Cora would have none of her granddaughter's tears. As soon as Lena was old enough to understand, she told the child that she must never be like her mother, with all her silly ambitions. Relentlessly she drilled Lena on how to be a proper Horne: "Think for yourself. Don't make excuses. Don't lie. Never say 'ain't.' Learn how to read. Learn how to listen. Hold your head straight, look people in the eye, talk to them distinctly." Most important: "You will never let anyone see you cry."
Lena obediently followed her to meetings. As Cora's women friends held grave discussions, Lena got a lesson in manners: It was her job to serve the ladies tea and cake, then to sit silently in the corner. "She never made a child of me," said Lena. "I was always an adult." Once home, Cora would drill her as to what she'd learned.
In The Hornes, Gail Lumet Buckley described Cora as "a very neurotic woman," obsessed with what others thought of her and her family. Carmen de Lavallade, an influential black modern dancer whose career burgeoned in the fifties, knew the stifling effects of such an upbringing. "At that time if you came from certain families, you had to grow up to be a lady!" she said. "I grew up that way. It doesn't give you allowance for anything—for temper, for sorrow. You can't be yourself."
Cora's militancy involved deep prejudice. Horne would later tell reporter Sidney Fields that she'd "been raised to dislike white people intensely." Cora forbade her to play with white children, but wouldn't explain why. When she got older, she heard that white men wanted only one thing from black women, and it wasn't marriage. Cora looked with equal disgust at lower-class Negroes. Gail Lumet Buckley gave a dismaying example in The Hornes. When Lena's fair-skinned cousin Edwina fell for a dark-hued, unpedigreed black man, the family broke it up, all but forcing her to marry someone else. Even the lusty sounds of gospel and blues made Cora cringe; in her home, anything that signified a loss of control was shunned. Instead, she listened to Bach and Gregorian chants, cutting off the musical part of Lena's black heritage.
Cora sneered at Edna's ambitions, but they weren't so outlandish as she thought. By now enough black beacons had burst onto the show-business scene to keep Edna hopeful. Comic Bert Williams had conquered vaudeville, Broadway, and the recording field to become the nation's first Negro star. Audiences knew him as a downtrodden clown whose laughing-through-tears quality touched the heart. Florence Mills was black America's sweetheart, a lovely young waif who sang in a lilting, birdlike voice. Mills had shot to prominence in an off-Broadway smash, Shuffle Along, and seemed on the verge of great things. Actress Rose McClendon had moved from South Carolina to New York and won a scholarship to the hallowed American Academy of Dramatic Arts; eventually she became known as "the Negro first lady of the dramatic stage."