One Friday Morning by Langston Hughes, 1941
The magic trick:
Aiming the story at a YA audience, using a teenaged protagonist and calling on the youth to carry on with a positive attitude in the face of racial prejudice
Langston Hughes wrote a lot in a lot of different forms. So it’s reasonable to consider this his foray into YA literature. Not only is the protagonist a high school student, the writing style and tone seems geared down a little to a younger audience.
He does an excellent job of capturing Nancy Lee’s concerns. Her perspective and experience as a black student whose talents earn her acceptance by the white world – but only to a point – are likely similar to those of a young Hughes.
The story veers into hokey territory at the end, preaching positivity in the face of injustice and racial prejudice. It’s definitely not subtle. I like it though. The message is solution-oriented and powerful. More evidence too that the story was aimed directly at a young audience. And that’s quite a trick on Hughes’s part.
When the president of the Artist Club presented her with the medal and scroll of the scholarship award, she would say:
“Judges and members of the Artist Club. I want to thank you for this award that means so much to me personally and through me to my people, the colored people of this city who, sometimes, are discouraged and bewildered, thinking that color and poverty are against them. I accept this award with gratitude and pride, not for myself alone, but for my race that believes in American opportunity and American fairness—and the bright stars in our flag. I thank Miss Dietrich and the teachers who made it possible for me to have the knowledge and training that lie behind this honor you have conferred upon my painting. When I came here from the South a few years ago, I was not sure how you would receive me. You received me well. You have given me a chance and helped me along the road I wanted to follow. I suppose the judges know that every week here at assembly the students of this school pledge allegiance to the flag. I shall try to be worthy of that pledge, and of the help and friendship and understanding of my fellow citizens of whatever race or creed, and of our American dream of ‘Liberty and justice for all!’”