Zora, William, & Langston
“A Circle of Artists; An examination of Artistic Eccentricities of the Harlem Renaissance” Part I
By: Charity Martin-Via, Historian
They are the subjects of tributes and the idols of those seeking the light of inspiration. They elude us for they are immortal. The sheath of time and distance makes them elusive and forever adored in our eyes. Fear not, they can do no wrong. They are frozen carefully trapped in scholarship. Each represents what is beautiful and sanctified. Forever there shall be no spots or wrinkles. We wrap them in our love and adulation is never far from them. However quietly their interactions, or blatantly robust, there is a bit of humor in the obscure.
Our champions were also artists.
W.E.B. Dubois (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.) was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree. He is a celebrated Ivy League graduate, author, and educator. Dr. Dubois; originator of the “Talented Tenth” philosophy, Niagara Movement, and N.A.A.C.P., is quoted as saying “the shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of Ethiopia and of the Egypt the Sphinx. Throughout history, the powers of single blacks flash like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness.”
However, to Zora Neale Hurston (Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.); acclaimed anthropologist, educator, and author, he was William or Bill. Hurston, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, farmer, and school teacher, was also a member of the Alain Locke (Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.) Literary Society and was herself often critical of Dr. Dubois’ affinity toward adaptation to a White ideal. Hurston’s staunch perspective is echoed in her declaration; “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.”
Zora Neal Hurston was initiated into Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in one of the earliest pledge classes at Howard University (cir.1922/1923 academic year)
Zora, known for her quick wit and good cooking, considered William pretentious and snooty. Zora, the self dubbed “Queen of the Niggerati” enjoyed her time clicking drinks in “Niggerati Mansion” with fellow author Langston Hughes (Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.) and Wallace Thurman while jarring jokingly against the black bourgeoisie thereby coined; “Negrotarians“.
The “Niggerati”, a hybrid of terms ni**er and literati, was a deliberate and stylized language identification. The term was intentionally shocking. Hurston and Hughes were expressly critical of the “Negrotarians”.
Langston Hughes, having done a stint as assistant to the Father of Black History; Carter G. Woodson (Sigma Pi Phi & Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.) … is unlikely to be known as a partier. Contrarily, he and Hurston enjoyed having a good time.
There were "period(s) of interracial collaboration between Zora Neal Hurston's 'Negrotarian' whites and the African American Talented Tenth" (Lewis, Introduction xvii) As Zora has stated, “...I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.”
HBGLO Renaissance Contemporaries:
Zora Neal Hurston (Zeta Phi Beta), Langston Hughes (Omega Psi Phi), Alain Locke (Phi Beta Sigma), James Weldon Johnson (Phi Beta Sigma), Carter G. Woodson (Omega Psi Phi), W.E.B. Dubois (Alpha Phi Alpha)...to name just a few.