A Woman Worth Studying

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A pair of Harvard professors are resurrecting the work of an African-American writer so politically incorrect that she was virtually bypassed in the rush to inaugurate variations of black studies programs—Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. “She thought Reconstruction was a deplorable period, favored Booker T. Washington over W.E.B. Du Bois even decades after Washington’s death, and opposed the New Deal; in 1954 she also opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education,” Glenda R. Carpio and Werner Sollors write in The Chronicle Review.

Carpio and Sollors are professors of English and African and African American studies at Harvard.  “Her major objections to Reconstruction, and later to Brown, were not that the problems they sought to solve were unimportant, but that the solutions sought to bring about change in the wrong way,” Carpio and Sollors explain of Hurston’s stance.

The two professors teach a course on Hurston’s work, comparing and contrasting it with that of her polar opposite, and personal nemesis, Richard Wright, author of Native Son.  “She believed in empowering black individuals and communities to gain economic and social justice for themselves, instead of depending on white Northern liberals or the federal government,” Carpio and Sollors write of Hurston.To her, Brown assumed the inferiority of black culture and life, imposing a supposedly more developed white culture on black people.”

“I am not tragically colored,” Hurston once declared. “There is no great sorrow damned 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.”

Carpio and Sollors dug up a short story Hurston wrote for a newspaper in 1927 entitled “Modern Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce” that is surprisingly timeless.  The preacher’s daughter wrote it in biblical verse while avoiding sacrilege, a difficult feat.

Here is an excerpt:

6. And in that same year a maiden gazeth upon his checkbook and she coveted it.

7. Then came she coy and sweet with flattery and he swalloweth the bait.

8. And in that same month they became man and wife.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org