by Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960)
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 gatepost. 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-yougoin'?" 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 rode 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 county--everybody's Zora.
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, a 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 but about it. Even in the helterskelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of 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...