St. John’s College knows, along with many others:
In a half-dozen classrooms they gather then,—here to follow the love-song of Dido, here to listen to the tale of Troy divine; there to wander among the stars, there to wander among men and nations,—and elsewhere other well-worn ways of knowing this queer world. Nothing new, no time-saving devices,—simply old time-glorified methods of delving for Truth, and searching out the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is today laid before the freedmen’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course of study will not change; its methods will grow more deft and effectual, its content richer by toil of scholar and sight of seer; but the true college will ever have one goal,—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.
—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Wings of Atalanta” (1903)
Act I, Scene 2 of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959)—the middle of a conversation. Beneatha, a twenty-year-old American, is speaking privately with Asagai, an intellectual from Nigeria who met her at the university:
Beneatha. Will you call me Monday?
Asagai. Yes . . . We have a great deal to talk about. I mean about identity and time and all that.
Asagai. Yes. About how much time one needs to know what one feels.
Beneatha. You see! You never understood that there is more than one kind of feeling which can exist between a man and a woman—or, at least, there should be.
Asagai (shaking his head negatively but gently). No. Between a man and a woman there need be only one kind of feeling. I have that for you . . . Now even . . . right this moment . . .
Beneatha. I know—and by itself—it won’t do. I can find that anywhere.
Asagai. For a woman it should be enough.
Beneatha. I know—because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write. But it isn’t. Go ahead and laugh—but I’m not interested in being someone’s little episode in America or—(with feminine vengeance)—one of them! (Asagai has burst into laughter again.) That’s funny . . . huh!
Asagai. It’s just that every American girl I have known has said that to me. White—black—in this you are all the same. And the same speech, too!
Beneatha (angrily). Yuk, yuk, yuk!
Asagai. It’s how you can be sure that the world’s most liberated women are not liberated at all. You all talk about it too much!