To borrow from the Jews—with somewhat different nuance—it’s hard to be a black. For example: an American occupation that, almost from the beginning, came to be identified with the position of black men in the society was that of the Pullman sleeping car porter. Over the years, the pleasure the average white passenger derived from the porter’s activities was enhanced enormously by the fact that the porter was black. Where blacks were concerned, the Pullman car was a sort of America on wheels, because, for several decades, the porter service was the highest to which black men in any large numbers were allowed to aspire. It comes as something of a surprise, then, to encounter a woman in one of James Alan McPherson’s short stories (published recently in the collection, Hue and Cry), who objects strenuously to the presence of a porter in the vicinity of her sleeping compartment because, among other private reasons, “He’s black! He’s black!” It is the sort of thing which, especially by today’s standards, is sufficient to drive even a sleeping car porter into the arms of the Black Panthers.
Considering some of the mythic regions of their minds in which the majority of...
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