Sunday 14 June 2015

Zora Neale Thurston's "How it Feels to be Colored Me"

Zora Neale Thurston used to sit on her porch in Eatonville, Florida and watch the whites pass by in their carriages and automobiles.  That was the only contact she had with whites, given that Eatonville was an all black town.  Life was good until Zora turned 13 and her mom died.  Her dad remarried and he and his new wife sent Zora to boarding school in Jacksonville, an integrated community.  For the first time, rather than seeing herself as a girl, Zora saw herself as a black girl.  She missed the safety of her front porch back in Eatonville.  Zora's dad struggled to pay for her schooling, forcing her to leave the boarding school.  Later she was accepted at Howard University.  It was there that she blossomed as a writer.  She -- along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Wallace Thurman -- found herself at the centre of the Harlem Renaissance.  She penned four novels and 50 short stories, plays and essays.  Her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1936.  Thurston made a point of divorcing herself from the "sobbing school of Negrohood".  She moved beyond pride in her race to pride in herself, evident in her essay "How it Feels to be Colored Me" (  The magazine A World Tomorrow, a journal "looking toward a Christian world", published her piece in 1928.  Here is an excerpt from her famous essay (

"But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall.  Against the 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...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?"


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