Negroland: A Memoir

Negroland: A Memoir

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0307473430

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, Time Out New York, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Kansas City Star, Men’s Journal, 

Pulitzer Prize–winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 into upper-crust black Chicago. Her father was head of pediatrics at Provident Hospital, while her mother was a socialite. In these pages, Jefferson takes us into this insular and discerning society: “I call it Negroland,” she writes, “because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.”

Negroland’s pedigree dates back generations, having originated with antebellum free blacks who made their fortunes among the plantations of the South. It evolved into a world of exclusive sororities, fraternities, networks, and clubs—a world in which skin color and hair texture were relentlessly evaluated alongside scholarly and professional achievements, where the Talented Tenth positioned themselves as a third race between whites and “the masses of Negros,” and where the motto was “Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment.” At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, Negroland is a landmark work on privilege, discrimination, and the fallacy of post-racial America.

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was coming. She was not there to pick up after us. When we were old enough, we stripped our own beds each week and folded the linen before putting it in the hamper for her to remove and wash. Mother’s paternal grandmother, great-aunt, and aunt had been in service, so she was sensitive to inappropriate childish presumption. Mrs. Blake ate her lunch (a hot lunch that Mother had made from dinner leftovers) in the kitchen. When her day was done, Mr. Blake and their daughters drove to our house. He

us off to the MLA?” a Lab friend writes me years later. “My mother drove us.” I don’t remember our being shown off at the Conrad Hilton. I remember my terror as his mother drove me home afterward; at one point I could tell she wasn’t sure how to get to my neighborhood. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell, and I couldn’t give her directions. Finally, somehow, we reached streets I recognized and I could say, “We’re almost there,” and thank her with an air of cheer when I got out of the car. I

opinions, my modest actions against the Vietnam War and for Black Power. It wasn’t hard to try—everyone around me was trying. Senior year I found my way to a Boston theater group, one of so many experimental groups reading Artaud and Grotowski; following Joseph Chaikin, Richard Schechner, Ellen Stewart, and Joe Papp; trying out techniques and rituals borrowed from Asia, Africa, Latin America. We did a piece called “Riot” in which a panel discussion among three types (an earnest white liberal, a

(who was desirable but not fast) that the first girl was a slut. The boys knew this because she’d made the mistake of being fast with more than one boy, so they’d talked about her with each other. And then her girlfriends talked about her with each other. They were still cordial to her at parties. She wasn’t put out of her clubs. But if she wasn’t already in the Etta Quettes or the Co-Ettes, she wasn’t asked in. Occasionally, a daughter who’d been silly enough to get herself pregnant would

defends Christianity against agnosticism. When he divines that Jo is publishing “sensational” stories under a pseudonym, his response (grievous sorrow rather than anger) has a New Testament power. No more lurid adventures, no more illicit passions erupting in foreign/exotic locales. Jo retreats to her room, reads her stories, and stuffs them in the stove, “nearly setting the chimney afire with the blaze.” Then, like one of her merry wrongdoers, she adds, “I almost wish I hadn’t any conscience,

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