A historian hoping to reconstruct the social world of all-black towns or the segregated black sections of other towns in the South finds only scant traces of their existence. In this book Tiffany Ruby Patterson uses the ethnographic and literary work of Zora Neale Hurston to augment the few official documents, newspaper accounts, and family records that pertain to these places hidden from history. Hurston's ethnographies, plays, and fiction focused on the day-to-day life in all-black social spaces as well as 'the Negro farthest down' in labor camps.
Patterson shows how Hurston's work coincides with the fragmented historical record to demonstrate the extent to which the folklore and stories provide a plausible account of these Black folk as active human subjects, shaped by history and shaping their private world. Beyond the view and domination of whites in these spaces, they created their own codes of social behavior, honor, and justice. In Patterson's view Hurston did not demean her subjects or caricature them; she rendered them faithfully and with respect for their individuality and endurance. In so doing, she enabled us to envision a world that otherwise would have been inaccessible.
"This is an ambitious and deftly executed study of the 'negro farthest down.'. Patterson's thoughtful book [will reward] serious scholars and informed casual readers." The Journal of American History
"This is an ambitious and deftly executed study. [Patterson] understands the necessity of subjecting this material to rigorous examination and evaluation, and she does so... serious scholars and informed casual readers will be rewarded." The Journal of American History
"gracefully written and compelling. this [is a] fine work. Highly recommended." Choice
"Patterson provides a thorough and profound history...[her] efforts are significant for Hurston scholars, but this text is also a valuable literary reference." Multicultural Review
"Enthusiasts for the work of Zora Neale Hurston will not be disappointed in Tiffany Ruby Patterson's excellent study of Hurston's work...her precise recasting of history through the eyes of one of our most careful observers is a book that never fails to inform or delight... This is a valuable and long-overdue addition to scholarship on Hurston and black life in the South." Black Issues Book Review
"Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life is an important addition to an already rich collection of books on Hurston's life and the place of her work in the American literary canon and the history of the American South. With its focus on the agency of African Americans, especially those who chose to establish and live in all-black towns, this study is at once a narrative of black self-determination, self-help, and independent thinking not often associated with the history of African Americans in the Jim Crow South." The Journal of African American History