Zora Neale Hurston

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston.

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston.

Today we are highlighting Zora Neale Hurston and her contributions to the Federal Writers’ Project in Florida. Make sure to check out Hurston’s audio recordings below and the new Zora Neale Hurston podcast.

Zora Neale Hurston was an African-American novelist and accomplished anthropologist whose rich literary work has inspired generations of readers. By 1938, she had already published Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Despite her reputation as a writer, there exists another side to Hurston’s career. In 1938 and 1939, during the Great Depression, Hurston worked as a folklorist and contributor to the Florida division of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Through her work with the FWP, Hurston captured stories, songs, traditions and histories from African-Americans in small communities across Florida, whose stories often failed to make it into the histories of that time period.

The Works Progress Administration – after 1939, the Works Projects Administration – was a work-relief program created in 1935 by the Franklin Roosevelt administration. It had employed over 8.5 million people by its demise in 1943. One of its programs was the (FWP), which included a folklore section. The staff conducted fieldwork and recorded songs, traditions, and stories across the nation.

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen - Eatonville, Florida.

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen – Eatonville, Florida.

In 1939, Hurston went to a turpentine camp near Cross City in Dixie County, Florida, to find candidates for recording interviews, songs and life histories of interesting everyday people. Hurston’s essay, “Turpentine,” traced her travels through the pine forests with an African-American “woods rider” named John McFarlin. Her work on Florida’s turpentine camps is still considered authoritative. Back in Jacksonville, Hurston’s final major contribution to the Florida FWP was to arrange a recording session at the Clara White Mission. The African-American participants told stories and sang or chanted traditional music. Hurston also sang 18 songs herself, mostly work songs and folk songs.

“Dat Old Black Gal” is a railroad spiking song that Hurston learned near Miami from Max Ford, the singing liner on the construction crew. Workers would hammer the spikes securing the rails to their cross-ties in rhythm with the song.

Dat Old Black Gal

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Next is a juke song that Hurston learned on the East coast of Florida. She sings “Halimuhfack,” then describes her process for learning songs.

Halimuhfack

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Hurston sings “Let the Deal Go Down,” a gambling song she collected at the Bostwick turpentine still near Palatka, Florida. The men sang the song while playing the card game called George Skin, “the most favorite gambling game among the workers of the South.”

Let the Deal Go Down

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

“Let’s Shake It,” is a track-lining chant that Hurston learned at a railroad camp in Callahan, Florida.

Let’s Shake It

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

The track-lining rhythm, “Mule on the Mountain,” was the most widely-distributed work song in the United States. Zora Neale Hurston originally learned the song from George Thomas in Eatonville, Florida.

Mule on the Mountain

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

The railroad lining rhythm, “Shove It Over,” which was generally distributed throughout Florida. Hurston learned the song from Charlie Jones on a railroad construction camp near Lakeland, Florida, in 1933.

Shove It Over

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

“Wake Up Jacob,” was sung to wake up the workers in a big work camp. Hurston learned it at a sawmill in Polk County.

Wake Up Jacob

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

For more information about Zora Neale Hurston:

Zora Neale Hurston, the WPA in Florida, and the Cross City Turpentine Camp (Educational Unit)

Zora Neale Hurston Podcast

Glass Lantern Slides

Young women fishing with cane poles from a jetty
The old Gregory house before it was moved: Ocheesee Landing, Florida.
People walking through a forest

These hand-tinted glass lantern slides are from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Collection. The 53 slides in the collection show a variety of Florida’s natural features, including scenes of rivers and river banks, forests, nature trails, fishing, sand dunes, and swimming.

The image of the Gregory House went unidentified until it was recognized by a patron on our Florida Memory Flickr page. We were able to match the image with another in our collection and confirm that this was indeed the house in the slide.

The Gregory House, built in 1849 by Planter Jason Gregory, stood at Ochesee Landing across the river from the Torreya State Park. In 1935, the house was dismantled and moved to its present location in the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was developing the park.

The remaining 52 images have very little identifying information. However, they are a beautiful example of Florida landscapes depicted on glass lantern slides, ca. 1940s.

People on a Lakeshore

Glass lantern slide shows were popular both as home entertainment and as an accompaniment to speakers on the lecture circuit. They reached their popularity about 1900, but continued to be widely used until the 1930s when they were gradually replaced by the more convenient 35-milimeter slides.

Young women posing in swimsuits on sand dune

Related Resources

 

Celebrate Cookie Month (Just Add Flour!)

October is National Cookie Month! Let’s celebrate!!!

Wally "Famous" Amos poses with his famous cookies - Tallahassee, Florida

Wally “Famous” Amos poses with his famous cookies – Tallahassee, Florida (1983)

 

So grab some cookies before dinner…

 

Ginny Cobb trying to get cookie on the table - Fort Pierce, Florida

Ginny Cobb trying to get cookie on the table – Fort Pierce, Florida (1960)

 

Buy some from a local group…

 

Girl Scouts and Brownies picking up cartons in Tallahassee for annual cookie sale.

Girl Scouts and Brownies picking up cartons in Tallahassee for annual cookie sale (1959).

 

Brownies of troop No. 66 make their first cookie sale to Bond School principal W.S. Seabrooks.

Brownies of Troop No. 66 make their first cookie sale to Bond School principal W.S. Seabrooks (1956).

 

Or bake your own…

Tom Steffano at the Miami-Dade Community College south campus cafeteria - Kendall, Florida

Tom Steffano at the Miami-Dade Community College’s south campus cafeteria – Kendall, Florida (circa 1970s).

 

And share them with your friends!

 

Girl Scout cookie sale chairmen

Girl Scout cookie sale chairpersons (1938).

 

And if you want to be the top chip of your cookie exchange party, try out these cookie recipes from the collections of the State Archives of Florida!

Molasses Cut-Out Cookie

Molasses Cut-Out Cookies

 

 

 

 

Potato Chip Cookie

Potato Chip Cookies

 

 

Cottage Cheese Cookie Sticks

Cottage Cheese Cookie Sticks

 

Peanut Cookie

Peanut Cookies

 

Recipes from (Collection N2009-3, Box 139, Folder 12).