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Long Past SlaveryRepresenting Race in the Federal Writers' Project$
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Catherine A. Stewart

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626260

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626260.001.0001

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Adventures of a Ballad Hunter

Adventures of a Ballad Hunter

John Lomax and the Pursuit of Black Folk Culture

(p.91) Chapter Four Adventures of a Ballad Hunter
Long Past Slavery

Catherine A. Stewart

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter looks at folk song collector John Lomax, who served as the FWP’s first folklore editor and directed the Ex-Slave Project. A master of self-promotion, Lomax popularized the image of white folklorists through his well-publicized relationship with folksinger Huddie Ledbetter (“Leadbelly”) and his autobiography, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter. Lomax frequently collected from black convicts in southern prisons. His representations of black folk informants relied heavily on “Negro dialect” and racial stereotypes. Analysis of field notes and correspondence he and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax kept during their southern recording trips from 1937 to 1940 demonstrates how his interactions with black folk musicians and definition of what constituted “authentic” black folk culture shaped his direction of the Ex-Slave Project, affecting the ways ex-slaves and their narratives would be represented. Lomax was replaced as the FWP’s folklore editor by the appointment of the professional folklorist Benjamin Botkin.

Keywords:   John Lomax, Huddie Ledbetter, Leadbelly, Ruby Terrill Lomax, black folk musicians, folklorists, southern prisons, Negro dialect, Ex-Slave Project, Benjamin Botkin

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