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James Weldon Johnson And Zora Neal Hurston

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When one utters the names James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neal Hurston immediately the image of two of African American civil rights icons enter in to our minds. Very few actually take the time and examine how closely related the two were. Whether through their upbringing or social struggles James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neal Hurston have illustrated a vivid picture of Jim Crow Florida in the course of their autobiographies. They both interpreted the class and gender dynamic in relation to race, in their own unique way.

The class dynamic is a theme quite prevalent throughout the course of Johnson's autobiography Along This Way. It first appears during his recollection of is childhood. He shows that among the black community in Jacksonville there was a class structure. This idea went against "white's" belief that the blacks cumulatively were a class. On a social class scale he was brought up that he was superior to the other blacks. It is seen with the education he was taught at home (that of the liberal arts), and his mother's selection of playmates that had her "unqualified approval". He develop the idea of superiority that fellows throughout the rest of his life. This notion appears later on in life, but this time he hints that he is superior towhees. It is seen when a white store owner ask Johnson whether he wished he was not black and he answer its better then being "you".

Though in Hurston's autobiography is much more about her personal story then race and gender relation, she still finds a way to express these themes. Resembling Johnson, Hurston was strong and expressed her point of view, but she didn't consider herself self-important like Johnson. Hurston lived in Eatonville an all black community which was neighbored by an all white community (Maitland). From young age she was taught that she had to know her "place." Her parents believed and taught her as blacks, they were in a different class then as whites, and because of that there were certain things she could not do (such as look whites in the face). Hurston was raised to believe that there were boundaries between "whites" and "blacks" in race relation, which in life she totally disregards (and nothing happened to her). This is exemplified when Hurston asks for a pony and her father tells her she isn't "white." These beliefs instilled by Hurston parents are in contrast to that of Johnson's. Living in an integrated community, Johnson was taught that there were no boundaries between "blacks" and "whites."



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