Hughes, Hurston and Locke often differed sharply in their opinions about “authentic” Negro representation — opinions that were further clouded by a need to appease whites. Locke reproached Hurston for her use of black vernacular, and both Hurston and Hughes were, at various times, dismissed as being insufficiently militant for the black cause. All three enjoyed the patronage of Mrs. Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy, white society matron, and each maneuvered and schemed to maintain the position of favored “pet.”
Each of the Harlem Renaissance writers left Los Angeles disappointed. “Hollywood,” Hughes wrote years after the Way Down South fiasco, “has spread in exaggerated form every ugly and ridiculous stereotype of the deep South’s conception of Negro character.” In a 1957 speech to the National Assembly of Authors and Dramatists, he maintained, “We Negro writers, just by being black, have been on the blacklist all our lives . . . There are libraries in our country that will not stock a book by a Negro writer . . . There are American magazines that have never published anything by Negroes. There are film studios that have never hired a Negro writer.”
Like all writers, past and present, the Harlem Renaissance artists weighed a desire for free expression against the unceasing demands of bill collectors. And like today’s artists, they too learned that Hollywood was not yet ready to present the full spectrum of black humanity. It must have been a lonely existence — to be black, creative and intoxicated by the power of one’s own quiet imagination. How many days were wasted with worry about how to make ends meet? Hughes had files full of story ideas right up to his death in 1967. And yet even he, who may have been the first black writer in this country to actually make a living from his work, was locked out of Hollywood. In the end, Hughes’ stay at the Los Angeles Clark Hotel on Central Avenue (the only place he could find that would board a black man) ended like Hurston’s and so many others’ before and after them — with a dream deferred.