "needs" levels and justify
Needs: the need
to fulfill one's
4. Esteem needs: prestige, success
3. Love needs: affection, friendship, love
2. Safety needs: to feel secure, safe, and out of danger
1. Physiological needs: to satisfy hunger, thirst, and sex drives
(Abraham H. Maslow, Personality and Motivation. New York: Harper, 1954.)
In what ways have or haven't things changed for African-Americans since the fifties?
What other groups may live through similar experiences today?