In the story "One Friday Morning" by Langston Hughes, why, despite the committee's actions, does Nancy Lee not lose her sense of pride and self-worth?

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Nancy Lee does not lose her pride and self-worth because these were neither created nor nurtured by the committee. All the sensations of pride in winning the scholarship were formulated and developed before she learned the bad news. Nancy Lee savored the knowledge that she had won; she wrote a moving, heartfelt speech about the meaning of the award and of American democracy. Although she will be prevented from giving the speech and from receiving the scholarship, she has already internalized what it meant to her.

Hughes shows the processes that went into developing Nancy Lee's art along with her character. Her parents made sacrifices to move north, and then improved their lives as well as hers. They had already become educated, at southern "Negro colleges," and her mother had earned another degree up north. Nancy Lee's foundation is solid and unshakable. Also, her art developed along with the "deep and reverent race pride" that Hughes tells us she possesses. Her art teacher had helped her learn not just about Euro-American art, but had fostered her interest in African art traditions such as Benin, Congo, and Makonde.

Although the committee's racism prompted the rationale that she would be out of place in the art school, she is clearly portrayed as fitting in at her school, and her classmates as not discriminating against her. Thus, her school experience has taught her that the committee would be wrong.

We see how her sense of community with her white school principal is established when Miss O'Shay talks about how democracy is "ours" to make. At the very end, Nancy Lee thinks as well, that the nation is "the land we must make." Through the experience of rejection, she has come to see herself as part of that "we."

Although Miss O'Shay lets Nancy Lee down by not fighting for her to receive the scholarship, she does tell her that she will try to change the policy to help future students. Rather than feel let down, Nancy Lee vows to fight when she is a woman. She understands that this is her fight, and that the "men and women like Miss O'Shay will help me." Thus, she gains in maturity and conviction through being cheated out of what she rightly won.

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Nancy Lee retains her sense of pride because of Miss O’Shay’s words to her after it is revealed that she was declined the Art Club scholarship. Miss O’Shay is “indignant” that the offer is withdrawn after the committee discovers that Nancy Lee is colored. She summons the girl to her office and reveals that she herself is Irish and once faced discrimination as well. But, she notes, the Irish fought to change the country, to enact change, making America a more just place. She encourages Nancy Lee to do the same, telling her

We still have in this world of ours democracy to make. You and I, Nancy Lee. But the premise and the base are here, the lines of the Declaration of Independence and the words of Lincoln are here, and the stars in our flag. Those who deny you this scholarship do not know the meaning of those stars, but it’s up to us to make them know.

Miss O’Shay also tells Nancy Lee to lift her head up and smile at her. Nancy Lee does just that, and she takes her vice-principal’s words to heart. She determines to “stand against ignorance, narrowness, hate, and mud” like Miss O’Shay. While she is disheartened by the news, she does not lose her self-worth and retains pride in her black American heritage.

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While what has happened to Nancy Lee is terrible, Miss O'Shay, the girls' vice-principal, is completely supportive of her, going to far as to being willing to go to the school board to ask that any award that discriminated be eliminated.  Miss O'Shay is clearly supportive of Nancy Lee, giving her encouragement, and explaining that her own people, the Irish, had been discriminated against in the past, too.  Miss O'Shay's support and sharing of her own past is a gift to Nancy Lee that allows her to go forward with her head high, to fight again another day.

It may seem unbelievable to students today that such an event could take place in real life. However, many such events took place in 1952 and even later than that.  While I do not know a great deal about Langston Hughes' personal life, it is quite likely that he experienced similar kinds of discrimination in his lifetime.

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