Take, for example, this passage from The Florida Negro, a side project of the Florida unit of the FWP, a folk history and ethnographic collection of material pulled together (in great part) by Florida's Negro unit. Like so many other side projects, The Florida Negro was abandoned before publication as funding dried up and priorities had to be narrowed, and it remained in archives until its publication almost fifty years later (McDonogh viii). The dynamics of the local color approach, particularly the constructions of black and white identities, were intensified in a text entirely devoted to the description of "the Florida Negro." In the section on amusements and diversions, the authors took on the topic of jook joints:

There are apt to be more men than women present, and this contributes to the fights that sometimes arise. That these fights sometimes take on serious proportions may be gathered from the frequent 'No Guns or Knives Aloud' signs that are found around the jooks. At Barker's Camp, near Lakeland, appears this sign:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN Effective this date anyone shooting a gun in these quarters will be charged $5.00 and required to forfeit the gun, or go to JAIL. I will pay $2.50 for proof of anyone shooting a gun.

The notice is signed by an official of the company that owns the quarters. At another camp the walls of the jook bear this sign:

Everybody is welcome- but if you fight in hear you will go to JAIL.

That particular camp, however, may have fewer fights than others because of another sign on the same wall, just above the gaming table:

No wemen aloud in hear; this don't mean Bob, it means you.

...About a dozen signs on the walls help the guest govern himself properly- should he be so inclined. Some of them, copied verbatim, are:

Ever Tuesday nite is Ball nite- everybody come.

You can DRINK in hear, but go outside to get DRUNK.

We take no advice from nobody.

(McDonogh 57-58).

What this passage accomplishes is subtle, at least in comparison to some more outwardly bigoted descriptions of blacks at leisure; it places a discriminating distance between the voice of the observer (who examines on the part of the white audience) and that of the the observed. The observer is ironic, removed, chooses their words deliberately. The observed are unaware; they speak unconsciously, crudely.




Juliet Gorman, May 2001