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Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer's family was not typical of migrating African Americans settling in the North, or fleeing the South. Each of his maternal grandparents were born of a caucasian father. But a "speck of Black makes you Black." Thus, Toomer's grandfather, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, was a free born black, a Union officer in the Civil War and was elected to the office of Lieutenant Governor and later Acting Governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction. The Pinchback's retired north and settled in the Negro community of the capitol. Thus, Toomer was born, as Nathan Pinchback Toomer into an upper class Negro family in Washington D.C. on December 26, 1894. Shortly after Toomer's birth, his caucasion father deserted his wife and son, and in 1996 Toomer's mother, Nina Toomer, gave him the name Nathan Eugene (which he later shortened to Jean). At the age of ten he was stricken with severe stomach ailments which he survived with a greatly altered life. He showed strength early - when faced with adversity, rather than wring his hands and retreat further into himself, Toomer searched for a plan of action, an intellectual scheme and method to cope with a personal crisis. Toomer writes in Wayward and Seeking, "I had an attitude towards myself that I was superior to wrong-doing and above criticism and reproach ... I seemed to induce, in the grownups, an attitude which made them keep their hands off me; keep, as it were, a respectable distance." Eugene and Nina and a new husband moved to New York in 1906; however, upon Nina's death in 1909, Nathan moved back to Washington and his grandparents.When Jean Toomer graduated from high school he began traveling. He studied at five places of higher education in a period of less than four years. At the University of Wisconsin, he enrolled in the agriculture program. Half a year later, however, he determined that Wisconsin was an atmosphere not meant for him, and he thus moved to Massachusetts to study at the ...

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