TESSIE by Jesse Jackson


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They're white and rich, and you're poor and colored,"" reminds best friend Floe when Tessie wins a scholarship to elite Hobbe School. This, then, is about Tessie's transition from Harlem to Hobbe and, equally difficult, from Hobbe back to Harlem-a valid situation if slightly dated (she's the first Negro, touted by her librarian-mentor as a pioneer for the race); the trouble is that while Tessie's discomfiture is, as developed, entirely credible, the incidents that lead to (or away from) it are not. Among a faculty and student body that should have been primed for its ""pioneer,"" Tessie finds overt hostility and indifference; also a very crude, and cruel, snobbism, not just directed against her, that nevertheless blunts the issue by devaluating Hobbe-the prize is not worth the price. Moreover, the small steps whereby she proves herself with the insular Hobbe girls and with her resentful Harlem friends are either fabrications (i.e. a Hobbe petition that any student in any school can sign) or inadmissibly circumstantial-which is true also of the sick-performer, absent-understudy, show-must-go-on finale. Aspects of Tessie's anguish, especially an emergency hair-straightening at a lavish home on Long Island, are telling in isolation; she is more a prototype than an individual, but even as a prototype, she deserves better-a more auspicious alma mater, a firmer story.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1968
Publisher: Harper & Row