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Coastal Georgia Nursing Professor Recognized as Student Academic Advisor of the Year
Posted 01/09/2015 12:00AM
The Harlem Renaissance, which began less than 60 years after the U.S. Civil War, was a time when the cultural, artistic and social lives of African Americans evolved as never before. It was during that time that of writers such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and James Weldon Johnson, and musicians including Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton began to make their marks. W.E.B. DuBois, who had founded the NAACP in 1909, was at the height of his influence.

It is that period that Dr. John Hershey, Dean, Humanities Division and professor of English at Georgia Highlands College, Rome, will discuss in two presentations hosted by College of Coastal Georgia in honor of “The Big Read: Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Black History Month. The first will be at noon Feb. 16 at the Kingsland campus, 8001 Lakes Blvd., and the second, at noon Feb. 17 on the Brunswick campus, 1 College Drive.

Hershey’s topic is “The Women of the Harlem Renaissance and Their Masks: The Real and Fictional Lives of Zora Neale Hurston.” His program is the result of a grant from the Georgia Humanities Council.

“It was a period during which African-American art flourished in an unprecedented way,” Hershey said. “And by art, I mean writing of all kinds, visual arts and music.”

Explaining that the movement centered in the Harlem community of New York City, Hershey said elements of the artistic movement were taking place all over the country – in places like Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis.

Hershey’s talk will focus mainly on the women of the era because their experience was unique within the movement.

“Like other African American artists, they produced a great deal of work,” he said. “But they also experienced the same issues with sexism as all women, in addition to the racial issues also being experienced by the men.”

Hershey’s talk focuses on the “masks” that all people, but particularly women wear in public.

“This metaphor is frequently used in African American literature, and it represents an individual showing one public face, while their true selves are hidden,” he said.

Although men also wore masks, the combined challenges of both racism and sexism made life more complicated for women, he said.

“Everyone presented a certain public face,” Hershey said. “Their true feelings were hidden inside, but began to emerge through their art.”

The metaphor of a mask is well illustrated in Hurston’s book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” according to Hershey.

“Throughout the novel, in different ways, she (Janie Mae Crawford, the protagonist) is trying to let her real self flourish, despite the fact that she is discouraged from doing that by society,” he said. “She wants to allow her true self to be seen.”

Hershey says that the college-age members of the audience, particularly women, will take away several points from his presentation.

“The novel is a journey of identity,” he said. “The character goes through the same things that young women in particular will find relevant.”

There’s a bigger picture also, he said.

“It’s become so clear, in the past year or so, that we, in this country, still struggle with race relations,” he said. “Many of these same things have been expressed in African American literature for hundreds of years.”

Brunswick News
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