Wednesday, June 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Casey Cep's Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, excerpt four)

from Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:

Most early anthropologists and historians shared the biases of the culture at large, leaving them uninterested in or even antagonistic to African spirituality in general and voodoo in particular. One of the first scholars to take it seriously was a graduate student at Columbia who had been born and raised in the South and longed to return there to document its folklore: the writer Zora Neale Hurston, best known for the novels she would publish years later, including Their Eyes Were Watching God. In the winter of 1927, Hurston boarded a train in New York City and headed for Mobile, where she began a tour of black towns and villages throughout the South.

Driving a Nash that she called Sassy Susie and carrying a chrome-plated pistol in her suitcase, Hurston followed what she called “the map of Dixie on my tongue” and recorded in the vernacular of her sources their best stories, recipes, sayings, songs, and customs. Hurston was frank about the obstacles to studying her chosen subject. “Nobody knows for sure how many thousands in America are warmed by the fire of hoodoo,” she wrote, “because the worship is bound in secrecy. It is not the accepted theology of the Nation and so believers conceal their faith. Brother from sister, husband from wife. Nobody can say where it begins or ends. Mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing.”

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