• At Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, African-American writer Langston Hughes succeeded in a big way, writing for and publishing the school newspaper, working as class poet and yearbook editor, and acting in plays. While at Columbia University in New York City, Mr. Hughes hoped to be just as successful. Unfortunately, prejudice got in his way. When he tried to write for Columbia University’s newspaper, the editor played a cruel joke on him by telling him to cover fraternity and society news. Because of Mr. Hughes’ race, he was unable to attend fraternity and society events and so he could not write about them.
• When Yoshiko Uchida, author of Journey to Topaz, was a little girl growing up in California, she faced a lot of prejudice. As a member of the Girl Reserves, she was supposed to be photographed for the local newspaper along with the other Girl Reserves, who were Caucasian. The newspaper photographer tried to take the photograph without young Yoshiko, but one of her friends saw what the photographer was attempting to do, so she told Yoshiko, “Stand by me,” locked arms with her, and made it impossible for Yoshiko to be left out of the photograph.
• Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American to make his living as a writer, experienced prejudice. A wealthy white woman arranged for him to come to Buffalo, New York, and do a reading. She reserved an expensive suite in an excellent hotel for him, but the hotel management was shocked when Mr. Dunbar arrived. The clerk would not let him register at the hotel, and management threatened to call the police unless he left. Not until the wealthy white woman showed up in person was Mr. Dunbar allowed to stay at the hotel.
• Aaron Fricke (author of Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story About Growing Up Gay) and Paul Guilbert used to help handle telephone calls to a Gay Helpline. Most of the calls were serious, but cranks made some of them. Whenever a caller started gaybashing, Mr. Fricke or Mr. Guilbert would tell the caller to make a highly original use of the telephone receiver.
• An efficiency expert started working at a movie studio, but the screenwriters rebelled at such changes as pencil sharpeners being taken from their offices and replaced by a couple of pencil sharpeners in the hall. In addition, the efficiency expert stopped the deliveries of coffee to the writers’ rooms. One writer, Harry Ruskin, started using pencils at the phenomenal rate of three dozen an hour. The efficiency expert investigated and discovered that Mr. Ruskin was writing a few words with each pencil, then tossing them out of the window because “it wouldn’t be economical for a man making 50 cents a minute to walk down the corridor and sharpen them.” The efficient expert next discovered a group of writers gathered in the hall, where they had cut a hole in the rug, started a fire, and were making coffee because they claimed it was more efficient for them to make their own coffee than to walk to the commissary to buy it. The writers won — the efficiency expert was fired.
• Phillis Wheatley became America’s first African-American poet with the publication in 1773 of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Phillis was a slave, but her owner, Susanna Wheatley, recognized her talent as a poet and worked to have Phillis’ book published. She even contacted British printer Archibald Bell about publishing Phillis’ book of poetry, and he said he would if Susanna could prove that Phillis was indeed the author of the poems. To prove that Phillis was the author, Susanna invited 18 respectable citizens living in Boston, including John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, to quiz Phillis and ask her questions that would indicate whether she had the intelligence and talent to be the author of the poetry. They did, and all 18 of the judges signed a statement that Phillis was indeed the author of the poems.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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