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 Tuskegee Airmen: They were expected to fail

They Were the Cream of the Crop

     In 1941 with the world at war, a select group of African Americans traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama. They wanted to be part of an experiment to see if Blacks had the intellectual and physical capacity to fly an aircraft in combat. These young men traveled into the heart of segregation in the deep south. They dreamed of becoming the nation’s first Black fighter pilots. They were determined to become Tuskegee Airmen. They were the best of the best, the cream of the crop. They had degrees in such disciplines as: Electro Engineering, English Literature, Science, Biology and Pre-Law. (PBS movie) They were Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth.” The eyes of the Black community were upon them, and they did not want to disappoint. From the very beginning they were expected to fail (Homan & Reilly p. 15).

In 1925 under the direction of the War Department, the War College, devised a study examining the combat records of Black servicemen during World War I. The study was titled, The Use of Negro Manpower in War. This document was “preordained to be very negative.” It concluded that “Black men were cowards and poor technicians and fighters lacking initiative and resourcefulness” (p. 16). It further stated that the brain of the average Black man weighed only thirty-five ounces compared to forty-five ounces for the brain of an average white man” (p 17). In the eyes of the military, this document “proved” that Blacks should be kept segregated from Whites and were qualified only for menial, closely supervised jobs. This negative and biased report concluded that Blacks were “…a subspecies of the human population” (p. 17). This was the stance of the War Department concerning the use of Black men in the military.

The battle for African American men to enroll in military pilot training began as early as 1917 during World War I. When African Americans tried to enlist in the Air Services of the Signal Corps as Air Observers, they were told that “No colored aero squadrons were being formed at the present time…but, if later on, it was decided to form  colored squadrons, recruiting officers would be notified to that effect.” African Americans would not take “no” for an answer and in 1922,  African American leaders urged the War Department to establish Negro Army Air Force Reserve Units. The War Department’s response was “that since no Negro Air Units existed, there was no justification for the appointment of Negroes as flying cadets” (Francis & Caso p. 37).

African American leaders refused to accept the word no. In 1931, Walter White, Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Robert R. Moton, President of Tuskegee Institute,  pushed once again for the acceptance of Blacks into the Army Air Corps for pilot training. And once again the response was a resounding no. The War Department argued that “from the beginning the Air Corps had selected men with technical and mechanical experience and ability, that the colored man had not been attracted to flying in the same way or to the extent of the white man”(p. 38).

White wrote in response “It is obvious that colored men cannot be attracted to the field of aviation in the same way or to the extent as the white man, when the door to the field is slammed in the colored man’s face…”(p 38). Because of the response of the War Department many leaders felt that only legislature through Congress would assure African Americans of acceptance into the Air Corps. In April 1939, Congress passed Public Law 18, authorizing the private training of military pilots by civilian schools. This law did not apply to Blacks or black schools (Homan p. 18).

Senator Harry Schwartz of Wyoming, introduced an amendment to Public Law 18, and when  the Appropriation Bill passed on April 3, 1939, it authorized the Secretary of War to

“…lend to accredited civilian aviation schools…designated by the Civil

Aeronautics Authority for the training of Negro Air Pilots…aircraft,

aircraft parts, aeronautical equipment and accessories… such articles

as may appear to be required for instruction, training, and maintenance

purposes” (Francis & Caso p. 38).

Passage of Public Law 18 seemed to be the victory for which Blacks had long fought; but the War Department, the C.A.A, and the Judge Advocate General were haggling over the interpretation of the bill. In the meantime African American organizations expressed that they would continue to agitate Congress for more legislation if the training of Negro Pilots was continuously delayed (p. 39).

In 1939 with war raging in Europe, the United States remained officially neutral; but as the war loomed President Roosevelt recognized the nation’s participation in the war as unavoidable. He ordered the nation’s military to prepare for war (Moye p 23). Brigadier General George V. Strong, called for “a civilian pilot training program a hundred times greater than that which existed in the past” (p. 23). The President was deluged with letters from Blacks seeking to enroll in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (C.P.T.P.).  Also, Presidents of historically black Wilberforce University, Hampton Institute, and Tuskegee Institute, offered their campuses as training sites (Moye p. 24).

During the hearing of the House of Representatives, on June 5, 1939; Congressman Louis Ludlow of Indiana offered an amendment that one million dollars of the eight million dollars proposed for expanding the training of military pilots and for materials, be set aside for the training of Negro Pilots. It was then proposed that a training camp be established at facilities “offered free of charge at Tallahassee, FL, and at Tuskegee.” Congressman Dirksen proposed that “this training camp be established at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama” He proposed that

“Tuskegee had a Reserve Officers Training Corps at the present time…

officered by a Negro First Lieutenant…a graduate of West Point, and

whose father…is the Colonel of the fifteenth Infantry in New York…”

(Francis p. 40, 41).

Dirksen was referring to First Lieutenant Benjamin O. Davis Jr., son of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Sr., who would become Brigadier General B. O. Davis Sr. (Earl p. 33).

Tuskegee Institute was selected by the C.A.A. for Negro Pilot Training. On October 15, 1939, Frederick D. Patterson, President of Tuskegee Institute was notified that Tuskegee Institute had been approved for participation in the Civil Pilot Training Program (C.P.T.P.). While young African Americans were allowed to be trained as civilian pilots, they were not given the right to enter the air corps. African American leaders realized that Public Law 18 did not gain acceptance of Blacks as military pilots. The War Department simply ignored the act of Congress (p. 44).

When the Selective Services Act of 1940 was enacted by Congress, African American leaders and Congressmen proposed amendments to assure that African Americans would not be discriminated against and that the Act would not be misinterpreted as Public Act 18 had been.  African American leaders also sent a memorandum to President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and Assistant Secretary of War, Robert P. Patterson. The memorandum proposed among other things: the use of available Negro reserve officers, training camps for work in all branches of aviation corps, and the selection of officers and enlisted personnel without regard to race. As a result of this memorandum, the Army informed the President that it planned to give Negroes “proportionate shares in all branches of the Army, in the proper ration to their population—approximately ten percent” (p. 47).

They Were Expected to Fail

      The Selective Services Act of 1940 required all branches of the military to enlist Negroes with no discrimination regarding race, color, or creed (Rose p. 12). The Army Corps took weeks to decide where to train African American Pilots as well as African American mechanics to service the planes. The Aeronautical University of Chicago was considered, but it’s all White student body was housed in the Y.M.C.A. The Air Corps wanted to keep the races segregated and therefore, decided not to utilize the University of Chicago (p 12).

The Air Corps Technical School at Chanute Field, Illinois, was chosen by the Air Corps as the training facility. But the Air Plans Division feared “disturbances and riots will probably ensue both at the field, and within the nearby communities” (p 13). Tuskegee Institute was suggested as the place to start training, Tuskegee had the capacity to house both mechanic service schools, and pilot training (p. 13). The Army Air Corps was a separate program from the Civilian Negro Pilot Training Program  established under Public Law 18 in 1939 (p. 13).

In December of 1940, The Army Air Corps submitted plans for an “experiment.” Tuskegee Institute was chosen for pilot training for the United States Army Air Corps.  The all Black 99th Fighter Squadron  would consist of thirty-five pilots, and 278 ground crew members (McKissack p. 42). White commissioned officers were to be used as instructors, inspectors, and supervisors until they could be replaced by qualified Black personnel (Rose p. 13). The announcement of the all Black squadron received mixed reviews from the African American community.

W. E. B. Du Bois editor of Crisis magazine praised the 99th Squadron as “a step in the right direction” while William H. Hastie, advisor to the Secretary of War, refused to endorse the “experiment” he said it was a “national disgrace that a program was needed to prove Black men could fly an airplane.” Hastie sent an official report to the Secretary of War pointing out that Blacks were not ten percent of the total military, and that keeping the military segregated was “demeaning and demoralizing” (McKissack p. 42).

In response to Hastie’s report, General George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff intimated, “Segregation is an established American custom. The educational level of Negroes is below that of Whites; the Army must utilize its personnel according to their capacities; and experiments within the Army in the solution of social problems are fraught with danger to efficiency, discipline, and morale” (p. 42). It was official, the Army did not intend to end its racist practice of segregation. Furthermore, it  did not believe that Black men were as intelligent as white men, and certainly not more intelligent than white men. Some historians, after examining Army documentation, concluded, that the Army hoped, even expected, the program to fail (p. 45).

In 1940, the average income of Blacks in Alabama was 60 percent less than that of whites, only 2 percent of Black citizens could vote, and the Ku Klux Klan was very active, many Black leaders were against this experiment being conducted in Alabama, the stronghold of racial intolerance (p. 44).

Also in 1940, according to the Census Bureau, there were 124 licensed Negro pilots in the entire United States out of a total population of more than 12 million African Americans. Out of these 124 Negro pilots, seven held commercial pilot ratings, none were in the Army Air Corps (Moye p. 28). According to a press conference released by the War Department on January 16, 1940, thirty-five Black men would be chosen under the Civil Aeronautics Authority form the Civilian Pilot Training Program to be trained at  the  99th Fighter Squadron of Tuskegee Institute (Holman p. 29).

      Benjamin O. Davis

     Benjamin O. Davis Jr. graduated from the United states Military at West Point in 1936. He ranked thirty-fifth in a class of 276. After  graduating from West Point, Davis was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry and told to report to the Infantry Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia. In March 1938, Davis was assigned to Tuskegee Institute to teach military science and tactics. In 1940 Davis’s father Benjamin O. Davis Sr., was nominated by President Roosevelt for promotion to the rank of brigadier general. In 1941 Davis Jr. was assigned as his father’s assistant and joined him in Fort Riley, Kansas. It was during this time that the Tuskegee experiment was initiated, and Brigadier General Davis Sr. received a letter from the Office of the U. S. Army Air Corps requesting that his son be released for pilot training and then command an all African American flying Squadron, the 99th Fighter Squadron (Earl p. 34).

The first class began with twelve outstanding cadets and one officer trainee (B. O. Davis), contrary to the official report that stated there would be thirty five pilot trainees. Of the thirteen, only five “made it” and received their wings. The “wash out” rate was 50-60 percent (McKissack p. 54). Years later through the Freedom of Information Act, Tuskegee Airmen discovered there had been a quota for how many Blacks were allowed to graduate. The phrase used to wash (cadets) out was,  “eliminated while passing, for the convenience of the government” (Jefferson p. 26). It is clear that many cadets passed  basic training but were eliminated for the convenience of the secret government quota system.

Active Duty

     During WW II Black airmen destroyed or damaged 409 enemy aircraft, including the last four victories of The Army Air Corps in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. They flew 15,553 stories, and 1578 missions. Two hundred of these missions were as heavy bomber escorts. Not one of the bombers flying over the Rhineland was lost to enemy fighter opposition. Four hundred fifty Negro pilots of the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd , Fighter  Squadrons, collectively known as the 332nd Fighter Group distinguished themselves according to the Presidential Unit Citation as

“displaying outstanding courage, aggressiveness, and combat

technique, the 332nd Fighter group reflected great credit on

itself and the Armed forces of the United States of America…”

(Rose p. 9).

The Tuskegee Airmen did not fail, they did not disappoint.

Double Victory

     When the Tuskegee Airmen returned home to America they found that race relations had not changed, they were still treated as second class citizens. But they had tasted victory and would not settle for second class citizenship again. Inspired by the contribution of the Tuskegee Airmen, President Harry S. Truman announced Executive Order 9981, calling for “equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces, regardless of race, color, or creed.” This act led to the end of segregation in the Armed forces and marked the beginning of the Civil rights Movement, according to many historians (George p. 29).

Many Tuskegee Airmen remained in the military. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was promoted to the rank of Four Star General by President Bill Clinton in 1998. At the ceremony President Clinton intimated that  Davis is “…a hero in war, a leader, in peace, [and] a pioneer for freedom, opportunity, and basic human dignity” (George p. 28).

Annotated Bibliography

Earl, S. (2011). Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Air Force General & Tuskegee Airmen Leader. Mankato: ABDO Publishing Company. I used this source to cite the performance of Benjamin O. Davis Jr. when he graduated from West Point Army Academy. It also was used to explain how he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry  and told to report to the Infantry regiment in Benning, Georgia. From this source I also retrieved information concerning the promotion of Benjamin O. Davis Sr. to the rank of Brigadier General.

Francis, C. E.  & Caso, A.(1997). The Tuskegee Airmen The Men Who Changed A Nation. Boston: Branden Publishing. This source was used to explain the battle experienced by African American men to enroll in military pilot training as early as 1917. This source also is utilized to show how Afro American leaders urged the War Department to establish Negro Army Air force reserve Units. It also explains the amendment to Public Law 18 proposed by Senator Schwartz of Wyoming in 1939.

George, L.  (2001). The Tuskegee Airmen. New York: Grolier Publishing. This source was used to explain how the Tuskegee Airmen inspired President Harry Truman to announce Executive Order 9981, calling for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces regardless of race, color and creed. It also details the rise of Benjamin O. Davis Jr. to the rank of a Four Star General.

Homan, L. M. (2001). Black Knights the Story o f Tuskegee Airmen. Greta: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. This book was used to explain that from the very inception of the Tuskegee Experiment the cadets were expected to fail. It also explains the study conducted by the War College, that concluded that Black’s were a subspecies of the human population. This source also explains how Public Law 18 did not provide for the private training of black men in civilian pilot training schools

Jefferson, A. C. (2005). Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free. New York: Fordham University Press. This source is used to explain how the Tuskegee cadets did not find out until years later that there had been a quota for how many blacks would be allowed to graduate. It also gives the explanation of the use of the phrase “wash out” used by the government to eliminate African American cadets from the Tuskegee Experiment, even though they passed the training/

McKissack, P. &. (1995). Red Tail Angels. New York: Walker and Company. This source cites how W. E. B. Du Bois editor of the Crisis magazine praised the 99th Squadron as a step in the right direction for allowing African American to be trained as pilots in the Tuskegee Experiment.. It also points out how General George C. Marshall the army chief of staff, expressed his feelings that the education level of the Negro is below that of whites.

Moye, J. T. (2010). Freedom Flyers The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. New York: Oxford University Press. I used this source to show that in Alabama blacks earned 60 percent less than whites. It also explains that many black leaders were against the Tuskegee Experiment. This source also shows how in 1939, President Roosevelt was advised by Brigadier General Strong calling for a civilian pilot program a hundred times greater than that which existed in the past.

Rose D.D.S., R. A. (1982). Lonely Eagles The Story of America’s Black Air Force in World War II. Los Angeles: Tuskegee Airmen Inc. This source shows how the officers of the 99th Fighters were white officers to be used until they could be replace by black officers. It also explains the combining of the 99th, 100th, 301st  and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, as well as their collective successes during World War II.

In search of “self”

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Donna Mac

Their Eyes Were Watching God: the use of metaphors to illustrate the journey of the protagonist

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time (Hurston 1). The omniscient narrator in Zora Neal Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, paints a picture of a metaphoric ship with the ability to carry dreams, not just dreams but every man’s dreams. Always in view, always attainable to the man who never gives up. For the men and women called the Watcher, who never attain their dreams they find themselves mocked to death by Time. It is interesting that while death does not begin with a capital letter, Watcher and Time do. The Watcher is being watched by Time. And so Hurston takes us on a journey into the life of Janie Crawford a young girl who is drawn to the horizon in search of her identity, her dreams. Throughout the novel Hurston uses Time to draw attention to the life of Janie Crawford in her search for herself.

The omniscient narrator takes up the metaphor of time once again in chapter two. Janie saw her life as a great tree in leaf with things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches (8). The narrator uses the organic metaphor of a tree, here Janie seems to realize that there is a cycle to her life just as there is a cycle to the life of a tree. The bright promise of a new dawn and the lingering possibility of doom, dreams unrealized, purpose unfulfilled.

Janie wants to experience love she has many questions concerning love, marriage, and life. And so the Narrator begins chapter three with yet another metaphor. There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had no chance to know things so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmarried? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day (22)? The reader now walks with Janie as she enters her first marriage. She experiences the answer to her questions, and seems to be mocked by time and doom. At the end of Janie’s first marriage the narrator shows us that Janie is maturing through her life experiences.

So Janie waited a bloom time, and a green time, and an orange time…she knew things that nobody had ever told her…she knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up…she knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman (25). In this passage Hurston continues to use time, and death to paint the picture of life, destiny, and the fulfillment of dreams. Janie’s dream of love and marriage has died, and so she matures into a woman. But unlike the Watcher who turns away in resignation from his/her horizon and ultimately the fulfillment of ones dream, Janie looks into the horizon and begins to expect something.

Janie Crawford lives trough two marriages, she leaves one husband and outlived the other, never to find love. Until she meets her third husband. Again Hurston uses time as a metaphor in Janie’s life. One night after Teacake walks Janie home. The narrator describes Janie’s mood. So she sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, and quenching the thirst of the day (99).

I believe this metaphor describes Janie and her new life with Teacake. All the thirst she had for love and marriage will be fulfilled or quenched by her union with Teacake. She meets Teacake in the evening of her life. Together they travel to the horizon and death attacks her. Hurston calls death “old square toes.” Even though old square toes takes Teacake in the evening of Janie’s life, she still has him in her memories and he continues to give her the horizon she always dreamed of. Teacake was the son of the Evening Sun (189). He could never be dead until Janie had finished feeling and thinking…the kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great net…and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see (193). Time could not mock Janie as she experienced her dreams come true, she experienced the dawn and the doom of the metaphoric tree of life and she had no regrets she learned the answer to her questions in her journey to the horizon and back.

Work Cited

Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Were Watching God. First Harper Perennial Modern Classics New

York, New York. 2006

Aside

Double Consciousness: And the Innate Ability to Realize One’s Dream

Over the past one hundred years African-Americans have been called Colored, Negro, Black, Afro-American, and African-American. Our identity continues to evolve. No matter what title we use to describe our ethnicity  we find ourselves in a world or double standards. We of African descent have learned to live in two worlds, our own cultural reality, and the reality of the dominant race. This paper will explore the double-consciousness theory of W.E.B. Du Bois as depicted in the writings of Zora Neal Hurston, Richard Wright, and Buchi Emecheta. Janie Crawford the main character in Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Richard Wright in his autobiographical novel, Black Boy, and Adah in Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, are main characters of African descent who learned to live in two cultures. These two cultures, always clashing and causing conflict in the lives of the protagonists, serve to teach, mold, and strengthen them so that as they mature, their dreams come into fruition.

W. E. B Du Bois states in his book, Souls of Black Folk, “…the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line” (Forethought xxxi). He then asks the question, “How does it feel to be a problem” (1)? He calls this problem “…double-consciousness, this since of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring ones soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (3). This double-consciousness can be seen in the life of Janie Crawford the main character in the bildungsroman novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

As a young girl Janie was raised by her Grandmother who she called Nanny. Janie and Nanny lived on the property of a White woman named Mis’ Washburn. Nanny worked for this woman and helped raise her grandchildren. Janie first came to discover her “self” when she and the other White children had their picture taken. When Janie looked at the picture, she asked “where is me?” Mis’ Nellie, the daughter of Mis’ Washburn, pointed to Janie and said “Dats you…don’t you know yo’ ownself” (Hurston 9)? Janie replied “Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!” Janie was astonished to discover that she was “colored.” As a small girl Janie Crawford endured the state of “twoness” she was a colored child, even though her father was a white man. This state of being, caused her to be mistreated by her schoolmates. She was of mixed race, a second class citizen in the eyes of the White race and hated by her peers of her own race. Her mixed heritage held her bound between two races. Hurston continues the journey of Janie Crawford by allowing the reader to look into the desires and dreams of Janie as she begins to long for love, desire, and life.

Janie desired a life of true love and happiness. She believed that this could be accomplished in marriage. But Nanny, who believed that happiness came with financial success, thwarted Janie’s dream by arranging for Janie to marry Logan Killicks, a Black man who owned sixty acres of land and a mule. Hurston seems to use this man Logan Killicks to show that when African Americans were emancipated they took on the ways of the dominant race. Financial success was the “American dream” and to own land was financial success. So Janie had to give up her dream of love and marriage and accept Nanny’s dream of assimilating to the culture of her former slave owners. Hurston uses this marriage to Killicks, to show that the White man’s ways do not always bring happiness.

Janie leaves Killicks to marry Joe Starks. Joe Starks is also trying to capture the American dream. He envisions himself as an important man with money, land, and status, a man that everyone looks up to and admires. Just like his former slave holders. Hurston uses this character to depict how the African-American imitates his former oppressor. Joe Starks is a cold-hearted businessman. He treats Janie and others around him with contempt. He feels that his money, land and status, makes him above everyone else. He tries to persuade Janie to think and feel as he does, but she never lets go of her inner dream, to experience true love. Janie learns to play by Joe Starks’ rules but she never really assimilates to the White man’s way of doing and feeling. She learns the art of silence for the sake of survival.

Janie is experiencing the state of double consciousness, always looking at herself through the eyes of her husband, who is trying to take on the ways of the White man. It is very interesting the way Hurston uses Joe Starks to show how the issue of race and assimilation can cause conflict within the African-American race. The people in the small town of Eatonville Florida are all Black. They were awestruck by Joe Starks and the way he came into town and took control of things. He made the little shanty town a place to be proud of with a general store; owned by him, a post office; run by him, and he was also the town’s elected Mayor. Joe Starks felt that his wife Janie should be as satisfied as he, because of all these perceived accomplishments.

Joe Starks saw himself through the eyes of the dominant race. He was just like them after all; he was living in a big two-story house overlooking the small houses of the small town’s people. He owned all the land, he ran all the town businesses; he was living just like the white man. And yet his home was a place of coldness and contempt, his wife was terribly unhappy. Starks never tried to see life through the eyes of his wife; he never stopped to consider how she felt about things. In his mind they were equal to the White man and that was enough. Janie was forced to be his token, his trophy. She could not mingle with the other women, because in Starks’ eyes she was above them. Janie and Joe were both living within their own culture while trying to assimilate to the dominant culture. This caused confusion in their marriage, this confusion was a silent enemy. Janie and Joe never realized that their conflict was one of double consciousness. They never discovered that his desire to be like the White race drove a wedge between them, a chasm that could never be reconciled.

This irreconcilable chasm of twoness also dominated the life of Richard Wright, as portrayed in his novel, Black Boy. As a young boy Richard Wright was curious, mischievous, and defiant. His parents tried to beat the defiance out of him. His Grandmother and Aunt tried to shame the defiance out of him, and the White man tried to scare the defiance out of him. Richard’s defiance was his way of refusing to assimilate or conform to the cultural norms of his environment. W. E. B. Du Bois intimates, “One ever feels his twoness,– an American, Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (3).

This “dogged strength” is what kept Richard from being torn asunder by the outside forces that tried to mold him into a docile, accommodating, complacent, weak-kneed Negro. Richard showed signs of strength and determination as a small child. His family who had conformed to the White culture’s way of thinking saw Richard’s strength as a hindrance to him and them. They wanted him to acquiesce, to act as the White culture expected Negroes to act. By telling his story in this manner Wright allows the reader to experience the struggle going on in his psyche.

Richard was different from all the other Negroes around him, even though he never realized he was different until it was brought to his attention by his friend, Griggs. When Richard tried to find work after he graduated from high school, he was never able to hold down a job. It was because of his attitude, not that he had a negative attitude, he just did not have a subservient attitude. Griggs told Richard that he did not know how to live in the South. He did not know how to play the role of a Black man, “…look, you’re black, black, black, see? Can’t you understand that” (Wright 183)? Richard had to be forced to recognize his Blackness just as Janie was forced to recognize that she was Colored; two individuals in the same world with the same problem, the Negro problem.

Richard wanted to “learn this strange world of white people” he asked Griggs to tell him how he must act. Griggs explained “when you’re in front of white people, think before you act, think before you speak…your way of doing things is alright among our people, but not for white people. They won’t stand for it” (184). It is at this point in the novel that Richard journeys through the struggle of being a Black man in a White man’s world. He must reconcile these two opposing forces in his own conscious, in his own world. Richard comes to a time in his life where he must decide if he will assimilate, accommodate, or reject the norms of the dominant white race. Richard attempts to accommodate and act as he is expected to act while in the presence of White people.

Richard’s first attempt to accommodate the White man was a total failure. He was working at an optical company with two racist white men. These men refused to teach him the optical trade and even made lewd jokes about his male anatomy. Wright says “My personality was numb, reduced to a lumpish, loose, dissolved state. I was a non-man, something that knew vaguely that it was human but felt that it was not” (194). This is the state of a man almost broken by racism, bigotry and hate. Richard needed to learn how to survive. He felt that if he could only get out of the South that things would change. And so he manipulated his escape and ran to the North only to find that he could not escape the dominate culture. But he did learn to wear a mask long enough to get what he wanted. Paul Lawrence Dunbar penned the poem, We Wear the Mask.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us while

We wear the mask

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured soul arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream other wise,

We wear the mask! (71)

Dunbar published this poem in 1896, yet it remains timeless. The Black race has learned to wear the mask to survive in a culture that is dominated by European values. Richard Wright must learn how to wear the mask in order to survive in the Twentieth Century. This struggle, this twoness, this double consciousness, plagued the life of Richard Wright. He was caught between two worlds, and at the same time trying to find him self. Who was he? Why did he exist? What was his future, his purpose? These were the questions that he must answer. He continued his search for “self” by traveling to the North.

When Richard arrived in Chicago he finds that race relations are less strained but racism still exist even in the North. He said the “black stretches of Chicago depressed and dismayed me, mocked all my fantasies” (262). Right is experiencing the reality of “Dreams mocked to death by Time” (Hurston 1). But Richard did not give up on his dream. He wanted to become a writer and here in Chicago he would see that dream come into fruition. Chicago became a place where Richard learned how to communicate and live in two worlds. He continued to struggle; he did not assimilate, or accommodate, the dominant culture. He did reject that culture’s predetermined expectations of him, as he matured and learned how to be a Black man in a white man’s world. As Richard Wright and Janie Crawford both experienced struggles from with-out and with-in, which shaped, molded and helped form their personalities, so did Adah, the main character in Emecheta’s, Second class Citizen.

“It had all begun like a dream…one was always aware of its existence. One could feel it, one could be directed by it; unconsciously at first, until it became a reality, a Presence” (Emecheta 7). Adah, a little Nigerian girl, dreams of leaving her country and living in the United Kingdom. She realizes that this is her desire whenever she hears her father talk about the United Kingdom. She said when her father spoke of the United Kingdom it was as if he was speaking of “God’s Holiest of Holies” (8).

At the age of eight Adah felt that she was being directed by her dream. She called that dream a Presence. At the time that she realizes this Presence, she also realizes that in her culture she is “insignificant” because she is a girl (7). It is at this time that Adah also understands that “one’s savior from poverty and disease was education” (9). But educating a girl was not as important as educating a boy in the Ibo culture. So Ada’s brother went to school and Adah would be taught to sew. Adah purposes in her young heart that she will go to school and she will also go to the United Kingdom.

Adah had a desire to not just survive but to be successful, self-sufficient. She exhibited that desire at an early age when she manipulated her way into school. Next she manipulated her way into marriage, and finally, she manipulated her husband into moving to the United Kingdom. It was when she arrived in England that Adah realized that people of African descent were regarded as second class citizens.

The main characters that have already been discussed were African-Americans who found themselves in a world of conflicting cultures. While Adah is not an African-American she is of African descent and faces the same problem of being a person of color, in a European dominated culture. Just as Janie and Richard faced problems from forces with-in and with-out, so does Adah. She finds that she is not content with being treated as a second class citizen. While her husband seems to assimilate to the dominant culture easily Adah still has a dream to fulfill; she wants success, as she envisioned it while growing up in Nigeria. She will not settle for anything less; and for this she is ostracized by her Nigerian community and her husband.

Adah went through one storm after another, Whites did not to rent to her because of her color, her husband burned her first manuscript, she had five babies, but she learned to endure. And then she learned to persevere. On her journey she became a strong woman. The culture clash she experienced while being treated as a second class citizen by her Nigerian husband, her Nigerian community and the Europeans served to shape and mold her into a writer. She always dreamed of being a writer, but she thought that this would happen twenty years in the future. It was the pain, the loneliness, the discrimination of the white race, and the wounds she received from the hands of her husband that compelled her to write. She gave birth to her dream, this was her purpose, this was the reason that she came to the United Kingdom. She was an African in a strange land all alone, but she had her intelligence, she had her ability to tell a story and no man could take that gift from her. Adah became a writer.

Richard Wright also became a writer he learned to say what he had to say, by using words as weapons. He followed his dream to speak out against injustice, and to not allow his “self” to be silenced, he refused to give in to the dominant culture. Janie also realized her dream when she threw caution to the wind and left Eatonville, Florida to marry Vergible Tea Cake Woods. Janie refused to be hemmed in by the narrow minds of people and their opinions. She wanted to experience life and love and she did. These three bildungsroman novels allow the reader to view the conflict of race, culture, marriage, and self, as the protagonists grow into mature individuals who overcome the of obstacles life.  The conflict between two worlds, as intimated by W. E. D. DuBois, helped to push the protagonist toward self actualization. These individuals go on to see their dreams come to fruition while learning to take risk, to have faith, and to be courageous enough to be themselves.

Works Cited

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantan Dell, 1989. Print

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1913. Print

Emecheta, Buchi. Second Class Citizen. New York: George Braziller and Company, 1974. Print

Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Print

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print

Double Consciou…