Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, documents the music, history and culture of Florida. Completed as part of the Florida Works Project Administration program this collection includes the music and stories of the various ethnic groups throughout Florida. Also included are performances by Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy, Alton Morris and other noted writers and artists.
Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, provides access to sound recordings of regional and ethnic music of Floridians collected during the Great Depression. The collection also includes recording logs and transcriptions of interviews conducted by fieldworkers. Correspondence between field personnel and the Library of Congress regarding the collection of material and problems encountered with recording equipment are likewise included.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by executive order on May 6, 1935, as part of the administration's New Deal program to provide work for those hard hit by the Great Depression. The WPA operated several major programs at the national level and funded numerous state programs providing jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers. One of its programs, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP), hired unemployed writers, artists, actors, and musicians. The Florida Folklife Project was established under the auspices of the FWP and the Florida Music Project to collect sound recordings of folk music representing the diverse ethnic composition of the state and to document folktales from communities throughout Florida.
The collection includes some brief life histories of individuals who contributed music and stories as well as sacred and secular music of African-American, Bahamian, British-American, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Lebanese, Minorcan, Seminole, and Slavic cultures. (Brief background on the Ethnic and Cultural Groups of Florida is provided with the collection.) Unfortunately, the sound quality of some of the online recordings is extremely poor—a problem addressed in correspondence from the state administrator of the project to the director of the Music Division at the Library of Congress early in the process of collecting recordings. Students using the collection should be aware that the "Notes" section of the bibliographic page for each document can be very helpful; in addition, many documents' bibliographic pages have links to "Related Manuscripts," which often have helpful information or transcriptions of the songs.
The collection includes a Special Presentation: "A Florida Treasure Hunt," by Stetson Kennedy, folklore editor of the Federal Writers' Project for Florida. The essay provides a context for the collection and supplies information regarding the collection of recordings and some of the problems posed by rigid segregation in Florida. Note that the recordings were collected in the South in 1939-1940 when segregation was strictly enforced by law; some fieldworkers and performers used pejorative terms in reference to members of other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, some performers freely told stories and sang songs with sexual overtones. Thus, some material in this collection is offensive, and students using the collection should be prepared for the attitudes and language they will encounter. Florida Folklife opens avenues for exploration of popular culture by delving into the folk music and folktales of ethnic communities in Florida. Although the work songs, ballads, and folklore were gathered in Florida, they have much in common with similar works found in the rural South and ethnic enclaves in urban communities throughout the nation.
The lyrics of some of the recorded songs are nonsensical, but others relate a wide range of human experiences and provide various tools to clarify or elaborate upon information presented in historical narratives.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be ll-encompassing.
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
- The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Related Collections and Exhibits
These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.
- American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
- California Gold: Folk Music from the Thirties
- FSA/OWI Photographs, 1938-1944
- Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande
- Southern Mosaic
- Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
The Great Depression and Works Progress Administration
In the essay "A Florida Treasure Hunt," Stetson Kennedy writes about the Depression:
Those were hard times back then, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. People sometimes referred to them as the "root-hog-or-die" days, meaning that if you didn't keep grubbing you were a goner. Lots of folks were "hollerin' hongry," and longing for a little gravy on their grits. A black preacher on the Sea Islands prayed, "Hear us, Oh Lord, we're down here gnawin' on dry bones!" And on New Year's Eve, Florida Latins intoned, "Go bad year, so we can see if the coming one is better!"
The Works Progress Administration was the largest of all the New Deal agencies established to deal with the economic problems faced by Americans during the Depression. The agency was created in May 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt and funded by Congress. Most of the funds went toward employing people to build infrastructure—roads, highways, buildings, and airports—but 7 percent went to arts projects, including the Federal Writers' Project, which gave work to approximately 6,600 unemployed writers, editors, historians, and others. Some well-known American writers worked in the FWP, including John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston. As Stetson Kennedy reports in his essay, "All of us working on the WPA (except administrators) had to sign a Pauper's Oath--that we had no job, no money, no property, and no prospect of getting any of those things."
Shortly after Roosevelt's executive order establishing the WPA and Congressional appropriation of funds, the Florida Writers' Project (FWP), under the directorship of Dr. Carita Doggett Corse, began a program to reach out to the state's ethnic communities to collect folklore. Stetson Kennedy, who had worked with the FWP, became the director of the Florida Folklore, Oral History, and Ethnic Studies program when it began operation in Florida in 1937. Although initial work collecting recordings for the Florida Folklife program began in 1937, the bulk of the collecting work occurred in 1939 and 1940.
On May 23, 1939, Dr. Corse wrote to the Director of the Federal Writers' Project in Washington, enclosing a "Proposed Recording Expedition Into the Floridas" drawn up by Zora Neale Hurston, an author and Florida Federal Writers' Project editor. Hurston's proposal outlined Florida's diverse heritage and concluded with an emotional appeal for the recording project.
. . . No other State in the Union has had the history of races blended and contending. Nowhere else is there such a variety of materials. Florida is still a frontier with its varying elements still unassimilated. There is still an opportunity to observe the wombs of folk culture still heavy with life. Recordings in Florida will be like backtracking a large part of the United States, Europe and Africa for these elements have been attracted here and brought a gift to Florida culture each in its own way. The drums throb: Africa by way of Cuba; Africa by way of the British West Indies; Africa by way of Haiti and Martinique; Africa by way of Central and South America. Old Spain speaks through many interpreters. Old England speaks through black, white and intermediate lips. Florida, the inner melting pot of the great melting pot -- America.
- What argument does Hurston make to encourage the collection of sound recordings in Florida?
- What values underlie her argument? Do you think similar values provided the foundation for the entire Federal Writers' Project?
- If funding were available for a similar project in your state today, what aspects of culture do you think should be recorded? Provide reasons for your selections.
The establishment of the New Deal programs meant growth in the government. The bureaucracy, the administrative offices of the government, grew substantially in the 1930s. Bureaucracies are sometimes criticized for being too hierarchical, too rigidly bound by complicated rules and procedures, and too slow to act. Read the letter from C.E. Triggs, an administrator at the WPA in Washington, to Roy Schroder, an administrator in Florida. What evidence do you find in this letter that the WPA had some of the negative traits bureaucracies are often said to have?
Florida's History and Ethnic Heritage
Before Europeans came to the Americas, various native groups populated Florida, perhaps totaling 350,000 people in the early sixteenth century. Since that time, Florida has attracted settlers from around the world. A Spanish colony from the sixteenth century, Florida was turned over to the British after the Seven Years' War in 1763. Dr. Andrew Turnbull, British Consul at Smyrna, Turkey, established a settlement at New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of Florida; the town was inhabited by Greek, Italian, and Minorcan immigrants. The colony disbanded in 1777, with settlers relocating first at St. Augustine. Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, descendants of those early settlers and new immigrants had formed ethnic enclaves throughout the state. When fieldworkers from the Florida Folklore Project began conducting interviews in 1939, they concentrated on enclaves known for preserving ethnic traditions. They interviewed Greek Americans in Jacksonville and St. Augustine on the east coast and the Gulf coast town of Tarpon Springs, a thriving community of sponge fishermen from the Aegean Islands. Conduct a keyword search using Tarpon Springs as your search term to find recordings of Greek folk songs, patriotic songs, interviews, and liturgical music.
Florida was returned to Spanish rule following the American Revolution. Spain offered free land to attract settlers, and the strategy worked. Many settlers came to Florida, although few were Spanish. West Florida declared its independence in 1810, but the United States soon claimed that that territory was part of the Louisiana Purchase and took over its administration. The rest of Florida eventually became part of the United States in 1821 through a treaty with Spain.
Even before Florida became part of the Union in 1821, the U.S. government had taken up arms against the Seminoles. Three wars over the first half of the nineteenth century pushed the Seminoles into the Everglades by mid-century.
In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. A large number of Seminoles took the forced march along the "Trail of Tears" out of Florida toward Oklahoma's Indian Territory. Listen to a song recorded at the Brighton Indian Day School, Brighton, Florida, commemorating the departure of the Seminoles from Florida for Oklahoma. The song is sung in the Muskogee language. Conduct a keyword search using Green Corn Dance as your search term to locate a series of Seminole songs performed as a spiritual ritual of purification and thanksgiving every spring.
- What is the tone of the song commemorating Seminole removal?
- Compare the ritual songs of the Green Corn Dance to the commemorative song? How might you account for the similarities and differences?
In the nineteenth century, many Cubans settled in Key West and were employed in making cigars, a craft they had learned in Cuba. The Cuban government had even established a grammar school in Key West to help preserve Cuban culture, There, children learned folk songs and patriotic hymns such as "La Bayamese," the Cuban national anthem. In 1886, Vicente Martínez de Ybor moved his cigar manufacturing plant to the west coast of Florida to avoid unionization of workers. Ybor City, currently a neighborhood in Tampa, became one of the state's largest Cuban American communities. Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century also established an enclave in Ybor City. A keyword search using the search term Ybor City will yield a number of songs and stories from Cuban Americans.
While Florida was the home of the first free black community in North America (Fort Mose, established in the 1730s), it was a slave state when admitted to the Union. Thus, African Americans have a long and varied history in Florida. The WPA office at the Clara White Mission, a soup kitchen in Jacksonville's black neighborhood, was the base for fieldworkers carrying out interviews in the state's African American communities. The mission bore the name of Clara White, who was raised in slavery on Amelia Island, Fernandina, Florida. Eartha White, Clara White's daughter, recorded a ghost story that her mother told her. The story was reported to have been based on an actual incident during the Civil War. Other interviews were conducted and songs gathered from workers in the turpentine camps near Cross City, west of Gainesville. African Americans provided much of the labor for the lumber and turpentine industries in Florida.
Recordings of folk songs from the Bahaman Islands reflect both British and African American émigrés from the West Indies. Use Bahaman as the search term for a keyword search to locate a series of folk songs popular among African Americans, including "Bingo Was His Name".
Conduct a search using the keyword Conch, a term originally referring to British settlers from the Bahaman Islands who immigrated to South Florida. The unique accent of the Conchs—a blending of British and Bahamian dialects—interested the WPA fieldworkers as much as the songs and stories related by the Conchs. "Maloney Is Dead" was one of the first vocals recorded by fieldworkers. The collection also includes a textual transcription of the song.
Find a map of Florida to which you can add information. You may want to print out one of the maps in the list provided with the collection. Map as much information about the history of Florida's ethnic groups from this section as you can. Be sure to include dates and show movement of groups when possible. Also check the guide provided with the collection to gather information about other groups not covered in this section. If time permits, you might conduct additional research about ethnic communities in Florida history.
- What does your map tell you about the history of Florida?
- What patterns or trends are clearer when examining a map than when reading text?
- How would a map of your state's ethnic history be similar to and different from the Florida map you have created?
Music and Social History
Social history is the history of the everyday experiences and beliefs of ordinary people. The topics studied in social history are numerous—for example, a social historian might be interested in family life, recreation, work, social life, religious beliefs, education, and more. The sources used in social history also vary, and include the songs people sing.
For example, consider work songs. Work songs were usually sung while performing repetitive tasks and typically had a rhythm to synchronize repetitive physical movement. A number of work songs representing different ethnic communities can be found in the Florida Folklife collection:
- "Canto Juajiro," a Cuban farmer song
- "Ej Orác," a Slovak plowing song
- "To tragoudi to psara," a song sung by Greek fishermen while pulling their nets
- "Lord, Lord," a sea chantey sung by an African American crew on board the fishing vessel (a text transcription is also available)
- "John Henry," an American classic, sung while driving railroad spikes
Listen to several of these songs and answer the following questions:
- What type of work was done while these songs were song? Can you hear or feel the rhythm of the task being done by workers as they sang the song?
- How might the singing of a work song relieve boredom from performing repetitive tasks?
- What do these different ethnic work songs have in common? How do they differ?
- What does the existence of work songs across ethnic groups suggest about the daily lives of early Floridians?
- Work songs are less common today. Why do you think that might be the case? What in the history of work might help explain this trend?
Religious songs also provide insight into social history. Listen to the choir of Greek Americans singing Agiasmos, a liturgical ceremony with the blessing of water, recorded at the Greek sponge fishing community of Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs was a Greek community where, according to notes provided by the FWP workers, Hellenic customs, habits, and traditions were practiced, at times, even more closely than in Greece itself.
The collection also includes several spirituals sung a cappella by James Brown and Rufus Bland:
In contrast, a youth choir with organ accompaniment performed a Slovak Easter song.
- What moods do these the different religious songs create?
- How might religious songs unique to a particular cultural group help maintain that group's cultural identity?
- Can you see any evidence in your community today that cultural groups have tried to preserve the unique religious music of their past?
FWP fieldworkers also wanted to preserve unique dialects, including that of the Gullah typical of African American settlers of the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The Gullah or Geechee preserved elements of their unique language, a mixture of various African dialects and Elizabethan English. Listen to the recording of a Florida Missionary Baptist minister imitating a Geechee preacher reminiscent of sermons from his childhood.
- What is the story revealed in the sermon?
- How difficult is it to decipher what is being preached?
- How important is the preservation of the Gullah language in maintaining cultural heritage?
Fieldworkers recorded a number of children's songs and descriptions of games. In some instances, they recorded young children singing or explaining typical games they played. The following are some examples:
- "Cachumbambe" a short Cuban song sung while see-sawing
- "To mikro potamaki" (The Little Book) a children's play song sung in Greek
- A Conch "Alphabet Song"
- Minorcan "Song of the Alphabet" in Spanish.
- "I Lost My Jersey Cow Last Year" a song sung by African American children while "playing church"
- "Pipi Sigallo" a children's game popular in the Cuban quarter of Key West and in Ybor City
- The "Melon Game" another game popular among Cuban children
Listen to several of the songs listed above and answer the following questions:
- What similarities and differences do you note among these songs?
- What can you learn about childhood during the Great Depression from listening to these songs?
- Do children still sing songs as they play today? Give examples to support your answer. What values (e.g., teamwork, obedience) are embedded in these songs?
- Do you think children's songs are a useful tool for developing values in children? Why or why not?
Chronological Thinking: Continuity and Change
Continuity and change are both natural parts of the human story. Much study of history focuses on what, how, and why change occurred. Yet continuity—the absence of change—is also important in writing the historical story.
Select several folksongs or folktales from the collection and identify ideas, traditions, and values embedded in the songs or tales.
- Do folktales and folksongs represent continuity, change, or both? Explain your answer.
- How can stories passed by word of mouth from generation to generation help maintain cultural heritage?
- What evidence can you find that folklore and folk music have influenced popular culture today? What insights about continuity and change can you garner by looking at these influences?
Historical Comprehension: Seeing History Through the Eyes of Another
In an interview, James Griffin, a turpentine worker at Putnam Lumber Company, told of his imprisonment for three months at hard labor. According to Griffin, he was jailed for failing to pay the lumber company $50 for three months' rent. He had gotten behind on his rent while he was ill. While in prison, he wrote a song called "Worked All Summer Long." Read this excerpt from the song's lyrics:
Worked all summer long,
I didn't save my railroad fare.
I ain't got no money,
And my friends they don't even care.
Oh my dear mother,
She prayed this prayer for me;
My dear mother,
She prayed this prayer for me.
She said, "Lord, have mercy on my son,
Wheresoever he may be."
From "Record made August 19, 1939 in the office of the Aycock & Lindsey turpentine camp, Cross City, Florida. [Textual Transcription]"
Listen to "Worked All Summer Long" and read the lyrics, as well as the lyrics for another song from Griffin, "Right Back in Jail Again."
- What topics appear in both of Griffin's songs? What does this suggest about the issues that concerned him?
- What can you infer about Griffin's life from his songs?
Cull Stacey worked at the Florida Turpentine Camp at Cross City. Stacey described his work and related the lyrics of several songs from the turpentine camps. During the interview, he remarked
"If you Government men can do us any good up there in Washington we sure will appreciate it. Tell em we ain gittin our chops down here. You tell Claude Pepper [Senator and supporter of the New Deal] if he kaint do no better for us than he's doin, to come on back home an plead the law, and let me go up yonder!"
From "Voice Record (Cull Stacey) [Textual Transcription]"
When asked to repeat what he had just said, Stacey, observing three white "woodsriders" (men hired by camp bosses to insure that African American workers followed the rules) remarked, "Oh no! I'm smarter than you think I is. I know bettern ta say anything gainst the Government!"
- What can you infer from Cull Stacey's remarks regarding the success of the New Deal in assisting African American laborers in the South?
- What can be deduced from Stacey's refusal to repeat himself when the "woodsriders" approached?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Assessing Credibility
The collection includes correspondence—letters, memos, and telegrams—written by and to staff of the Florida Writers' Project and of the Library of Congress. Much of the correspondence is between staff at the two locations.
Carita Doggett Corse, the supervisor of the Florida Writers' Project, wrote to the director of the Music Division of the Library of Congress on October 2, 1939. Her letter read, in part,
So far storms have made it impossible to record the songs of the shrimp fleets. We have made two attempts, but the boats could not go out and the workers will not sing unless they are actually engaged in preparing shrimp for market. As soon as the weather permits we will try again.
Read the letter quoted above, as well as the October 6 letter from Corse, the memo from Charles Seeger in response to Corse's October 2 letter, and the letter from folk music expert Alan Lomax to Corse written on October 15.
- Identify three or more distinct types of problems the Florida Writers' Project faced in trying to capture folk songs and other folklore.
- What advice was given to the Florida workers? What was the thinking behind this advice? Do you think the advice was easy to implement? Why or why not?
- What, if anything, in the correspondence makes the material collected by the project more credible to you? What, if anything, makes it less credible? Explain your reasoning.
Historical Research: Framing Research Questions
Consult the guide, "Ethnic and Cultural Groups Recorded by the WPA in Florida." What else would you like to know about the ethnic and cultural groups in Florida? For example, reading this information might cause you to wonder if the same ethnic and cultural groups are identifiable in Florida today. You might wander how these ethnic communities interacted with one another; for example, how did the Cubans, Italians, and African Americans in Ybor City interact? Conduct research to answer your question. Pool the information with that gathered by other students in your class. How could your class add to the information in "Ethnic and Cultural Groups Recorded by the WPA in Florida"?
Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: Zora Neale Hurston's Impact on the Florida Folklife Project
Zora Neale Hurston, a noted folklorist and published novelist, was a key figure in the Florida project. An experienced Federal Writers' Project interviewer, in May 1939, Hurston prepared a proposal for a "recording expedition into the Floridas." Read the proposal and answer the following questions:
- In the first sentence of the essay, Hurston says that "Florida stands out from the other forty-eight states culturally as it does geographically." What evidence does she provide to support that statement?
- How does Hurston use the excerpts from song lyrics? How effective do you think this technique is in persuading readers of the importance of the recording expedition?
- In your view, what is the strongest argument Hurston makes in support of the recording expedition? Why did you select this argument?
- If you had been in charge of allocating resources in the Federal Writers' Project, would you have approved the "recording expedition into the Floridas" after reading Hurston's proposal? Why or why not?
When the project began, Hurston was an important liaison opening doors to African American communities throughout Florida. She made the initial contact with individuals and encouraged them to share old folk songs and stories, including tall tales, with FWP fieldworkers. In many instances, Hurston recorded brief explanations of particular songs and then sang for the recordings. Listen to the recordings of "Uncle Bud," a social song sung by men all over the South; "Wake Up, Jacob," a holler song sung by the shack-rouster (the man hired to wake up the workers in a work camp); and "Mama Don't Want No Peas, No Rice," a song from Nassau, the Bahamas, sung at jumping dances and fire dances.
In the recording of "Halimuhfack," a "jook" or bar room song from the east coast of Florida, Hurston describes how she collected and learned folk songs.
- How did Zora Neale Hurston learn the folk songs she recorded?
- What steps did she take to insure that her performance of a folksong was accurate?
- Summarize the impact of Zora Neale Hurston on the effort to document folklife in Florida.
Historical Research: Using Varied Sources
Locate recordings of the work of American folk musicians from the Depression to the present. For example, you might look for songs by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, or Arlo Guthrie, or you can choose another performer who sings folk songs. Compare the subjects, melodies, and rhythms of their songs with those recorded by the Florida Folklife Project. To what extent were the folk songs recorded in Florida emblematic of folk music in other parts of the nation or in later time periods? What can you learn about our nation's history just from listening to the songs? What are the strengths and weaknesses of songs as historical sources?
Choose a folk song that is especially meaningful to you. Find another type of source about the song; for example, you might find liner notes from a record album or CD, a biography of the songwriter or performer, or a music historian's discussion of the music of the era in which the song originated or was popular. How does this additional information help you to put the song within its historical context?
Arts & Humanities
When you hear the term dance music, what comes to your mind? What characteristics of music make it suitable as an accompaniment to dancing? How important is the rhythm or the beat of a song? How important is the tempo or speed? How important is the melody or arrangement of tones to create a musical phrase?
The Florida Folklife collection includes a number of dance songs representing different cultures:
- "Oh, the Buford Boat Done Come"
- "Wish I Was a Single Man Again"
- "Sousta Halkiticos"
- "Lístecku dubový" (Little Oak Leaf)
- "The Old Time Country People"
Listen to each recording and read the notes provided on each. Answer these questions for each dance song.
- Where did this dance song originate? Which of Florida's cultural groups does it represent?
- How would you describe the rhythm of this song? The tempo? The melody? What is your overall impression of the song?
- What kind of dance do you think this song accompanied? Use the information provided as well as your response to the song in answering the question.
Think about all the songs as you answer these two questions:
- How are the five songs alike? How are they different? Do you see any similarities with the music that young people dance to today? Explain your answer.
- What do the songs suggest about the cultural diversity of Florida in the late 1930s and early 1940s? Do you think the same degree of diversity in dance music would be found in Florida today? Why or why not? How could find out if your hypothesis is correct?
Folktales are stories passed from generation to generation in a particular culture. Folktales are traditionally passed along through oral storytelling, although this may be less true today than in the past. Characters in many folktales seem to represent stereotypes. The following are three types of folktales:
- Animal stories. In these stories, the animals talk and act as humans do. Animal stories may explain a natural phenomenon or teach a lesson.
- Humorous tales. These stories are often nonsense stories about silly characters who make funny mistakes.
- Magic tales. Magic tales, often called fairy tales, feature spells and enchantments. Some magic tales are romances, in which lovers are separated by spells until courage and/or magic reunite them.
Folktales often begin with such standard phrases as "Once upon a time." The pace of the story is usually quick—most folktales are relatively brief. In the end, the story is wrapped up neatly. It may end with a phrase like "and they lived happily ever after."
A number of folktales can be found in the Florida Folklife collection. For example, "La mata de higo" (The Fig Tree) is a Cuban folktale described in English and then told and sung in Spanish, by a 13-year-old resident of Ybor City. There is also a transcription in English of the general story line.
- Which of the above types of folktales is "La mata de higo"? Explain your answer.
- Which of the characters are stereotypes? What words or phrases convey the stereotype?
- In your opinion, what makes this story enjoyable? Why do you think it was passed down from generation to generation among Cuban Floridians?
If you understand Spanish, listen to "La mata persima en el cemeteria" (The Persimmon Tree in the Cemetery), another story from Ybor City, told in Spanish by an 11-year-old. Use the questions above to analyze this story.
Morality tales are a type of folktale common to all cultures. In morality tales, bad behavior has negative consequences and good behavior has positive consequences; thus, the tales convey moral lessons that one generation passed on to another.
"The Girl Who Didn't Mind Her Mother" is a folktale told to Clara White by her mother, Eartha, who was raised in slavery on Amelia Island, Fernandina, Florida. "Ughniyah li al-Atfal" (Lebanese Lullaby) was recorded in Arabic and accompanied by a textual transcription in English. The lullaby was based on a fourteenth-century historical incident in Lebanon, in which a young girl who failed to take her parents' advice about avoiding strangers was kidnapped and enslaved.
- What do these two morality stories reflecting different cultures have in common?
- What "moral" were these stories intended to convey? Do you think morality tales are a good way to teach children how to behave? Why or why not?
- What are some similar stories that parents today use to teach their children?
Many morality tales, like the famous Aesop's Fables, use animals who talk and act like humans as their characters. "The Fox," a folk song from the Bahamas, relates the story of an old fox that craved a farmer's chickens and the bitter lesson he learned from the farmer and Tallow the dog. FWP fieldworkers recorded the song, and a textual transcription is provided.
- What is the moral of the story?
- Can you think of similar stories from other cultures?
Lectors in the Cigar Factory
"Gallito el Torero" (Gallito the Bullfighter), Parts I and II, is a Spanish story about a bootblack who became a bullfighter. Although storyteller Martin Noriega asserted that the story was factual, it is actually based on an old Spanish novel that was read to cigar makers by lectors in the factories in Cuba and Florida.
Until about 1930, lectors (lectores in Spanish) read to workers in the cigar factories, who rolled cigars by hand. The lectors worked without amplification, so they had to be able to project their voices. They read newspapers, news from the labor unions, and novels. The workers themselves chipped in to pay the lectors' salary. Although most of the workers were uneducated, they listened as the lectors read great and challenging works of literature.
- Why do you think the factory workers were willing to donate part of their wages to pay the lector? What were the benefits of having a lector in the factory?
- One of the factors that led to the demise of the lector was factory owners' disapproval. Why do you think the factory owners disapproved of the lectors? Do you think their disapproval was justified?
- Another factor that led to the demise of the lector was mechanization of the cigar-making process. How would mechanization have affected the lector's work?
- Do you think that having lectors would be a good idea in any kind of workplace today? Why or why not?