by Langston Hughes
Melton was one of those miserable in-between little places, not large enough to be a
town, nor small enough to be a village -- that is, a village in the rural, charming sense
of the world. Melton had no charm about it. It was merely a nondescript collection of
houses and buildings in a region of farms -- one of those sad American places with
sidewalks, but no paved streets; electric lights, but no sewage; a station, but no trains
that stopped, save a jerky local, morning and evening. And it was 150 miles from any
city at all -- even Sioux City.
Cora Jenkins was one of the least of the citizens of Melton. She was what the people
referred to when they wanted to be polite, as a Negress, and when they wanted to be
rude, as a nigger -- sometimes adding the word "wench" for no good reason, for Cora
was usually an inoffensive soul, except that she sometimes cussed.
She had been in Melton for forty years. Born there. Would die there probably. She
worked for the Studevants, who treated her like a dog. She stood it. Had to stand it;
or work for poorer white folks who would treat her worse; or go jobless. Cora was like
a tree -- once rooted, she stood, in spite of storms and strife, wind, and rocks, in the
She was the Studevants' maid of all work -- washing, ironing, cooking, scrubbing,
taking care of kids, nursing old folks, making fires, carrying water.
Cora, bake three cakes for Mary's birthday tomorrow night. You Cora, give Rover a
bath in that tar soap I bought. Cora, take Ma some Jell-O, and don't let her have even
a taste of that raisin pie. She'll keep us up all night if you do. Cora, iron my stockings.
Cora, come here.
.. Cora, put.
.. Cora! Cora!
And Cora would answer, "Yes, m'am."
The Studevants thought they owned her, and they were perfectly right: they did.
There was something about the teeth in the trap of economic circumstance that kept
her in their power practically all her life -- in the Studevant kitchen, cooking; in the
Studevant parlor, sweeping; in the Studevant backyard, hanging clothes.
You want to know how that could be? How a trap could close so tightly? Here is the
Cora was the oldest of a family of eight children -- the Jenkins niggers. The only
Negroes in Melton, thank God! Where they came from originally -- that is, the old
folks -- God knows. The kids were born there. The old folks are still there now: Pa
drives a junk wagon. The old woman ails around the house, ails and quarrels. Seven
kids are gone. Only Cora remains. Cora simply couldn't go, with nobody else to help