I was glad when somebody told me ” you may go and collect Negroo folk-lore.”
In a way it would not be a new experience for me. When pitched headforemost into the world I landed in a crib of negroism. From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.
Dr. Boas asked me where I wanted to work and I said ” Florida ” and gave , as my big reason, that ” Florida is a place that draws people – white people from all over the world, and Negroos from every southern state surely and some from the North and West.” So I knew that it was possible for me to get cross section of the Negroo South in the one state. And then I realized that I was new myself, so it looked sensible for me to choose familiar ground.
First place I aimed to stop to collect material was Eatonville, Florida.
And now, I’m going to tell you why I decided to go to my native village first. I didn’t go back there so that the home folks could make admiration over me because I had been up North to college and come back with a diploma and a Chevrolet. I knew they were not going to pay either of these items too much mind. I was just Lucy Hurston’s daughter, Zora and even if
I had – to use one of our down-home expressions – had a Kaiser baby , and that’s something that hasn’t been done in this country yet, I’d still be just Zora to the neighbors. If I had exalted myself to impress the town, somebody would have sent me word in a match-box that I had been up North there and had rubbed the hair off of my head against some college wall, and then come back there with a lot of form and fashion and outside show to the world. But they’d stand flat-footed and tell me that they didn’t have me, neither my sham-polish, to study ’bout. And that would have been that.
I hurried back to Eatonville because I knew that the town was full of material and that I could get it without hurt , harm , or danger. As early as I could remember it was the habit of men folks particularly to gather on the store porch of evenings and swap stories. Even the women folks would stop and break a breath with them at times. As a child when I was sent down to Joe Clarke’s store, I’d drag out my leaving as long as possible in order to hear more.
Folk-lore is not as easy to collect as it sounds. The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, being usually under-privileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by.