Books by Zora Neale
Their Eyes Were
Watching God /
Mules and Men
Jonah’s Gourd Vine
My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica
Zora Neale Hurston : Novels and Stories
Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography
Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond
* * *
Characteristics of Negro Expression
By Zora Neale Hurston
Negro's universal mimicry is not so much a thing in
itself as an evidence of something that permeates his
entire self. And that thing is drama.
His very words are action words. His
interpretation of the English language is in terms of
pictures. One act described in terms of another. Hence
the rich metaphor and simile.
The metaphor is of course very primitive. It is
easier to illustrate than it is to explain because
action came before speech. Let us make a parallel.
Language is like money. In primitive communities actual
goods, however bulky, are bartered for what one wants.
This finally evolves into coin, the coin being not real
wealth but a symbol of wealth. Still later even coin is
abandoned for legal tender, and still later for cheques
in certain usages.
Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatised.
No matter how joyful or how sad the case there is
sufficient poise for drama. Everything is acted out.
Unconsciously for the most part of course. There is an
impromptu ceremony always ready for every hour of life.
No little moment passes unadorned.
Now the people with highly developed languages
have words for detached ideas. That is legal tender.
"That-which-we-squat-on" has become "chair."
"Groan-causer" has evolved into "spear," and so on. Some
individuals even conceive of the equivalent of cheque
words, like "ideation" and "pleonastic."
Perhaps we might say that
Sartor Resartus are written in cheque words.
The primitive man exchanges descriptive words. His terms
are all close fitting. Frequently the Negro, even with
detached words in his vocabulary—not evolved in him but
transplanted on his tongue by contact—must add action to
it to make it do. So we have "chop-axe,"
"sitting-chair," "cook-pot" and the like because the
speaker has in his mind the picture of the object in
use. Action. Everything illustrated. So we can say the
white man thinks in a written language and the Negro
thinks in hieroglyphics.
A bit of Negro drama familiar to all is the
frequent meeting of two opponents who threaten to do
atrocious murder one upon the other. Who has not
observed a robust young Negro chap posing upon a street
corner, possessed of nothing but his clothing, his
strength and his youth? Does he bear himself like a
Louis XIV could be no more insolent in his
assurance. His eyes say plainly "Female, halt!" His
posture exults "Ah, female, I am the eternal male, the
giver of life. Behold in my hot flesh all the delights
of this world. Salute me, I am strength." All this with
a languid posture, there is no mistaking his meaning.
A Negro girl strolls past the corner lounger.
Her whole body panging* [* from "pang"] and posing. A
slight shoulder movement that calls attention to her
bust, that is all of a dare. A hippy undulation below
the waist that is a sheaf of promises tied with
conscious power. She is acting out "I'm a darned sweet
woman and you know it."
These little plays by strolling players are
acted out daily in a dozen streets in a thousand cities,
and no one ever mistakes the meaning.
to adorn is the second most notable characteristic in
Negro expression. Perhaps his idea of ornament does not
attempt to meet conventional standards, but it satisfies
the soul of its creator.
respect the American Negro has done wonders to the
English language. It has often been stated by
etymologists that the Negro has introduced no African
words to the language. This is true, but it is equally
true that he has made over a great part of the tongue to
his liking and has had his revision accepted by the
ruling class. No one listening to a Southern white man
talk could deny this. Not only has he softened and toned
down strongly consonanted words like "aren't " to "aint
" and the like, he has made new force words out of old
feeble elements. Examples of this are "ham-shanked,"
"battle-hammed," "double-teen," "bodaciously,"
But the Negro's greatest contribution to the
language is: (1) the use of metaphor and simile; (2) the
use of the double descriptive; (3) the use of verbal
Metaphor and Simile
One at a time, like lawyers
going to heaven.
You sho is propaganda.
I'll beat you till: (a) rope like okra, (b)
slack like lime, (c) smell like onions.
Fatal for naked.
That's a rope.
Regular as pig-tracks.
Mule blood—black molasses.
That's a lynch.
Flambeaux—cheap cafe (lighted by flambeaux).
To put yo'self on de ladder.
2. The Double Descriptive
De watch wall.
More great and more better.
features somebody I know.
Sense me into it.
Puts the shamery on him.
'Taint everybody you kin confidence.
I wouldn't friend with her.
Jooking—playing piano or guitar as it is done in Jook-houses
(houses of ill-fame).
I wouldn't scorn my name all up on you.
Bookooing (beaucoup) around—showing off.
Won't stand a broke.
She won't take a listen.
He won't stand straightening.
That is such a compliment.
That's a lynch.
The stark, trimmed phrases of the Occident seem too bare
for the voluptuous child of the sun, hence the
adornment. It arises out of the same impulse as the
wearing of jewelry and the making of sculpture—the urge
On the walls of the homes of the average Negro
one always finds a glut of gaudy calendars, wall
pockets, and advertising lithographs. The sophisticated
white man or Negro would tolerate none of these, even if
they bore a likeness to the Mona Lisa. No commercial art
for decoration. Nor the calendar nor the advertisement
spoils the picture for this lowly man. He sees the
beauty in spite of the declaration of the Portland Cement
Works or the butcher's announcement. I saw in Mobile a
room in which there was an over-stuffed mohair
living-room suite, an imitation mahogany bed and
console victrola. The walls were gaily
papered with Sunday supplements of the Mobile
Register. There were seven calendars and three wall
pockets. One of them was decorated with a lace doily.
The mantel-shelf was covered with a scarf of deep
home-made lace, looped up with a huge bow of pink crepe
paper. Over the door was a huge lithograph showing the
Treaty of Versailles being signed with a Waterman
It was grotesque, yes. But it indicated the
desire for beauty. And decorating a decoration, as in
the case of the doily on the gaudy wall pocket, did not
seem out of place to the hostess. The feeling back of
such an act is that there can never be enough of beauty,
let alone too much. Perhaps she is right. We each have
our standards of art, and thus are we all interested
parties and so unfit to pass judgment upon the art
concepts of others.
Whatever the Negro does of his own volition he
embellishes. His religious service is for the greater
part excellent prose poetry. Both prayers and sermons
are tooled and polished until they are true works of
art. The supplication is forgotten in the frenzy of
creation. The prayer of the white man is considered
humorous in its bleakness. The beauty of the Old
Testament does not exceed that of a Negro prayer.
adornment the next most striking manifestation of the
Negro is Angularity. Everything that he touches becomes
angular. In all African sculpture and doctrine of any
sort we find the same thing.
Anyone watching Negro dancers will be struck by
the same phenomenon. Every posture is another angle.
Pleasing, yes. But an effect achieved by the very means
which an European strives to avoid.
The pictures on the walls are hung at deep
angles. Furniture is always set at an angle. I have
instances of a piece of furniture in the middle
of a wall being set with one end nearer the wall than
the other to avoid the simple straight line.
Asymmetry is a definite feature of Negro art. I have no
samples of true Negro painting unless we count the
African shields, but the sculpture and carvings are full
of this beauty and lack of symmetry. It is present in
the literature, both prose and verse. I offer an example
of this quality in verse from Langston Hughes:
gonna mistreat ma good gal any more,
I'm just gonna kill her next time she makes me sore.
I treats her kind but she don't do me right,
She fights and quarrels most ever' night.
I can't have no woman's got such low-down ways
Cause de blue gum woman aint de style now'days.
I brought her from the South and she's goin on back,
Else I'll use her head for a carpet tack.
It is the lack of symmetry which makes Negro dancing so
difficult for white dancers to learn. The abrupt and
unexpected changes. The frequent change of key and time
are evidences of this quality in music. (Note the “St.
The dancing of the justly famous Bo-Jangles and
Snake Hips are excellent examples.
The presence of rhythm and lack of symmetry are
paradoxical, but there they are. Both are present to a
marked degree. There is always rhythm, but it is the
rhythm of segments. Each unit has a rhythm of its own,
but when the whole is assembled it is lacking in
symmetry. But easily workable to a Negro who is
accustomed to the break in going from one part to
another, so that he adjusts himself to the new tempo.
dancing is dynamic suggestion. No matter how violent it
may appear to the beholder, every posture gives the
impression that the dancer will do much more. For
example, the performer flexes one knee sharply, assumes
a ferocious face mask, thrusts the upper part of the
body forward with clenched fists, elbows taut as in hard
running or grasping a thrusting blade. That is all. But
the spectator himself adds the picture of ferocious
assault, hears the drums, and finds himself keeping time
with the music and tensing himself for the struggle. It
is compelling insinuation. That is the very reason the
spectator is held so rapt. He is participating in the
performance himself—carrying out the suggestions of the
The difference in the two arts is: the white
dancer attempts to express fully; the Negro is
restrained, but succeeds in gripping the beholder by
forcing him to finish the action the performer suggests.
Since no art ever can express all the variations
conceivable, the Negro must be considered the greater
artist, his dancing is realistic suggestion, and that is
about all a great artist can do.
folklore is not a thing of the past. It is still in the
making. Its great variety shows the adaptability of the
black man: nothing is too old or too new, domestic or
foreign, high or low, for his use. God and the Devil are
paired, and are treated no more reverently than
Rockefeller and Ford. Both of these men are prominent in
folklore, Ford being particularly strong, and they talk
and act like good-natured stevedores or mill-hands. Ole
Massa is sometimes a smart man and often a fool. The
automobile is ranged alongside of the oxcart. The
angels and the apostles walk and talk like section
hands. And through it all walks Jack, the greatest
culture hero of the South; Jack beats them all—even the
Devil, who is often smarter than God.
Devil is next after Jack as a culture hero. He can
out-smart everyone but Jack. God is absolutely no match
for him. He is good-natured and full of humour. The sort
of person one may count on to help out in any
Peter the Apostle is the third in importance.
One need not look far for the explanation. The Negro is
not a Christian really. The primitive gods are not
deities of too subtle inner reflection; they are
hardworking bodies who serve their devotees just as
laboriously as the suppliant serves them. Gods of
physical violence, stopping at nothing to serve their
followers. Now of all the apostles Peter is the most
active. When the other ten fell back trembling in the
garden, Peter wielded the blade on the posse. Peter
first and foremost in all action. The gods of no peoples
have been philosophic until the people themselves have
approached that state.
The rabbit, the bear, the lion, the buzzard, the
fox are culture heroes from the animal world. The rabbit
is far in the lead of all the others and is blood
brother to Jack. In short, the trickster-hero of West
Africa has been transplanted to America.
John Henry is a culture hero in song, but no
more so than Stacker Lee, Smokey Joe, or Bad Lazarus.
There are many, many Negroes who have never heard of any
of the song heroes, but none who do not know John (Jack)
and the rabbit.
Examples of Folklore and the Modern Culture Hero
de Porpoise's Tail is on Crosswise
want to tell you 'bout de porpoise. God had done made de
world and everything. He set de moon and de stars in de
sky. He got de fishes of de sea, and de fowls of de air
completed. He made de sun and hung it up. Then He made a
nice gold track for it to run on. Then He said, "Now,
Sun, I got everything made but Time. That's up to you. I
want you to start out and go round de world on dis track
just as fast as you kin make it. And de time it takes
you to go and come, I'm going to call day and night." De
Sun went zoomin' on cross de elements. Now, de porpoise
was hanging round there and heard God what he tole de
Sun, so he decided he'd take dat trip round de world
hisself. He looked up and saw de Sun kytin' along, so he
lit out too, him and dat Sun!
So de porpoise beat de Sun round de world by one
hour and three minutes. So God said, "Aw naw, this aint
gointer do! I didn't mean for no thin' to be faster than
de Sun!" So God run dat porpoise for three days before
he run him down and caught him, and took his tail off
and put it on crossways to slow him up. Still he's de
fastest thing in de water. And dat's why de porpoise got
his tail on crossways.
Rockefeller and Ford
Once John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford was woofing at
each other. Rockefeller told Henry Ford he could build a
solid gold road round the world. Henry Ford told him if
he would he would look at it and see if he liked it, and
if he did he would buy it and put one of his
It has been said so often
that the Negro is lacking in originality that it has
almost become a gospel. Outward signs seem to bear this
out. But if one looks closely its falsity is immediately
It is obvious that to get back to original sources is
much too difficult for any group to claim very much as a
certainty. What we really mean by originality is the
modification of ideas. The most ardent admirer of the
great Shakespeare cannot claim first source even for
him. It is his treatment of the borrowed material.
So if we look at it squarely, the Negro is a
very original being. While he lives and moves in the
midst of a white civilisation, everything that he
touches is re-interpreted for his own use. He has
modified the language, mode of food preparation,
practice of medicine, and most certainly the religion of
his new country, just as he adapted to suit himself the
Sheik hair-cut made famous by Rudolph Valentino.
Everyone is familiar with the Negro's
modification of the whites' musical instruments, so that
his interpretation has been adopted by the white man
himself and then re-interpreted. In so many words,
Whiteman is giving an imitation of a Negro orchestra
making use of white-invented musical instruments in a
Negro way. Thus has arisen a new art in the civilised
world, and thus has our so-called civilisation come. The
exchange and re-exchange of ideas between groups.
Negro, the world over, is famous as a mimic. But this in
no way damages his standing as an original. Mimicry is
an art in itself. If it is not, then all art must fall
by the same blow that strikes it down. When sculpture,
painting, acting, dancing, literature neither reflect
nor suggest anything in nature or human experience we
turn away with a dull wonder in our hearts at why the
thing was done. Moreover, the contention that the Negro
imitates from a feeling of inferiority is incorrect. He
mimics for the love of it. The group of Negroes who
slavishly imitate is small. The average Negro glories in
his ways. The highly educated Negro the same.
self-despisement lies in a middle class who scorns to do
or be anything Negro. "That's just like a Nigger" is the
most terrible rebuke one can lay upon this kind. He
wears drab clothing, sits through a boresome church
service, pretends to have no interest in the community,
holds beauty contests, and otherwise apes all the
mediocrities of the white brother. The truly cultured
Negro scorns him, and the Negro "farthest down" is too
busy "spreading his junk" in his own way to see or care.
He likes his own things best.
group who are not Negroes but belong to the "sixth
race," buy such records as "Shake dat thing" and "Tight
lak dat." They really enjoy hearing a good bible-beater
preach, but wild horses could drag no such admission
from them. Their ready-made expression is: "We done got
away from all that now." Some refuse to countenance
Negro music on the grounds that it is niggerism, and for
that reason should be done away with. Roland Hayes was
thoroughly denounced for singing spirituals until he was
accepted by white audiences. Langston Hughes is not
considered a poet by this group because he writes of the
man in the ditch, who is more numerous and real among us
than any other.
this group aside, let us say that the art of mimicry is
better developed in the Negro than in other racial
groups. He does it as the mocking-bird does it, for the
love of it, and not because he wishes to be like the one
imitated. I saw a group of small Negro boys imitating a
cat defecating and the subsequent toilet of the cat. It
was very realistic, and they enjoyed it as much as if
they had been imitating a coronation ceremony. The
dances are full of imitations of various animals. The
buzzard lope, walking the dog, the pig's hind legs,
holding the mule, elephant squat, pigeon's wing, falling
off the log, seaboard (imitation of an engine starting),
and the like.
Absence of the Concept of Privacy
said that Negroes keep nothing secret, that they have no
reserve. This ought not to seem strange when one
considers that we are an outdoor people accustomed to
communal life. Add this to all permeating drama and you
have the explanation.
There is no privacy in an African village.
Loves, fights, possessions are, to misquote Woodrow
Wilson, "Open disagreements openly arrived at." The
community is given the benefit of a good fight as well
as a good wedding. An audience is a necessary part of
any drama. We merely go with nature rather than against
Discord is more natural than accord. If we
accept the doctrine of the survival of the fittest there
are more fighting honors than there are honors for other
achievements. Humanity places premiums on all things
necessary to its well-being, and a valiant and good
fighter is valuable in any community. So why hide the
light under a bushel? Moreover, intimidation is a recognised part of warfare the world over, and threats
certainly must be listed under that head.
a great threatener must certainly be considered an aid
to the fighting machine. So then if a man or woman is a
facile hurler of threats, why should he or she not show
their wares to the community? Hence the holding of all
quarrels and fights in the open. One relieves one's
pent-up anger and at the same time earns laurels in
intimidation. Besides, one does the community a service.
There is nothing so exhilarating as watching
well-matched opponents go into action. The entire world
likes action, for that matter. Hence prize-fighters
love-making is a biological necessity the world over and
an art among Negroes. So that a man or woman who is
proficient sees no reason why the fact should not be
moot. He swaggers. She struts hippily about. Songs are
built on the power to charm beneath the bed-clothes.
Here again we have individuals striving to excel in what
the community considers an art. Then if all of his world
is seeking a great lover, why should he not speak right
all in a view-point. Love-making and fighting in all
their branches are high arts, other things are arts
among other groups where they brag about their
proficiency just as brazenly as we do about these things
that others consider matters for conversation behind
closed doors. At any rate, the white man is despised by
Negroes as a very poor fighter individually, and a very
poor lover. One Negro, speaking of white men, said,
"White folks is alright when dey gits in de bank and on
de law bench, but dey sho' kin lie about wimmen folks."
pressed him to explain. "Well you see, white mens makes
out they marries wimmen to look at they eyes, and
they know they gits em for just what us gits em for.
'Nother thing, white mens say they goes clear round de
world and wins all de wimmen folks way from they men
folks. Dat's a lie too. They don't win nothin, they buys
em. Now de way I figgers it, if a woman don't want me
enough to be wid me, 'thout I got to pay her, she kin
rock right on, but these here white men don't know what
to do wid a woman when they gits her—dat's how come they
gives they wimmen so much. They got to. Us wimmen works
jus as hard as us does an come home an sleep wid us
every night. They own wouldn't do it and it’s de mens
fault. Dese white men done fooled theyself bout dese
I keeps me some wimmens all de time. Dat's whut dey wuz
put here for—us mens to use. Dat's right now, Miss.
Y'all wuz put here so us mens could have some pleasure.
Course I don't run round like heap uh men folks. But if
my ole lady go way from me and stay more'n two weeks, I
got to git me somebody, aint I?"
the word for a Negro pleasure house. It may mean a bawdy
house. It may mean the house set apart on public works
where the men and women dance, drink and gamble. Often
it is a combination of all these.
generations the music was furnished by "boxes," another
word for guitars. One guitar was enough for a dance; to
have two was considered excellent. Where two were
playing one man played the lead and the other seconded
him. The first player was "picking" and the second was
"framming," that is, playing chords while the lead
carried the melody by dexterous finger work. Sometimes a
third player was added, and he played tom-tom effect on
the low strings. Believe it or not, this is excellent
soon came to take the place of the boxes, and now
player-pianos and victrolas are in all of the Jooks.
Musically speaking, the Jook is the most important place
in America. For in its smelly, shoddy confines has been
born the secular music known as blues, and on blues has
been founded jazz. The singing and playing in the true
Negro style is called "jooking."
songs grow by incremental repetition as they travel from
mouth to mouth and from Jook to Jook for years before
they reach outside ears. Hence the great variety of
subject-matter in each song.
Negro dances circulated over the world were also
conceived inside the Jooks. They too make the round of
Jooks and public works before going into the outside
respect it is interesting to mention the Black Bottom. I
have read several false accounts of its origin and name.
One writer claimed that it got its name from the black
sticky mud on the bottom of the Mississippi river. Other
equally absurd statements gummed the press. Now the
dance really originated in the Jook section of
Nashville, Tennessee, around Fourth Avenue. This is a
tough neighbourhood known as Black Bottom—hence the
Charleston is perhaps forty years old, and was danced up
and down the Atlantic seaboard from North Carolina to
Key West, Florida.
Negro social dance is slow and sensuous. The idea in the
Jook is to gain sensation, and not so much exercise. So
that just enough foot movement is added to keep the
dancers on the floor. A tremendous sex stimulation is
gained from this. But who is trying to avoid it? The
man, the woman, the time and the place have met. Rather,
little intimate names are indulged in to heap fire on
too have spread to all the world.
Negro theatre, as built up by the Negro, is based on
Jook situations, with women, gambling, fighting,
drinking. Shows like "Dixie to Broadway" are only Negro
in cast, and could just as well have come from
interesting thing—Negro shows before being tampered with
did not specialise in octoroon chorus girls. The girl
who could hoist a Jook song from her belly and lam it
against the front door of the theatre was the lead, even
if she were as black as the hinges of hell. The question
was "Can she jook?" She must also have a good belly
wobble, and her hips must, to quote a popular work song,
"Shake like jelly all over and be so broad, Lawd, Lawd,
and be so broad." So that the bleached chorus is the
result of a white demand and not the Negro's.
woman in the Jook may be nappy headed and black, but if
she is a good lover she gets there just the same. A
favorite Jook song of the past has this to say
It aint good looks dat
takes you through dis world.
Audience: What is it, good mama?
Singer: Elgin ["Elegant (?)" from the
Elgin watch [Ed.]] movements in your hips. Twenty years
always brought down the house too.
white gal rides in a Cadillac,
De yaller gal rides de same,
Black gal rides in a rusty Ford
But she gits dere just de same.
of woman her men idealise is the type that is put forth
in the theatre. The art-creating Negro prefers a not too
thin woman, who can shake like jelly all over as she
dances and sings, and that is the type he put forth on
the stage. She has been banished by the white producer
and the Negro who takes his cue from the white.
course a black woman is never the wife of the upper
class Negro in the North. This state of affairs does not
obtain in the South, however. I have noted numerous
cases where the wife was considerably darker than the
husband. People of some substance, too.
scornful attitude towards black women receives mouth
sanction by the mudsills. Even on the works and in the
Jooks the black man sings disparagingly of black women.
They say that she is evil. That she sleeps with her
fists doubled up and ready for action. All over they are
making a little drama of waking up a yaller [yellow:
light, mulatto] wife and a black one.
A man is
lying beside his yaller wife and wakes her up. She says
to him, "Darling, do you know what I was dreaming when
you woke me up?" He says, "No honey, what was you
dreaming?" She says, "I dreamt I had done cooked you a
big, fine dinner and we was setting down to eat out de
same plate and I was setting on yo' lap jus huggin you
and kissin you and you was so sweet."
a black woman, and before you kin git any sense into her
she be done up and lammed you over the head four or five
times. When you git her quiet she'll say, "Nigger, know
whut I was dreamin when you woke me up?"
You say, "No honey, what was you dreamin?" She
says, "I dreamt you shook yo' rusty fist under my nose
and I split yo' head open wid a axe."
But in spite of disparaging fictitious drama, in
real life the black girl is drawing on his account at
the commissary. Down in the Cypress Swamp as he swings
his axe he chants
black gal, she keep on grumblin,
New pair shoes, new pair shoes,
I'm goint to buy her shoes and stockings
Slippers too, slippers too.
adds aside : "Blacker de berry, sweeter de juice."
sure the black gal is still in power, men are still
cutting and shooting their way to her pillow. To the
queen of the Jook!
Speaking of the influence of the Jook, I noted
that Mae West in Sex had much more flavor of the
turpentine quarters than she did of the white bawd. I
know that the piece she played on the piano is a very
old Jook composition. "Honey let yo' drawers hang low"
had been played and sung in every Jook in the South for
at least thirty-five years. It has always puzzled me why
she thought it likely to be played in a Canadian bawdy
Speaking of the use of Negro material by white
performers, it is astonishing that so many are trying
it, and I have never seen one yet entirely realistic.
They often have all the elements of the song, dance, or
expression, but they are misplaced or distorted by the
accent falling on the wrong element. Every one seems to
think that the Negro is easily imitated when nothing is
further from the truth. Without exception I wonder why
the black-face comedians are black-face; it is a
puzzle—good comedians, but darn poor niggers. Gershwin
and the other "Negro" rhapsodists come under this same
axe. Just about as Negro as caviar or Ann Pennington's
athletic Black Bottom. When the Negroes who knew the
Black Bottom in its cradle saw the Broadway version they
asked each other, "Is you learnt dat new Black
Bottom yet?" Proof that it was not their dance.
And God only knows what the world has suffered
from the white damsels who try to sing Blues.
The Negroes themselves have sinned also in this
respect. In spite of the goings up and down on the
earth, from the original Fisk Jubilee Singers down to
the present, there has been no genuine presentation of
Negro songs to white audiences. The spirituals that have
been sung around the world are Negroid to be sure, but
so full of musicians' tricks that Negro congregations
are highly entertained when they hear their old songs so
changed. They never use the new style songs, and these
are never heard unless perchance some daughter or son
has been off to college and returns with one of the old
songs with its face lifted, so to speak.
I am of the opinion that this trick style of
delivery was originated by the Fisk Singers; Tuskegee
and Hampton followed suit and have helped spread this
misconception of Negro spirituals. This Glee Club style
has gone on so long and become so fixed among concert
singers that it is considered quite authentic. But I say
again, that not one concert singer in the world is
singing the songs as the Negro song-makers sing them.
If anyone wishes to prove the truth of this let
him step into some unfashionable Negro church and hear
To those who want to institute the Negro
theatre, let me say it is already established. It is
lacking in wealth, so it is not seen in the high places.
A creature with a white head and Negro feet struts the
Metropolitan boards. The real Negro theatre is in the Jooks and the cabarets. Self-conscious individuals may
turn away the eye and say, "Let us search elsewhere for
our dramatic art." Let 'em search. They certainly won't
find it. Butter Beans and Susie, Bo-Jangles and Snake
Hips are the only performers of the real Negro school it
has ever been my pleasure to behold in New York.
are to believe the majority of writers of Negro dialect
and the burnt-cork artists, Negro speech is a weird
thing, full of "ams" and "Ises." Fortunately we don't
have to believe them. We may go directly to the Negro
and let him speak for himself.
I know that I run the risk of being damned as an
infidel for declaring that nowhere can be found the
Negro who asks "am it?" nor yet his brother who
announces "Ise uh gwinter." He exists only for a certain
type of writers and performers.
Very few Negroes, educated or not, use a clear
clipped "I." It verges more or less upon "Ah." I think
the lip form is responsible for this to a great extent.
By experiment the reader will find that a sharp "i" is
very much easier with a thin taut lip than with a full
soft lip. Like tightening violin strings.
If one listens closely one will note too that a
word is slurred in one position in the sentence but
clearly pronounced in another. This is particularly true
of the pronouns. A pronoun as a subject is likely to be
clearly enunciated, but slurred as an object. For
example: "You better not let me ketch yuh."
There is a tendency in some localities to add
the "h" to "it" and pronounce it "hit." Probably a
vestige of old English. In some localities "if " is "ef."
In story telling "so" is universally the
connective. It is used even as an introductory word, at
the very beginning of a story. In religious expression
"and" is used. The trend in stories is to state
conclusions; in religion, to enumerate.
I am mentioning only the most general rules in
dialect because there are so many quirks that belong
only to certain localities that nothing less than a
volume would be adequate.
Sweat. Edited by Cheryl Wall. New Brunswick:
Rutgers UP, 1997. 55-71.
* * * *
Neale Hurston, folklorist and writer, became a central
figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston was born and educated
in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black city in the
United States. At the age of 16, she left her home to work with
a traveling theatrical company. The company ended up in New York
City , where Hurston studied anthropology at Columbia
University. She then attended Howard University as well as
1931, Hurston collaborated with Langston Hughes to write the
Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts. She
wrote her most acclaimed work,
Their Eyes Were Watching God
in 1937. After writing her autobiography (Dust Tracks on a
Road) in 1942, she went on to teach at what is now North
Carolina Central University. Her work, revived by feminists in
the 1970s, has gained her considerable recognition as one of the
most important black writers in American history.
* * *
Zora Neale Hurston:
A Literary Biography
By Robert E.
Hemenway (Author) /
Foreword by Alice
child of the rural
each hour of her
life into something
and brimming with
her joy in just
the effervescence of
this daughter of the
in his brilliant and
provides for the
first time a full
length study of
Hurston's life and
and manuscripts and
with many who knew
Miss Hurston's life
details her two
relations with her
patron, Mrs. R.
Osgood Mason, her
mentor, Franz Boas,
and her friend
Langston Hughes; her
indictment on a
morals charge in
1948; and the sad,
final years leading
to her death as a
of a Florida welfare
home. But most
her art and
popular treatment of
underscores her deep
commitment to the
* * * *
Charley Patton (1891-1934)
Rock 'n' Roll
Charlie Patton born Mississippi, April 1891 was
an experienced performer of songs before he was twenty
years old and was first recorded (Thankfully) in 1929.
His influence is everywhere and was arguably the first
of the greats. An influence on
White and without doubt
Howlin' Wolf. We have to thank archivists, the likes
of Harry Smith, that we can hear these inimitable songs
Some people tell me, oversea blues ain't bad
It must not been the oversea blues I had
Everyday seem like murder here
(My god, I'm no sheriff)
I'm going to leave tomorrow,
I know you don't bid my care
I ain't going down no dirt road by myself
If I don't carry my
rider, going to carry someone else
* * *
I'm going away to where I'm known
I'm worried now but I won't be worried long
My rider got somethin' she try to keep it
Lord, I got somethin' find that somethin'
I feel like chopping, chips flying
I've been to the
Nation, lord, but I couldn't stay there
Charlie Patton was the first great Delta bluesman;
from him flowed nearly all the elements that would
comprise the region's blues style. Patton had a coarse,
earthy voice that reflected hard times and hard living.
His guitar style—percussive and raw—matched his vocal
delivery. He often played slide guitar and gave that
style a position of prominence in Delta blues.
Patton's songs were
filled with lyrics that dealt with issues
like social mobility (pony Blues),
imprisonment (“High Sheriff Blues”), nature
(“High Water Blues”), and morality (“Oh
Death”) that went far beyond traditional
male-female relationship themes. Patton
defined the life of a bluesman. He drank and
smoked excessively. He reportedly had a
total of eight wives. He was jailed at least
once. He traveled extensively, never staying
in one place for too long.
Charley Patton was "the"
delta blues man of course, his playing was
raw and expressive, a distinctive style,
rather dissident to the other blues players
of the time. A monument !
The Dockery farm was the
sawmill and cotton plantation where Charley
and his family lived from 1900 onwards.
* * *
Blues (A song about cocaine,
(spoken: I'm about to go to jail about this
In all a spoon', 'bout that spoon'
The women goin' crazy, every day in their
life 'bout a . . .
It's all I want, in this creation is a . . .
I go home (spoken: wanna fight!) 'bout a . .
Doctor's dyin' (way in Hot Springs !)
just 'bout a . . .
These women goin' crazy every day in their
life 'bout a . . .
Would you kill a man dead? (spoken: yes, I
will!) just 'bout a . . .
Oh babe, I'm a fool about my...
(spoken: Don't take me long!) to get my . .
Hey baby, you know I need my . . .
It's mens on Parchman (done lifetime) just
Hey baby, (spoken: you know I ain't long)
'bout my. . .
It's all I want (spoken: honey, in this
creation) is a . . .
I go to bed, get up and wanna fight 'bout a
. . .
(spoken: Look-y here, baby, would you slap
me? Yes I will!) just 'bout a...
(spoken: you know I'm a fool a-)
'bout my . . .
Would you kill a man?
(spoken: Yes I would, you know I'd kill him)
just 'bout a . . .
Most every man (spoken: that you see is)
fool 'bout his...
(spoken: You know baby, I need)
that ol' . . .Hey baby,
(spoken: I wanna hit the judge 'bout a)
'bout a . . .
(spoken: Baby, you gonna quit me? Yeah
just 'bout a . . .
It's all I want, baby, this creation is a...
(spoken: look-y here, baby, I'm leavin'
just 'bout a . . .
Hey baby, (spoken: you know I need)
that ol' . . .
(spoken: Don't make me mad, baby!)
'cause I want my . . .Hey baby, I'm a fool
(spoken: Look-y here, honey!)
I need that...
Most every man leaves without a...
Sundays' mean (spoken: I know they are)
'bout a . . .
Hey baby, (spoken: I'm
sneakin' around here)
and ain't got me no . . .
Oh, that spoon', hey baby, you know I need
my . . .
* * * *
Ida Cox (February 25, 1896 –
November 10, 1967) was an
vaudeville performer, best known for her
blues performances and
recordings. She was billed as "The
Uncrowned Queen of the Blues" Cox was born
in February, 1896 as Ida Prather in
Habersham County, Georgia (Toccoa was in
Habersham County, not yet
Stephens County at the time), the
daughter of Lamax and Susie (Knight)
Prather, and grew up in
Cedartown, Georgia, singing in the local
left home to tour with travelling
minstrel shows, often appearing in
blackface into the 1910s; she married
fellow minstrel performer Adler Cox. By
1920, she was appearing as a headline act at
the 81 Theatre in
Atlanta, Georgia; another headliner at
that time was
Jelly Roll Morton. . . .—Wikipedia
Ida Cox—Wild Women Don’t Have
Don’t Have the Blues
I hear these women raving 'bout their monkey
About their fightin' husbands and their no
These poor women sit around all day and moan
wondering why their wandering papas don't
But wild women don't worry—wild women don't
have the blues.
Now when you've got a man, don't never be on
because if you do he'll have a woman
I never was known to treat no one man right.
I keep 'em working hard both day and night
because wild women don't worry—wild women
don't have no blues.
I've got a disposition and a way of my own.
When my man starts kicking I let him find
I get full of good liquor, walk the streets
go home and put my man out if he don't act
Wild women don't worry—wild
women don't have no blues
You never get nothing by being an anger
You better change your ways and get real
I wanna tell you something, I wouldn't tell
you no lie.
Wild women are the only kind that ever get
Wild women don't worry—wild women don't
have no blues.
* * *
Contemporary African Immigrants to The United States /
African immigration to the United States
* * *
Nkrumah, Kenyatta, and the Old Order /
God Save His Majesty
For Kwame Nkrumah
Night of the Giants /
The Legend of the Saifs /
Interview with Yambo Ouologuem
Bio & Review
* * *
* * * * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's
wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in
1937, after her cousin was falsely accused
of stealing a white man's turkeys and was
almost beaten to death. In 1945, George
Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled
Florida for Harlem after learning of the
grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie
party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing
Foster made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for the
United States Army and couldn't operate in
his own home town." Anchored to these three
stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively
researched study of the "great migration,"
the exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into the
novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling,
and Pershing settling in new lands, building
anew, and often finding that they have not
left racism behind. The drama, poignancy,
and romance of a classic immigrant saga
pervade this book, hold the reader in its
grasp, and resonate long after the reading
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music)
posted 13 September 2010