Writing about Passing: Jessie Redmon Fauset

jessie-redmon-fauset-1882-1961-grangerJessie Redmon Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in Camden County in New Jersey, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she was likely the sole African American in her class. Because Bryn Mawr College was reluctant to accept its first black student, they instead chose to help Fauset to get a scholarship to attend Cornell University. Fauset did well at Cornell and after graduating in 1905, Fauset’s race kept her from being hired as a teacher in Philadelphia. Instead, she taught in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

During the Harlem Renaissance, two papers were in circulation among black people that helped to greatly influence the movement: The Crisis, headed by W.E.B. Dubois, and The Opportunity, headed by Charles S. Johnson. While there seemed to be quite a competition from the two, stemming from the position of the two men, the writers also reflected the same. While Zora Neale Hurston wrote for The Opportunity, Fauset wrote for The Crisis and eventually became editor in 1919.

 

2657593132_8b9365f0a5While researching and studying for Stella Book #2, which launches tomorrow and deals with the subject of passing, I noticed that Fauset wrote a lot about passing; all of Fauset’s novels were the stories of black middle class passing for white. Her first novel “There is Confusion” is the love story of a wealthy black woman who falls in love with a medical student and dreams of being a dancer but is held back because of her race. Published in 1923, her second novel “Plum Bun” is about a black woman who desires to be an artist; and decides to do so by passing as white and rejecting her family and friends. The story ends with her embracing her race and finding true love with a black man. In 1931 she published her third novel “Chinaberry Tree”. Her last novel “Comedy”, a study of the tension between drama and narration, was published in 1933. Inspired by a Greek tragedy, it is another story studying the dynamics of passing by giving voice to a black woman who can be seen as white. She passes for white in her everyday life and convinces her oldest children to do the same. The youngest child was too dark to pass which eventually leads him to commit suicide.