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LIT 4930: Florida Lit and Culture


Class 22: Zora Neale Hurston cont.

    Stetson Kennedy's essay, "A Florida Treasure Hunt."
    The essay may be found using this link: https://www.loc.gov/collections/florida-folklife-from-the-works-progress-administration/articles-and-essays/a-florida-treasure-hunt/. [To navigate the sections of the essay, use links in the left navigation column. Please read all seven sections: Introduction, “Root-Hog-Or-Die” Days, Our Patchwork Peninsula, Mark of Zora, Songbag Miscellany, Our Heroes, and The Two-Way Street.]

    Maxine D. Jones’s essay “No Longer Denied: Black Women in Florida, 1920-1950” (PDF in Canvas)

    Using the following links (cut and paste into your browser), listen to these short (approximately one minute each) recordings from the Library of Congress’s collection of the Florida WPA Project:

  • Description of Lining Track http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3136a2.mp3
  • Shove It Over (railroad song) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3136a1.mp3
  • Dat Old Black Gal (railroad song) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3135b2.mp3
  • Georgia Skin (description of gambling game in turpentine camps) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3137b1.mp3
  • Let the Deal Go Down (song to accompany Georgia Skin gambling game) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3137b2.mp3
  • Halimufack (jook song, also discusses how Hurston collects folksongs) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3138b2.mp3
  • Uncle Bud (jook song, not to be sung in front of “respectable” ladies) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3138a1.mp3
  • Wake Up Jacob (holler song, heard at sawmill) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/314/3144b1.mp3
  • Po Gal (blues song) http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcflwpa/313/3139a2.mp3

    [Please note: If the MP3 links do not work, you may search for the songs via title using this link: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/d?flwpabib:0:./temp/~ammem_kcxm:]
    DUE: Post 11 – group B, Response Group A

Class Objectives:

    Listen to / read about Florida folklore, African American culture, Zora Neale Hurston


Notes and Discussion Questions:

    As an extension of our discussions of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat” and Mules and Men, I want to introduce a WPA project that Hurston worked on in the 1930s. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a Great Depression relief program initiated during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. From 1933-1943, the WPA worked with local and state governments to design projects for the unemployed. These projects ranged from improving infrastructures, such as roads and schools, to humanities-driven initiatives like the Federal Music Project and Federal Writers’ Project. You may read more about the WPA here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/dustbowl-wpa/.

    It is also important to note that African Americans received more relief funding than white populations. This was exacerbated by segregation and Jim Crow laws.

    During the 1930s, the Florida Writer’s Project sought to capture the sights and sounds of Florida folk life. Stetson Kennedy, a student at the University of Florida, led teams of archivists throughout Florida to record songs and stories. Zora Neale Hurston, both writer and ethnographer, was one of the archivists on Kennedy’s team. Hurston and Kennedy traveled separately due to Jim Crow laws and she regularly sent envelopes of her work to Kennedy, postmarked Eatonville.

    A brief NPR story about this project may be found using this link: http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/feb/wpa_florida/020228.wpa_florida.html.

    Hurston recorded several stories and songs during her work on the WPA project, and she often sang the selections for the recordings. Hurston’s recordings in the Library of Congress collection include work songs from industries, such as the railroad, sawmill, and turpentine camps, and “jook” songs, which are social entertainment selections. Many of the songs originated in the Bahamas. Hurston often describes the purpose of a folksong before singing it or comments on its structure. Hurston sang all of the recordings in our reading assignment.

    Stetson Kennedy quotes Zora Neale Hurston as describing folklore as “the boiled-down juice, or potlikker, of human living.” Discuss Hurston’s metaphor for folklore. What is the “treasure” that Hurston and Kennedy are hunting in this WPA project, and why is it important?

    In the “Songbag Miscellany” section of his essay, Kennedy explains that he told field workers “not to overlook any of the geography, climate, flora, fauna, peoples, and occupations to be found in Florida.” How do the recordings of these folksongs convey an understanding of place?

    Kennedy’s advice to his field workers was to “write it down, not up” (“Root-Hog-or-Die Days”). What does this mean? How might this approach follow (or even extend) the stated role of this WPA project?

    In “No Longer Denied,” Maxine Jones discusses the evolving role of black women’s labor in Florida between 1920 and 1950. Thinking about Jones’s essay and Hurston’s “Sweat,” how is African American labor gendered? What particular labor challenges do black women face in Florida?

    Comment on one or two of the folksong recordings from the reading assignment. How do these recordings describe relationships between place, gender, race, and/or labor?


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