Jan 072018
 

 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Zora Neale Hurston, African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist who is known not only for her contributions to African-American literature, but also for her portrayal of racial struggles in the American South, and works documenting her research on African-American folk traditions in Florida, and voodoo in Jamaican and Haiti. She is probably best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. . Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades, but interest revived after author Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in the March 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine.

Hurston was the sixth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. Her father was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, who later became a carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, where her father grew up and her grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida which later became the location of several of her important works. Eatonville was one of the first all-African-American towns to be incorporated into the United States (1887). Hurston said she always felt that Eatonville was “home” to her because she grew up there, and sometimes claimed it as her birthplace. Her father later was elected as mayor of the town in 1897 and in 1902 became minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist.

Eatonville was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of White society, and this upbringing undoubtedly influenced Hurston’s political outlook. She often sided with Southern conservatives who opposed integration, seeing “separate but equal” as a positive value, given that integration inevitably exposed African-Americans to racism and discrimination. The problem, of course, as was made clear by the Civil Rights movement is that the “separate” part is easy to accomplish, the “equal” part is not.

In 1917, Hurston began attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education (as well, perhaps to reflect her literary birth), the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth.[12] She graduated from the high school of Morgan State University in 1918. In 1918, Hurston began her studies at Howard University, where took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an associate degree in 1920. In 1921, she wrote a short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus. Hurston left Howard in 1924 and in 1925 was offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer to Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was the college’s sole African-American student.

Hurston received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928, when she was 37. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research directed by Franz Boas. She also worked with Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead was a fellow student. After graduating from Barnard, Hurston spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings.

In later life, in addition to continuing her literary career, Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, North Carolina. Hurston traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the American South and immersed herself in local cultural practices to conduct her anthropological research. Based on her work in the South, sponsored from 1928 to 1932 by Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy philanthropist, Hurston wrote Mules and Men in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti for research, with support from the Guggenheim Foundation. She drew from this for her anthropological work, Tell My Horse (1938). From October 1947 to February 1948, she lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, set in Florida.

Hurston never had much income from her writing and so later in life she took a number of poorly paid odd jobs to make ends meet. She worked at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base in 1957, but was fired for being “too well-educated” for her job. Subsequently she moved to Fort Pierce, taking jobs where she could find them. She worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. At age 60 she was helped by public assistance, and at one point she even worked as a maid on Miami Beach’s Rivo Alto Island

During this period of financial stress and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke. She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973. Novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.

Hurston has two distinct voices in her writing: one was a standard literary voice; the other was an attempt to capture the sounds and rhythms of Southern African-America speaking style. Here’s some examples of both:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place

Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.

At the beginning of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the lead character, Janie Crawford, returns from the Everglades, where she has shot her husband and been acquitted, to Eatonville, in ragged overalls, where all the women are gossipy and unwelcoming. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings her a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease . . . but it’ll kill hongry.”

The Savannah Cook Book: A collection of old fashioned receipts from Colonial kitchens by Harriet Ross Colquitt contains this recipe for mulatto rice:

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

Seems simple enough. I’m assuming that you use the bacon in another dish but keep the rendered fat for flavoring. On the other hand, I see no reason not to include the fried bacon in the dish.

Aug 222017
 

Two slave revolts broke out on this date: one in 1791 in French colonial Saint-Domingue, leading eventually to the creation of the sovereign nation of Haiti; the other, led by Nat Turner in Virginia in the United States in 1831 was suppressed within one day. These anniversaries give me the opportunity to talk about slavery in the New World as well as slavery in general. It staggers me that even in the year 2017 there are people who argue that slavery was beneficial to people brought from Africa in chains to the New World and sold with almost no chance for freedom for themselves in their lifetimes, nor for their offspring and descendants. SLAVERY IS AN UNMITIGATED EVIL.

Here’s a list of the slave revolts in the New World from the beginnings of European colonialism to the abolition of slavery, indicating their dates, locations and outcomes:

1526 San Miguel de Gualdape (Spanish Florida) Victorious

c.1570 Gaspar Yanga’s Revolt (Veracruz, New Spain) Victorious

1712 New York Slave Revolt (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1730 First Maroon War (British Jamaica) Victorious

1733 St. John Slave Revolt (Danish Saint John) Suppressed

1739 Stono Rebellion (British Province of South Carolina) Suppressed

1741 New York Conspiracy (British Province of New York) Suppressed

1760 Tacky’s War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1787 Abaco Slave Revolt (British Bahamas) Suppressed

1791 Mina Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1795 Pointe Coupée Conspiracy (Spanish Louisiana) Suppressed

1791–1804 Haitian Revolution (French Saint-Domingue) Victorious

1800 Gabriel Prosser’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1803 Igbo Landing Revolt (St. Simons Island, Georgia, US) Suppressed

1805 Chatham Manor Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1811 German Coast Uprising (Territory of Orleans, US) Suppressed

1815 George Boxley’s Revolt (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1816 Bussa’s Rebellion (British Barbados) Suppressed

1822 Denmark Vesey’s Revolt (South Carolina, US) Suppressed

1831 Nat Turner’s rebellion (Virginia, US) Suppressed

1831–1832 Baptist War (British Jamaica) Suppressed

1839 Amistad, ship rebellion (Off the Cuban coast) Victorious

1841 Creole case, ship rebellion (Off the Southern U.S. coast) Victorious

1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation (Indian Territory, US) Suppressed

1859 John Brown’s Raid (Virginia, US) Suppressed

Slavery in the New World was part and parcel of colonization and needs to be remembered for what it was: a deliberate undervaluation and subjugation of a whole continent of people who were oppressed and exploited simply because of the color of their skin. From the 16th to the 19th centuries the principal colonial powers that benefited from slavery were Spain, Britain, and France, all of whom practiced slavery because it was economically expedient, but covered their actual motives with a thin veneer of philosophical justification. Their argument was that people of African origin were better off as slaves because living in “civilization” was better than living in “savagery.” To this day you will sometimes hear this argument espoused by media commentators in the United States. This rationale, such as it is, shows absolutely no understanding of traditional African cultures, as well as zero understanding of that it means to be the property of someone else.

The future William IV of the United Kingdom, (who was my focus yesterday http://www.bookofdaystales.com/sailor-king/ ), when he was a member of the House of Lords, argued against the abolition of the Slave Trade on the grounds that slaves in the US lived in better conditions than people he had seen living in the Scottish Highlands. All well and good when you are a royal duke living in luxury in London. Whether you are dirt poor in Scotland or a well-dressed slave in Virginia, there is a vast chasm between being free and being owned by another person. Probably William had seen house slaves in the United States and was comparing their conditions to crofters in Scotland. House slaves were sometimes educated, wore decent clothes, had some freedom of movement, and ate better than field slaves. But they were still slaves. They could be sold at will; they could be beaten or even killed without legal penalty; their children were slaves who could be separated from their parents and sold at any age; the women could be raped by their masters. They had no rights as humans. It is simply not legitimate to compare the visible economic conditions of US slaves with Scottish crofters and come to a conclusion about which were better off. The former were slaves, the latter were free. Their situations are in no way comparable.

The Haitian Revolution that began in 1791 ended in 1804 with the former colony’s independence. It was the only slave uprising in the world that led to the founding of a state, which was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former slaves. Its effects on the institution of slavery were felt throughout the Americas. The ending of French rule and the abolition of slavery in the former colony by the former slaves was followed by their successful defense of the freedoms they won, and, with the collaboration of mulattoes, their independence from rule by white Europeans. It represents the largest slave uprising since Spartacus’ unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic nearly 1,900 years before. It challenged long-held beliefs about black inferiority and about enslaved people’s capacity to achieve and maintain their own freedom. The rebels’ organizational capacity and tenacity under pressure became the source of stories that shocked and frightened slave owners throughout the Americas.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) took place in Southampton County, Virginia, during August 1831. It was led by Nat Turner, and rebel slaves killed as many as 65 people in one day. It was the largest and deadliest slave uprising in U.S. history. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for more than two months afterwards, before he was captured and hanged. The rebellion was effectively suppressed at Belmont Plantation on the morning of August 23, 1831.

There was widespread fear in the aftermath of the rebellion, and white militias organized in retaliation against the slaves. The state executed 56 slaves accused of being part of the rebellion. In the frenzy, many non-participant slaves were punished. Approximately 120 slaves and free African-Americans were murdered by militias and mobs in the area. Across the South, state legislatures passed new laws prohibiting education of slaves and free African-Americans, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free Black people, and requiring White ministers to be present at all worship services.

In the current climate of publicly avowed racist and anti-racist sentiments in the United States today, as well as worldwide, it is important to remember these two events and to hold them up to scrutiny. I urge you to read more about them: especially the Haitian Revolution, which does not generally figure in the history books outside of Haiti.  For now I’ll turn to cooking.

Haitian cuisine is often lumped together with other regional islands as a part of Caribbean cuisine but it is distinctive, even though, like all island cuisines it is a blend of European, African, and indigenous cooking methods and ingredients. It involves the extensive use of herbs, and the liberal use of peppers. The ubiquitous rice and beans of all of the Caribbean and South America is found as riz collé aux pois (diri kole ak pwa), rice with red kidney beans (or pinto beans) glazed with a marinade as a sauce and topped off with red snapper, tomatoes and onions. It is often called the Riz National, and is considered to be the national rice of Haiti. The dish can be accompanied by bouillon. Bouillon is a hearty soup consisting of various spices, potatoes, tomatoes, and meats such as goat or beef as well as fish or shellfish. Recipes vary by region.  Here’s a video that has a rather unusual ingredient list that includes beef tripe and crabs: