The Double Burden: A Historical Perspective on Gender and Race Consciousness in the Writings of Lillian B. Jones Horace
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The Double Burden A Historical Perspective on Gender and Race Consciousness in the Writings of Lillian B. Jones Horace Angela Boswell Violet Gray, a main character in Lillian B. Horace’s first novel, Five Generations Hence, writes to her friend Grace Noble: “As I read your book, I wondered that so few of our people write, when the world knows so little about us really—so little of our hopes and aspirations, so little of the sting we feel at insult and injury. Ah! yes, Grace, so little the [world] knows of what some of us really suffer.” The implication in this text and throughout Horace’s work is that “they”—the whites who oppressed African Americans in the United States—could not possiblycontinue with such uncaring and inhumane treatment if they truly understood its results. Yet custom and society made it difficult, even dangerous, for blacks to confront whites about their laws and behaviors and for blacks to let whites around them know how they really felt. Despite the dangers, Horace queried in her personal diary and again through a character in her next novel, Angie Brown, “How will they know unless we tell them?”1 Clearly a prime force motivating Lillian B. Horace to write was the desire to tell “them” about the hopes, aspirations, stings, and sufferings of her race. Very real fears and social conventions kept most African Americans from being honest about their lives within earshot or readership of white society. As a result, Horace’s novels and her diary can shed more light on our understanding of the effects of oppression in the early twentieth century, as well as on the strength of character of those who endured it. In her novels, Horace demonstrates how segregation and racism affected every aspect of African American life, including, and perhaps especially, the relationships between men and women. Horace began writing at a time when more African Americans were sharing her desire to tell others about their lives. In the late nineteenth 193 The Double Burden century, thousands of African Americans had moved to southern urban areas, thus creating communities that could offer support and encouragement for analyzing their own oppression. In one of these southern cities, Fort Worth, Texas, Lillian B. Jones (before she married her second husband, J. Gentry Horace, and took his name) wrote and published Five Generations Hence, the earliest known utopian novel by an African American. Yet the move to southern cities was only the beginning of what would become known as a Great Migration of African Americans who moved out of the South by the thousands to northern urban areas in the beginning of the twentieth century. Although they still lived in segregated neighborhoods and faced racial oppression in the North, they were much freer to write and speak openly with less fear of violent white reprisals. Like Horace in Fort Worth, many of these new migrants began writing about the lives of African Americans in the midst of a flowering of literature, music, history, and art that became known as the Harlem Renaissance.2 The Harlem Renaissance brought much African American artistic and literary talent to the attention of the public and, later, historians , but even those who fought their way into and were celebrated by that literary scene might find little financial reward or long-­ term celebration . One of the most influential and prolific authors of the movement , Zora Neale Hurston, from Eatonville, Florida, died penniless and was virtually forgotten until she was “rediscovered” in the 1970s. That female authors were less likely to be rewarded and that Harlem and other northern enclaves were the centers where artistic talent was most likely to be recognized combined to make it very unlikely that even a pathbreaking utopian novel by a woman from Texas would be successful, celebrated, or remembered. In fact, the southern female author Lillian B. Horace would be completely forgotten until she was recently rescued from the archives at the Fort Worth library by Karen Kossie-­Chernyshev.3 Written bya female living in the South, employing an atypical genre, and slightly predating the burgeoning of the Harlem Renaissance, Five Generations Hence nevertheless addressed many of that artistic movement ’s standard themes, including the description and identification of black struggle and desire for self-­ determination. Like that of many other African American authors who emerged at this time, Horace’s work, along with her consciousness, continued to grow and evolve be- 194 Angela Boswell yond the initial movement. By...