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1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

5. Deep in Turpentine

Episode Summary

While working on the WPA Florida guidebook, the Federal Writers’ Project team – including Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy – documented a wide range of life from prison camps to soup kitchens to hair salons, in recordings that reveal a living culture and enduring traditions. 

Hurston and Kennedy traveled the state recording people’s stories and songs. That included a visit to a remote turpentine work site, where they encountered a forced labor camp and the brutal conditions in a form of slavery that continued well into the 20th century. 

Project interviewers in Florida also searched for survivors of pre-Civil War slavery and gathered hundreds of interviews. Nationally, thousands of “ex-slave interviews” are treasures for understanding that lived experience. But the Project’s written interviews should be read with caution. Historians remind us that those manuscripts are complicated and often reinforced racial bias and stereotypes.  Historian Tameka Hobbs helps put this work in context and brings it alive.

Zora Neale Hurston Recording
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Peggy Bulger, folklorist

Maryemma Graham, literary historian

Tameka Hobbs, historian

Stetson Kennedy, author and Project alum

James McBride, author

Ernest Toole, folk musician

Flo Turcotte, historian

Further Reading

WPA Guide to Florida

Go Gator and Muddy the Water by Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Pamela Bordelon

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

To Walk About in Freedom by Carole Emberton

These Are Our Lives, life histories from the Federal Writers' Project

Conchtown USA: Bahamian Fisherfolk in Riviera Beach, Florida by Charles C. Foster


Hosted by: Chris Haley

Directed by: Andrea Kalin

Producers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor and James Mirabello

Writer: David A. Taylor

Editor: Ethan Oser

Assistant Editor: Amy A. Young

Story Editing: Michael May

Additional voices provided by:

Jared Buggage 

Featuring music and archival material from:

Ernest Toole

Joseph Vitarelli

Bradford Ellis


Library of Congress

Produced with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Florida Humanities,

and the Stetson Kennedy Foundation

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