look with amazement
While wandering aimlessly about the streets of Memphis,
gaping at the tall buildings and the crowds, killing time, eating bags of popcorn, I was struck by an odd and sudden idea.
He hated his job and talked
incessantly of leaving to work in the post office.
contort the face to indicate a certain mental state
“But this black sonofabitch sure needs a quarter,” Shorty sang,
grimacing, clowning, ignoring the white man’s threat.
laugh quietly or with restraint
“This monkey’s got the peanuts,” he
not presently active
But under all our talk floated a
latent sense of violence; the whites had drawn a line over which we dared not step and we accepted that line because our bread was at stake.
a low or downcast state
But within our boundaries we, too, drew a line that included our right to bread regardless of the indignities or
degradations involved in getting it.
surrender under agreed conditions
Hence, our daily lives were so bound up with trivial objectives that to
capitulate when challenged was tantamount to surrendering the right to life itself.
a complaint about a wrong that causes resentment
Our anger was like the anger of children, passing quickly from one petty
grievance to another, from the memory of one slight wrong to another.
a very steep cliff
With one sentence he had lifted out of the silent dark the race question and I stood on the edge of a
being essentially equal to something
We were afraid to tell the white men that we did not believe them, for that would have been
tantamount to calling them liars or risking an argument that might have ended in violence being directed against us.
cleverly amusing in tone
His position was not much better than mine and I knew that he was uneasy and insecure; he had always treated me in an offhand,
bantering way that barely concealed his contempt.
a union of interests or purposes among members of a group
I was afraid to ask him to help me to get books; his frantic desire to demonstrate a racial
solidarity with the whites against Negroes might make him betray me.
search or inquire in a meddlesome way
But some of the white men
pried into my packages when I was absent and they questioned me.
mix up or confuse
addle your brains if you don’t watch out.”
agreeable, conducive to comfort
I could submit and live the life of a
genial slave, but that was impossible.
have a meeting in order to talk something over
And every time we
conferred, we defeated ourselves.
unpleasantly cool and humid
Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundations were sinking slowly into the
done or made using whatever is available
use of physical or mental energy; hard work
And I really do not think that America, adolescent and cocksure, a stranger to suffering and
travail, an enemy of passion and sacrifice, is ready to probe into its most fundamental beliefs.
force or drive back
As a protective mechanism, I developed a terse, cynical mode of speech that
rebuffed those who sought to get too close to me.
without betraying any feeling
My face was always a
deadpan or a mask of general friendliness; no word or event could jar me into a gesture of enthusiasm or despair.
the state of being degenerate in mental or moral qualities
I spent my nights reading Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, admiring the lucid, subtle but strong prose, stupefied by its dazzling magic, awed by the vast, delicate, intricate, and psychological structure of the Frenchman’s epic of death and
take the place of
I was conscious of what was happening to me; I knew that my attitude of watchful wonder had
usurped all other feelings, had become the meaning of my life, an integral part of my personality; that I was striving to live and measure all things by it.
someone who adheres to strict religious principles
I was encountering for the first time the full-fledged Negro
Puritan invert—the emotionally sick—and I discovered that their ideas were but excuses for sex, leads to sex, hints at sex, substitutes for sex.
not direct, explicit, or straightforward
In speech and action they strove to act as un-Negro as possible, denying the racial and material foundations of their lives, accepting their class and racial status in ways so
oblique that one had the impression that no difficulties existed for them.
a nonconformist who lives an unconventional life
Swearing love for art, they hovered on the edge of
the mental attitude that something is believable
I gave no
credence to the ideology of Garveyism; it was, rather, the emotional dynamics of its adherents that evoked my admiration.
arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments
It became a habit of mine to visit Washington Park of an afternoon after collecting a part of my premiums, and I would wander through crowds of unemployed Negroes, pausing here and there to sample the
dialectic or indignation of Communist speakers.
avoid and stay away from deliberately
When speaking from the platform, the Negro Communists,
eschewing the traditional gestures of the Negro preacher—as though they did not possess the strength to develop their own style of Communist preaching—stood straight, threw back their heads, brought the edge of the right palm down hammerlike into the outstretched left palm in a series of jerky motions to pound their points home, a mannerism that characterized Lenin’s method of speaking.
The place was
dismal; plaster was falling from the walls; the wooden stairs sagged.