Once settled in Brooklyn, Edwin and Cora focused on raising their sons. But according to Gail Lumet Buckley, child rearing bored Cora. Once the boys were old enough to fend for themselves, she began working for a dizzying array of community causes. They included the Urban League, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and the NAACP, formed in 1909 in response to the growing scourge of anti-Negro brutality. Cora lectured hookie-playing black youths on how they were jeopardizing their futures and shaming their race. She led demonstrations to demand voting rights for black women. She aided unwed Negro mothers, and fought to get scholarships for worthy young blacks—one of whom, Paul Robeson, entered Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, due partly to Cora's efforts. Her bedrock strength left little room for warmth. Lena Horne recalled her as a "violent, militant little lady" who never caressed her or uttered a loving word. To Cora, sentimentality meant weakness. Having come from a line of women who cooked the white man's meals and washed his clothes, she wouldn't stoop to anything that evoked servitude. She left such tasks to her husband. The ironies were many: A white man (albeit one in hiding) did housework for his (partly) Negro wife, who wore the pants in the family—and who detested whites.
Edwin had already fallen a rung in society. He'd lost his job as a teacher to a less experienced white man; now he worked as an inspector for the fire department. He sought comfort in life's finer things. At home in his parlor, he relished his sweet-smelling Havana cigars while listening to Caruso on the Victrola. He applauded the great tenor at the Metropolitan Opera. Edwin's looks held their own distinction; Lena would recall his gray mustache and hair and his "beautiful, sad blue eyes." Even as a child, she understood her grandfather's loneliness.
Edwin, Jr.—better known as Teddy—spat in the face of the family high-mindedness. Teddy had proudly skipped college, knowing his charm and pretty-boy looks would get him further. He smirked behind the back of any "sucker"—usually white—whom he could coax into doing his bidding. By the time he'd grown, the illegal gambling business had found a master hustler in Teddy Horne.
In 1916, he wed a girl from an even cushier Brooklyn background. Edna Scottron was the fair-skinned, green-eyed daughter of a Native American mother and a successful Portuguese Negro inventor. Like Teddy, Edna lived for her whims. She dreamed of stardom in the theater; meanwhile she'd landed a lady-killer for a husband.
She and Teddy moved into the top floor of the Horne brownstone, where Edna became pregnant quickly. She hoped for a son. Instead, on June 30, 1917, she bore a brown-eyed, freckled, copper-skinned girl. Edna and Teddy named her Lena Mary Calhoun Horne. Lena would report later that her father wasn't at the hospital when she was born; he'd gone to play cards, ostensibly to earn money to pay the hospital bill. As she saw it, her father was "pursuing his own interests"; to Lena, this constituted rejection at birth. Not surprisingly, she remained an only child.