I remember the very day that I became black.
Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida.
The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando, Florida.
The native whites rode dusty horses, and the northern tourists traveled down the sandy village road in automobiles.
The town knew the Southerners and never stopped chewing sugar cane when they passed.
They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid.
The front deck might seem a frightening place for the rest of the town, but it was a front row seat for me.
My favorite place was on top of the <1>gatepost1>.
Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it.
I usually spoke to them in passing.
I'd wave at them and when they returned my wave, I would say a few words of greeting.
Usually the automobile or the horse paused at this, and after a strange exchange of greetings,
If one of my family happened to come to the front of the house in time to see me, of course the conversation would be rudely broken off.
Only they didn't know it.
The colored people gave no coins.
They disapproved of any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless.
I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the country—everybody's Zora.
But changes came to the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville.
I left Eatonville as Zora.
When I got off the <2>riverboat2> at Jacksonville, she was no more.
It seemed that I had suffered a huge change.
I was not Zora of Eatonville anymore; I was now a little black girl.
I found it out in certain ways.
In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a permanent brown—like the best shoe polish, guaranteed not to rub nor run.
Slavery is something sixty years in the past.
The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible war that made me an American instead of a slave said "On the line!".
The period following the Civil War said "Get set!", and the generation before me said "Go!".
Like a foot race, I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the middle to look behind and weep.
Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory—the world to be won and nothing to be lost.
It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the audience not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.
I do not always feel colored.
Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of that small village, Eatonville.
For instance, I can sit in a restaurant with a white person.
We enter chatting about any little things that we have in common and the white man would sit calmly in his seat, listening to me with interest.
At certain times I have no race, I am me.
<3>propped3> up against a wall—against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow.
Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a pile of small things both valuable and worthless.
Bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since decayed
away, a rusty <4>knife-blade4>, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still with a little <5>fragrance5>.
In your hand is the brown bag.
On the ground before you is the pile it held—so much like the piles in the other bags, could they be emptied, that all might be combined and mixed in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly.
A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter.