A Tantalizing Glimpse of Rural Black Life in Florida in the 1920s

2010 August 2
by Leah Nahmias

Before she started her career as a novelist, Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist by training, conducted fieldwork in southern rural black communities.  Harlem World has this wonderful video compiled from film she collected in 1928.  Here’s a short description of what you’ll see:

Black & white, occasionally grainy footage capturing children at play, a baptism in a river, a logging camp, and footage of octogenarian Cudjo Lewis, the final survivor from The Clotilde, the last arriving slave ship to America (in 1859). No intertitles are presented with these clips, although the musical accompaniment is comprised of spirituals and bluegrass music.

Hurston later collected folkways and stories as part of the Federal Writers Project.

As a former teacher, I think my favorite part is the school children at play (approximately 3:25 to 5:00), though each piece of film is evocative and compelling in its own way.

To learn more about Zora Neale Hurston’s writings and the artist-mentor relationship that helped sponsored her various works, check out this blog post from the Library of America.

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