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The Blacker the Berry...

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,817 ratings  ·  167 reviews
One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry...was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty.

Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation --

Paperback, 221 pages
Published February 2nd 1996 by Scribner Paperback Fiction, Simon & Schuster Inc. (first published 1929)
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Ina Cawl
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I always wondered why Western authors who happened to visit my country from Richard Burton to Karen Blixen always claimed that Somali were far more superior to other African although they didn’t give reason for that superiority.
And after reading this book it made me more color conscious than ever, did those authors made their assertion because Somali had less thick lip than other Africans? Or they made their assertion because Somali have smoother hair than the African people? Or maybe Somali
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2018-read
Kendrick Lamar made me read it! His song "The Blacker the Berry" was inspired by this classic Harlem Renaissance novel, and when you know Lamar's lyrics and read Thurman's text, you realize how these two works of art are reinforcing each other, and the effect is truly amazing.

Thurman's book was first published 1929 and is a critique of a topic that has remained controversial until this day: Colorism, meaning the "prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book and just as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
The book hits the nail on the head on color coding and prejudice in our community, particularly on how self loathing plays itself out - how we turn on each other both light skinned and dark skinned, and how the need to white-up is presented in ways we may not be conscious of

Although practiced in our black community here in USA, other books suggest that this is not confined to our community here - see the other Book of the Month
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
A yellow gal rides in a limousine
A brown-skin rides in a Ford,
A black girl rides an old jackass,
But she gets there, yes, my Lord.

America 1920's and Emma Lou Morgan is 'color-conscious' She is a dark complexioned yong black woman, who has never loved or even appreciated the rich hue of her skin.

She has been verbally abused, discriminated against, and shunned because of it. She can't seem to find her place in the world and it all seems to start with the color of her skin.

It would be easy to
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Ehhhhh...It's one of those books that is important for its historical impact. And you know everyone wants to get behind it for its positive message, which, don't get me wrong, is a good message. Buuuuuut...

The good thing about the writing is that it makes for a quick, easy read. But the quality of the writing is pretty weak. It's like a corny "message" song that thinks simply having a message is excuse enough to not be very artful about delivering that message. The books tells more than it
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Wallace Thurman was a very brave person to shed light on a little known "dirty little secret" within the African American race.A secret which still exist today even though his book was first published in 1929.To say the less,it's a "doozy".Focusing on Emma Lou's "Crime & Punishment".The Crime of being born to a family of mulattoes who wanted to keep the blue veins DNA for generations to come.She was considered a "blue black"within the family.Her Mother,Grandmother and most all her relatives ...more
Wallace Thurman is such a striking writer--his style, particularly in this novel, is vivid, near-hypnotic, and this book is a mixture of racial/social critique, sordid melodrama, and a US travel narrative following protagonist Emma Lou's trials in early adulthood. The Blacker the Berry analyzes American colorism, particularly within the African American community, especially inside intellectual circles and/or in Harlem of the early 20th century. Emma Lou is admittedly an infuriating character ...more
Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL
I've taken ill, so my reviewing faculties are a bit dulled... Here goes nothing...

This is the last book in the first volume of the 'Library of America's Harlem Renaissance Novels of the 1920's'. All of the stories contained have some sort of take on black-on-black racism, though none makes this issue its central theme as Thurman does in 'The Blacker The Berry'. Our protagonist, Emma Lou, comes from a family/social circle who is progressively trying to breed whiter and whiter offspring—Emma Lou
Nov 30, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm only on page 50 of this novel and it's already struck a nerve with me.

As a black gay man I can totally relate to the alienation Emma Lou experiences first hand from her own community. She because of her exceptionally dark skin (this internal racism still exist today within the black community) and myself because of my openness with my sexuality (a homosexual black man is considered the scourge of the black community).

For a novel written in 1929 it is amazingly relevant in today's society as
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
This book is, by far, one of my favorite reads. It really digs deep into the social, moral, and mental issues plaguing the late 19th/early 20th century Negro-American. For me, it displays for the reader an uninhibited view of the duplicity of the Negro state of mind, how it affected the Negro family, and how it weakened the Negro community. It gives a deeper, more poignant interpretation of the color divide among one race of people and a foreboding insight into the issues faced by the 21st ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The protagonist was not a likable character. She hated how her family discriminated against dark skinned Blacks, yet she did the exact same thing. She was simple and ignorant and thoroughly pissed me off, yet as she grew and and faced her existence without excuse (they don't like me because of my dark skin versus they don't like me because I'm obnoxious) she became more endurable and maybe, just maybe, someone I would care no know with further exposure.
Emma Lou has it hard in a family of mixed kin. Her mama, mamma's mama too (white slave master + slave) but her daddy is pure sweet black berry juice. The story is all about self acceptance and Emma Lou has hella trails and tribulations ahead in her life. Enjoy.
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-favorites

4.5/5 stars

The only reason this book got a 4.5/5 stars was because there were some moments I got bored...but other than that, it was a wonderful book that had me ticked off so many times throughout this book.

Why you may ask?

Well, because even during the 1920's when this book took place, the hatred for yourself because of your skin tone, especially if you were a dark skin woman or man, was just frustrating...And to see
Leigh J.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who want to read literature from the Harlem Renaissance.
It's pretty tough to get through because the POV is the girl who hates her own skin, but it's an interesting look in shadeism. The intro in my copy (I read it when I was halfway through the book) was very misguided and no actual fact that were correct, sources, or any truths to the origins of shadeism were included. She also excuses colonialism from blame which is entirely incorrect.

Thurman's writing style is mostly pleasing, but there are some parts in the book that begged me to abandon it and
Apr 19, 2012 rated it liked it
This is such a sad story. It was well written and touches on the sensetive subject of racial prejudice within the black community. The main character, Emma, is naive and insecure not solely do to societies views of dark skin, but mainly due to how she was raised and treated by members of her own family, who were of lighter complexion. Seeing an oppertunity to escape thier oppressive views she takes off to first L.A. and then New york. Instead of finding the color-blind mecca she expected she ...more
This book is classic black America, written in 1929 -- well-written for its time and subject. Emma Lou was educated and had lived in Idaho. Her problem was her skin color, not just black but dark. It mattered then and I suspect it still matters today. The book is still timely because of the unexplainable prejudices people have against each other for preposterous reasons. Emma Lou tried to escape the pettiness of her small town at college and in big cities but her color mattered everywhere. This ...more
Ang Bennett
Jul 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
It is a book that is very frustrating to read, because of the main character's [Emma Lou] outlook on everything in her life. It seems that she never takes any responsibility, or ownership of her own life, relying on the views/opinions of those around her. She knows that other blacks discriminate against her, because of her shade, yet, she does the exact thing to her people, just not on the basis of the tone of their "blackness".

The Blacker the Berry will always be an important historical
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As is often the case with books from the Harlem Renaissance, many of the points they held up for criticism still ring too true today nearly 100 years later.
Donna Patton
Truly one of the best books I've ever read. The author died much too soon. Highly recommended.
Daniel Polansky
A dark-skinned woman tries to make her way in a post-war black society of uncompromising color consciousness. Thoughtful and well-written, of surprising subtlety for an overtly political novel. Good stuff.
Gary Lee
A fantastic lost classic of the Harlem Renaissance -- highly recommended!
Andrew Fairweather
I've taken ill, so my reviewing faculties are a bit dulled... Here goes nothing...

This is the last book in the first volume of the 'Library of America's Harlem Renaissance Novels of the 1920's'. All of the stories contained have some sort of take on black-on-black racism, though none makes this issue its central theme as Thurman does in 'The Blacker The Berry'. Our protagonist, Emma Lou, comes from a family/social circle who is progressively trying to breed whiter and whiter offspring—Emma Lou
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
That last page

This was a reread that I read for a read-a-thon and is one of my favorite books of all time. I love this book so very dearly! I first read it when I was 14, having taken it from my mom’s book stash (which she is never getting back) and even loved it then!

This book was first published in the 1920’s and it takes place in the 1920’s as well. This tells the story of Emma Lou and her struggles with being a dark skinned woman. Her skin is very black, making her an outsider to her own
Written in 1929, The Blacker the Berry was a shocking novel in that it exposed, for the first time, the existence of racism with the black community. The main character, Emma Lou Brown, is a dark-skinned woman who struggles to find acceptance in a black community that prizes lighter colored skin tones. Leaving her home town in Idaho, Emma admits that she was the only black student in her high school. She hopes that her new collegiate life in Los Angeles will help her to find new friends, but ...more
Jun 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wallace Thurman is a genius. The ability of this man to not only observe but recreate the racial complexities in America into a story that is timeless (and quite relevant today thanks to the SCOTUS gutting the Voting Rights Act) is pure genius. I still think that "Infants of the Spring" is Thurman's best work that I have read so far, but that doesn't discount what he has done in "The Blacker the Berry" and its importance.

The most striking impression this novel has left on me is the way that
Christopher Sutch
Nov 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Thurman's first novel, while a showing some typical signs of an immature prose writer getting the feel for a long genre, is still a pretty terrific novel that deals with the prejudice within the African-American community against people with dark skin pigmentation. Thurman skillfully shows the hypocrisy of this phenomenon in the experiences of his protagonist, a "black" woman who struggles for social and personal acceptance in a society that favors "high yellow" or "light brown" skinned people. ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This novel is important for both the tackling of the topic of colorism within communities of color- predominantly African Americans, in this case- as well as the impact it had when first released, being the first to shed light on the less-discussed forms of discrimination. It's a sad, frustrating thing to read about occurring in the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, yet even more depressing to realize it is all too real and relevant today.

It was hard to like Emma Lou, the main character, her
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I originally gave this book a four-star rating. Thurman's writing style is mesmerizing, and his characters are as memorable as they are though-provoking in nature. Upon recollection, what made me change my rating was Thurman's bravery and honesty. Bravery in addressing a subject matter so taboo at the time, which led to sections of his own peers in Harlem's literary ranks to distance themselves away from him, and honesty in expressing the shameful beliefs shared between members of the ...more
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Extremely well written and thorough. I sped read this for a college history class and enjoyed it to a point. I'm going to echo what others have said: despite this book being written eighty-six years ago, it resonates today. It's a sad story, indeed. The only thing that annoyed me was the lack of character development on behalf of Emma Lou by the story's end. Some parts dragged on longer than they should have. Not a bad read at all. I'll likely never read it again, however, despite appreciating ...more
Dana Monique
Feb 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It's a 1920s book about intra-racial prejudices--- an important topic that even in 2016 gets swept under the rug. However, I think I was so turned off from the very beginning by the unlikeable character Emma Lou that I couldn't appreciate her journey as much I would otherwise. She is full of her own prejudices, naïveté, and stubbornness that she "can't see the forest for the trees". Rather frustrating at times.

Overall, I would still recommend
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Wallace Henry Thurman (1902–1934) was an American novelist active during the Harlem Renaissance. He also wrote essays, worked as an editor, and was a publisher of short-lived newspapers and literary journals. He is best known for his novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929), which explores discrimination within the black community based on skin color, with lighter skin being more ...more
“It was the way of Emma Lou always to create her worlds within her own mind without taking under consideration the fact that other people and other elements, not contained within herself, would also have to aid in their molding.” 3 likes
“Perhaps if she were to live with a homey type of family they could introduce her to “the right sort of people.” 1 likes
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