Some notes on Zora Neale Hurston and the Lomaxes. Zora Neale Hurston's 1938 work for the WPA

When Zora Neale Hurston joined the WPA's Florida Writers' Project in 1938, Project head, Henry Alsberg, who was a liberal, wrote from Washington, D.C., to Corita Dogget Corse, director of the Jacksonville office, urging that Zora be hired as an editor. As an editor, however, she would have been supervising whites, and local racial attitudes precluded that. Instead, Corse set aside some extra money for Zora's travel expenses. John A. Lomax, who had served as folklore consultant to the WPA from 1936-37 had by this time been replaced by Benjamin Botkin, but Zora's previous experience recording for the Library of Congress with Alan Lomax and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle in 1935 enabled her to borrow a Library of Congress recording machine to collect folk music with Stetson Kennedy in conjunction with the WPA project.

"Jim Crow," Kennedy wrote, "was looking over our shoulders":

It being unthinkable in those days for white and black (much less if they were also male/female) to travel together, Dr. Corse hit upon the scheme of sending Zora ahead as an advance scout to seek and find people with folksong repertoires; I would follow with the machine and staff photographer Robert Cook. There being virtually no overnight accommodations for blacks, Zora frequently had to sleep in her Chevy ... In looking back, we WPA treasure hunters felt a bit conscience-stricken about hard-up informants who hoped to be paid a little something for singing their hearts out for posterity. Uncle Sam had not included so much as a dime for such purposes in the treasure hunt budget. But since we were just as hard-up as our informants, there was nothing we could do but say "Thank you." Perhaps posterity, as it visits their Website, will add its thanks to ours. - Florida Folklife

More on the story of their experiences can be found here.

 

 

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