August 26th, 2008
Zora Neale Hurston
Jump at the Sun

Zora Neale Hurston wrote the following letter to Countee Cullen, her friend and fellow writer, in 1943. In it, she discusses lynching, segregation, and her feelings about white “liberals.”

March 5, 1943

Dear Countee:

Thanks a million for your kind letter. I am always proud to have a word of praise from you because your friendship means a great deal to me. It means so much to me because I have never known you to make an insincere move, neither for personal gain, nor for malice growing out of jealousy of anyone else. Then too, you are my favorite poet now as always since you began to write. I have always shared your approach to art. That is, you have written from within rather than to catch the eye of those who were making the loudest noise for the moment. I know that hitch-hiking on band-wagons has become the rage among Negro artists for the last ten years at least, but I have never thumbed a ride and can feel no admiration for those who travel that way. I have pointed you out on numerous occasions as one whose integrity I respected, and whose example I wished to follow.

Now, as to segregation, I have no viewpoint on the subject particularly, other than a fierce desire for human justice. The rest of it is up to the individual. Personally, I have no desire for white association except where I am sought and the pleasure is mutual. That feeling grows out of my own self-respect. However blue the eye or yellow the hair, I see no glory to myself in the contact unless there is something more than the accident of race. Any other viewpoint would be giving too much value to a mere white hide. I have offended several “liberals” among the whites by saying this bluntly. I have been infuriated by having them ask me outright, or by strong implication if I am not happy over the white left-wing associating with Negroes. I always say no. Then I invariably ask why the association should give a Negro so much pleasure? Why any more pleasure than with a black “liberal”? They never fail to flare up at that which proves that they are paying for the devout worship that many Negroes give them in the cheap coin of patronage, which proves that they feel the same superiority of race that they claim to deny. Otherwise, why assume that they have done a noble deed by having contact with Negroes? Countee, I have actually had some of them to get real confidential and point out that I can be provided with a white husband by seeing things right! White wives and husbands have been provided for others, etc.

I invariably point out that getting hold of white men has always been easy. I don’t need any help to do that. I only wish that I could get everything else so easily as I can get white men. I am utterly indifferent to the joy of other Negroes who feel that a marriage across the line is compensation for all things, even conscience. The South must laugh and gloat at the spectacle and say “I told you so! That is a black person’s highest dream.” If a white man or woman marries a Negro for love that is all right with me, but a Negro who considers himself or herself paid off and honored by it is a bit too much for me to take. So I shall probably never become a “liberal.” Neither shall I ever let myself be persuaded to have my mind made up for me by a political job. I mean to live and die by my own mind. If that is cowardly, then I am a coward. When you come to analyze it, Countee, some of the stuff that has passed as courage among Negro “leaders” is nauseating. Oh, yes, they are right there with the stock phrases, which the white people are used to and expect, and pay no attention to anymore. They are rather disappointed if you do not use them. But if you suggest something real just watch them back off from it. I know that the Anglo-Saxon mentality is one of violence. Violence is his religion. He has gained everything he has by it, and respects nothing else. When I suggest to our “leaders” that the white man is not going to surrender for mere words what he has fought and died for, and that if we want anything substantial we must speak with the same weapons, immediately they object that I am not practical.

No, no indeed. The time is not ripe, etc. etc. Just point out that we are suffering injustices and denied our rights, as if the white people did not know that already! Why don’t I put something about lynchings in my books? As if all the world did not know about Negroes being lynched! My stand is this: either we must do something about it that the white man will understand and respect, or shut up. No whiner ever got any respect or relief. If some of us must die for human justice, then let us die. For my own part, this poor body of mine is not so precious that I would not be willing to give it up for a good cause. But my own self-respect refuses to let me go to the mourner’s bench. Our position is like a man sitting on a tack and crying that it hurts, when all he needs to do is to get up off it. A hundred Negroes killed in the streets of Washington right now could wipe out Jim Crow in the nation so far as the law is concerned, and abate it at least 60% in actuality. If any of our leaders start something like that then I will be in it body and soul. But I shall never join the cry-babies.

You are right in assuming that I am indifferent to the pattern of things. I am. I have never liked stale phrases and bodyless courage. 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.

I suppose you have seen my denial of the statements of Douglas Gilbert of the World-Telegram. I know I made him sore. He is one of the type of “liberals” I spoke of. They are all Russian and want our help to put them in power in the U.S. but I know that we would be liquidated soon after they were in. They will have to get there the best way they can for all I care.

Cheerio, good luck, and a happy encounter (with me) in the near future.

Sincerely,
Zora

Document from Amistad Research Center, Tulane University.

“Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun” is available on DVD at www.newsreel.org

  • Randy

    I would like to purchase the “Jump at the Sun” video. Does American Masters sell it?

  • Kathleen

    I want to purchase it, too. Can it be made available for sale? There is so little good documentation of Hurston, and I’d love to have this video.

  • Joe

    I would like to buy it so my school teacher wife can show it to her kids.

  • FiFi

    I would like to purchase this book A.s.A.p give me feedback kay.

  • James

    Yes, like the others.. how would I get a copy of this documentary?

  • Steve

    California Newsreel (www.newsreel.org) is distributing this title to educational institutions.

  • Barrie McClune

    The documentary is distributed by California Newsreel and can be purchased at http://www.newsreel.org

  • Danielle

    I love Zzora Neale Hurston so much. This documentary furthered my interest for her. She was a brilliant women that is neglected in many English classes today. Her style of writing will always be very different than othe authors and I appluad her for that.

  • Mary Sasse

    Before I retired from teaching, I introduced Hurston’s marvelous novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” to countless students (both black and white). It still stands as my favorite book to teach; students were excited by it and made postive comments about it for years and years. I still hear from some of these students–who never fail to mention this novel and the difference it made to them. This documnentary is sure to be a great aid in the classroom!

  • marcia kovarsky

    unfortunately, I missed original airing – any plans for a repeat?

  • Kristy Andersen

    This film is available on Amazon for home viewing and through California Newsreel for schools and libraries.

  • T. Kuykendall

    Thank you Kristy!

  • Tunisia Breland

    I studied a lot of her literature in college. Luckily I had a professor who was a big fan of her work. I found it amazing, the effort made to destroy her career. I read so many essays describing her work as ingnorant-and those were the nice articles. She is quite intriguing for her outlook on racism and the way of Black life. Her confidence is contagious. Look up her letters and essays to get better insight into who she really was.

  • Laurence LaCasse

    theMasters show was 5 star she was a unique thinker and I did not agree with all her ideas but admired her spunk … this was right up there with the Nistory of India…

  • Jessye Ridley

    Zora Hurston was dynamic and explosive, independent and vulnerable. Your documentary showed all faets of her life and personality–ABSOLUTELY MAGNIFICENT!

  • brittany

    WELL I THINK THIS WAS A VERY GOOD LETTER IF YOU ASK ME THIS LETTER IMPROVED ALOT

  • danny

    i love zora neal hurstone potrey

  • debra burns

    This letter was written in 1943 and resonants with it’s insight to today’s current situations. Some people just can’t handle the truth. We need to send this letter to the government politicians at every level. Thank you Nora for walking amongst us in a time when many backs were bent and still are. I applaud her writing.

  • Lenora

    This letter tells the truth is which it stands!

  • Joshua
  • Joshua

    Amazon Sells it!

  • Dianne Adams

    About 6 years ago I attended a luncheon in Ft. Pierce, FL in honor of Zora. There were only a few white faces there but many, many blacks and we all, both black and white, had hats on. It was a wonderful tribute to her and her memories. I am so glad she is being remembered.

  • landon brunner

    i thought it was a really nice letter. it made me happy yet sad i love zora neale hurston. it was a beautiful letter and brought a tear to my eye BALLS. i would love to go to a luncheon in Ft. Pierce, FL so hit me up dianne adams we could have a ball. that would bring back some good memories i love you.

  • robin bond

    please show this again during black history month 2012

  • robin bond

    Its another year later and I STILL would love to see this repeated. I cannot afford the $99 DVD price

Salinger

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