After reading two books about Zora Neale Hurston I discovered that she was a member of the Works Projects Administration or earlier, the Works Progress Adminstrtion renamed in 1939 the Works Projects Administration.
(From Wiki: the Work Projects Administration, WPA was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In much smaller but more famous projects the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.)
Curious about the project and slavery in especially Florida, I found this book and was happily surprised when the pages were actually typewritten verbal accounts from the writers who interviewed men and women at the time who previously were slaves.
There were so many surprises for me and reading through the accounts of 23 previous slaves, it occurred to me that many of the events about slavery which was found in Gone With the Wind,
were fairly accurate.
Many of the old slaves, some of who were in their 90's and some even more than 100 years old, had similar remembrances in what they ate, how they cooked, what they wore, and how they were treated with regard to family ties, and particularly how they were punished.
The names were of interest to me also since as we know in all probability, the family, first or last names, were not known. (Reading a bit about black genealogy, it's called "hitting the wall" when research comes up with nothing, up to the time their ancestors landed on the shores of America in slave trading boats.
The names that intrigued me were Florida Clayton, Norfork Virginia and Mama Duck who were all interviewed. Norfork, she said, changed her name when she became an adult.
My favorite interview was with Arnold Gragston who visited a relative who was affiliated with Robert Hugerford College, Eatonville, FL.
"Cover of the book Slave Narratives
Here are some interesting excerpts from Gragston. He was in the minority knowing when he was born which was Christmas morning and said he was a grown man "when I finally got my freedom." "Before I got it, though, I helped a lot of others get theirs. Lawd only knows how many; might have been as much as two-three hundred."
He was born into slavery and belonged, he said to "Mr. Jack Tabb in Mason County, just across the river in Kentucky." Without looking on a map the Ohio River separates Kentucky and Ohio with Ohio being a free-state at the time therefore freedom by crossing a river.
What Gragston did as a slave himself, was to be a connection in the underground railroad. When the first slave was brought to him (although he was "owned by Tabb") he took just one pretty young woman over at night to a light set up on the other side of the shore. Then as time went on, he made more trips in just one night with up to 12 slaves seeking freedom.
Spoken in his own words as dictated to that WPA writer, Gragston's story is fascinating.
"What did my passengers look like? I can't tell you any more about it than you can, and you wasn't there." He went on to say..."the only way I knew who they were was to ask them; "What you say?" and they would answer, "Menare." I don't know what that word meant---it came from the Bible. I only know that that was the password I used, and all of them that I took over told it to me before I took them."
According to Gragston's story, Tabb seemed to have an inkling of what he did at night but looked the other way because apparently he did not feel strongly about slavery and in fact, let his neighbors know his feelings. In return they would not speak to Tabb for days and weeks at a time.
Another neighbor of Tabb, John Fee, made his anti-slavery feelings be known. Gragston said that Fee stated "...that God didn't intend for some men to be free and some men be in slavery." And "mostly they (Fee's neighbors) hated the sight of John Fee."
Fascinating stories about slavery coming directly from the mouths of the men and women who lived through the period and remembered (most of them) when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
I haven't enjoyed reading a book this much in a long time. It was like reading a diary and was so moving to me. My only regret is that there weren't any Hurston's interviews. Oh, my, guess I'll have to get the same book for Georgia, the reason I got Florida is quite obvious, being a native. Fascinating, just fascinating; even amazing,
therefore the five stars. Please Note:
The names of places and excerpts taken from the book were written exactly as they came from the book.