Ten years ago, literary scholar Carla Kaplan released an acclaimed edition of the letters of Zora Neale Hurston. In the course of researching Hurston’s life, Kaplan became curious about the white women who were in Harlem in the same period as Hurston, women who risked family exile and social ostracism to be part of the artistic and political movements of the Harlem Renaissance. Now, Kaplan has published a cultural history of those women called Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance.
Kaplan opens her revelatory book with a poem that was printed in the NAACP’s journal, The Crisis, around 1930. “A White Girl’s Prayer” was written by “a white girl” named Edna Margaret Johnson. Here are some scattered lines that’ll give you the gist of her “prayer”: