NIGGER IN THE WINDOW by Helen Jackson Lee

NIGGER IN THE WINDOW

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Helen Jackson Lee is a retired civil service worker from Trenton, New Jersey--a description which does no justice at all to this tough, high-spirited woman whose autobiography is an eloquent, often uproarious testament to the ambitions and snares of the black middle class in an era which would have thought ""black power"" soft-headed. When she became a widow with two small children in 1940, her aspirations to do ""Office Work"" were radical indeed. At the time, ""the highest paid political job held by a black woman was maid in the city's public toilet."" Whites repeatedly refused her jobs though she had passed both federal and state tests, and blacks, particularly men threatened by her independence, urged her to use her sexual charms or return South. Somehow she stuck it out through a WPA Writer's Project stint, to finally become ""The Nigger in the Window""--a showcase item. Typing-and-stenography seem jobs for which she was ludicrously overqualified, but then, as Lee makes cruelly clear, expectations were different and blacks had internalized many of the attitudes of whites. Her own poignant recollections include voluntary withdrawal from a Negro college beauty contest because she ""inwardly agreed"" that a fair-skinned rival would bring more honor to the school. With a fine sense of the ridiculous, an occasionally flashing temper, and absolutely no self-pity, Lee conveys what it was like to live in a world where black schoolchildren chanted: Niggers and flies/I do despise/ The more I see niggers/ The more I like flies.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday