The Hemingway Foundation capped off Black History Month, Feb. 26, with a panel discussion on “Hemingway and Race,” featuring board members Virginia Cassin, Stan West, John Barry, Wendell Rayburn and Redd Griffin.

The discussion turned up some interesting tidbits. Cassin, reading from one of the Nick Adams stories, noted that Hemingway’s first encounter with discrimination was directed toward the Native Americans who lived in the vicinity of Walloon Lake in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, where the family vacationed. Young Ernie had Indian friends, and his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, provided free health care.

John Barry noted that Hemingway’s grandfather, Anson, headed a unit of “colored” troops late in the Civil War. And according to author Amy Strong’s Race & Identity in Hemingway’s Fiction, in 1955, Ernie shaved his head, dyed his clothes and skin and briefly joined an African tribe after he started an affair with a local tribeswoman.

Stan West relayed stories he heard while writing his book, Suburban Promised Land, about Grace Hall Hemingway, Ernie’s mother, on more than one occasion bringing her paintings to the house of Percy Julian. After the Julians’ house was firebombed twice, Grace sent her chauffeur to escort the Julians to First Congregational Church (now First United Church of Oak Park).

Cassin recalled that Grace early on had walked down the center aisle with the Julians in order to make a statement of acceptance to a polarized congregation.

West noted that Hemingway often had his characters using the n-word or demonstrating anti-Semitic attitudes. Yet in his personal life, he maintained friendships with Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein.

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