Zora Neale Hurston wrote her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” in 1928. In the piece, she speaks of her early life in Eatonville, Florida, her hometown. Since Hurston was born in 1891, the setting for this part of the essay is the late 1800s and early 1900s. When Hurston was thirteen, she went to school in Jacksonville. This would have been about 1904. At this time, Hurston first became aware that she was “colored.” Before, at her home, her only contact with white people was with travelers passing through. The only difference she experienced between white and Black people was that white people left and Black people stayed.
As the essay continues, Hurston mentions her time at Barnard College, where she studied beginning in 1925. There, as the only Black student, she felt “a dark rock surged upon” amid a “thousand white persons.” But she remained herself.
The essay also speaks of the author’s contemporary life. Hurston describes a scene in a jazz club where her Blackness is emphasized both by her reaction to the jazz music and by her white companion, who does not feel the same intense emotion from that music. She also speaks of walking down Seventh Avenue in Harlem just continuing to be herself and even “feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library.” She is proud of who she is and always has been, no matter what time of her life she is recalling.