READ EXCERPT: 'Stormy Weather'

Apparently her grandmother had called a strict halt to any further visits between the child and her wayward mother. In 1923, Edna had to resort to subterfuge to see her daughter. One day she showed up at a neighbor's house on Chauncey Street and asked the woman to fetch Lena. The two had a tearful reunion, but Edna warned her not to tell her grandmother. Soon thereafter, a relative spirited Lena away to Edna's apartment in Harlem. The little girl found her mother sick in bed, and spouting a dire warning—her father was plotting to kidnap her, and they had better leave town fast.

Edna was lying, of course; Teddy Horne had moved to Seattle with his new wife and had no desire to abscond with the child he'd run away from. But Edna was feeling vengeful—not only toward the husband who'd deserted her but toward Cora for daring to withhold Lena from her.

Her days with the Lafayette Theatre were through. Soon Edna stood on a train platform, holding a suitcase in one hand and leading her daughter by the other. They boarded a segregated train for Miami. There, Edna hoped, she could act in tent shows—Negro vaudeville that played the outskirts of southern towns for a few days at a time. The actors faced "hellish" odds, as Bill Reed wrote in his book Hot from Harlem. Police gladly arrested them if they were out on the street at night—the very time they worked. "Unscrupulous management and inadequate food and lodging were a commonplace of black show-business life. . . . That these performers managed to shoulder the burden of racism ... and still get the job of entertainment done was a miracle."

Horne later reflected on the hard knocks they were willing to endure in order to practice their craft. She herself paid a harsh price for her mother's ambitions. For the next six years, Edna would drag her from town to town as she searched, mostly in vain, for acting work; she would leave her child in foster care, then vanish, sometimes for months. More than once, she would reappear in the middle of the night and snatch Lena away, claiming her father was about to kidnap her.

But Lena could never have foreseen all that as she rode the train to Miami with Edna, whose illness left her moaning all the way. There in the sweltering South, the two carted their bags to their temporary new home, a little frame boardinghouse. It stood behind a railroad track in a Negro slum. Lena recalled it as a "tumble-down shack with a sagging porch, broken stairs, and no plumbing." The kitchen had a dirt floor; cinders blew in the window when a train passed. Each room sheltered anywhere from two people to a family, all of whom shared "a foul outhouse." Young as Lena was, this descent into rural poverty must have seemed an unexplainable fall from grace.

Edna's professional fortunes in Miami proved slim. She took on odd jobs—salesclerk, maid—to support her and her daughter. For the first time, Lena learned what lay behind much of the antiwhite talk in Brooklyn. From almost any white she felt a cold draft or downright hostility. Her feet hurt because her new shoes didn't fit; Negroes weren't allowed to try on merchandise, for if they didn't buy the item, no white person would, either. At home, fellow boarders at the house spoke hatefully of "crackers"—a popular southern term for bigots.

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