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Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was a Black American anthropologist, folklorist, and author. After studying with Franz Boas at Barnard College, she became a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance. She was featured in the pioneering 1925 anthology The New Negro, and her research on southern Black folklore and Caribbean voodoo practices is still influential almost 100 years on.

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In this widely studied 1943 letter to the poet Countee Cullen—also a creative powerhouse of the Harlem Renaissance—Hurston confides her frustration with white liberals who were fighting 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.

She also spelled out her logic about “Negro ‘leaders’”:

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.

Read Hurston’s full letter to Cullen at the link.

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Callaloo, No. 6 (May, 1979), pp. 89-92
The Johns Hopkins University Press