In Quicksand, how does Helga’s work with Mrs. Hayes-Rore, the race relations woman modeled in part on Booker T. Washington, and others epitomize the failings of the Harlem Renaissance? (As a point of comparison, you might consider Jessie Jackson Jr., Al Sharpton, or Lena Horne herself, who became an activist for the NAACP, though the story was written well before these figures emerged—more historically relevant would be W.E.B. Dubois or Jessie Fauset.)

In Quicksand, Helga’s work with Mrs. Hayes-Rore connects with the failings of the Harlem Renaissance by emphasizing the movement’s limited effects on earlier intellectual and segregationist approaches. Mrs. Hayes-Rore is a wealthy, intellectually oriented woman who cannot connect with the majority of African Americans. Despite actively promoting diverse elements of Black culture, the Harlem-based artists and writers could not completely displace the limitations of the established perspectives.

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After Helga moves to Chicago, she obtains work assisting the wealthy Mrs. Hayes-Rore, a prominent authority on “the race problem.” Helga appreciates the older woman’s good intentions but is concerned about her detachment from the practical issues with which the majority of African American people are concerned on a daily...

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After Helga moves to Chicago, she obtains work assisting the wealthy Mrs. Hayes-Rore, a prominent authority on “the race problem.” Helga appreciates the older woman’s good intentions but is concerned about her detachment from the practical issues with which the majority of African American people are concerned on a daily basis. By taking an intellectual approach and supporting incremental reform, Mrs. Hayes-Rore encourages elitist attitudes that emphasize the leadership roles of the privileged few. As a light-skinned woman, she clearly has some white ancestors, but she discourages Helga from discussing her own white, European heritage and, more generally, interracial relationships. Her praise for the positive contributions of “Negro” culture and maintaining insular, race-based enclaves serves to support a segregationist stance.

Once she arrives in New York, Helga lives in a luxurious home with Mrs. Hayes-Rore’s niece, Anna Grey. Helga is initially optimistic as she meets the more diverse members of the Harlem community. Artists, musicians, and writers who took part in what became known as the Harlem Renaissance openly rejected the earlier generations’ accommodations to White culture. At the same time, they depended on White patronage and applied Eurocentric standards in evaluating cultural phenomena. Anna epitomizes these contradictions and the dangers posed by elitism.

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