Root Work Journal - Convening in the Ark - Volume 1, Issue 1
Hoodoo, Kentucky, Workers Adminstration Project, Poetry, Black Folklore, Ancestors and Memory
A poem about realizing freedom through transformation.
The poem “ ‘Hoodoo’ Inspired by Mamie Hansberry from Christian Country Kentucky” is based on the voice of Mamie Hansberry, a formerly enslaved woman from Kentucky. Hansberry’s words were recorded by historians and archivists who worked for the Workers Project Administration (WPA). The WPA was a Depression-era program where historians and writers went around the South to collect the stories of the former enslaved. This program provided an opportunity for Black voices to be added and centralized in the archives. Despite positive intentions, the archivists were clouded by their own internal bias. Most of the collectors were white Southern males who held strong biases that influenced the topics they chose to explore. For example, Black folklore is featured heavily in the WPA narratives. To the recorder, these beliefs might have been viewed as eccentric and uncivilized. When interacting with Mamie Hansberry, they more than likely prompted her into explaining “Hoodism”. Instead of a simple introduction, however, Hansberry spun an oral rhyming poem, “A snake head an’ er lizard tail, Hoo-doo; Not close den a mile of jail, Hoo-doo.” Through her rhythmic re-telling, she showcases the beauty and power that resides in “Hoodisms”, that was probably lost by the white male listeners.
The archives often offer us silence on Black voices that are women, poor, and rural. If they were recorded, they are often tainted by the bias of our racist and sexist systems, such as in the WPA narratives. Instead of looking to the archives to better tell the stories of my ancestors, I choose to do so through poetry allowing me to reimagine and explore where the archives offer me no assistance. Removing the white male gaze, I give my version of “Hoodism” based on the long line of Kentucky Black women who came before me, like Mamie Hansberry. This is my homage to their voices and stories. Their stories are not lost or forgotten.