Alabama vs. Florida, on the literary front

I had a special reason to celebrate the University of Alabama’s victory over the University of Florida in the SEC Championship game on December 5. At the Federation of State Humanities Councils’ national conference in November, I made a wager on the game with the incoming chairman of the Federation board, David Colburn. David is a retired UF history professor and former provost of the university. Our bet was that if Alabama won, David would read an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God at the next Federation event. But he would have to introduce her as “Alabama native Zora…” If Florida won, I would read the same excerpt but identify her as “Florida native Zora…” There has been a longstanding scholarly controversy over whether the famous African-American folklorist and Harlem Renaissance figure was born near Notasulga, Alabama, or Eatonville, Florida.

When the clock reached 00:00 in the football game, I knew that David owed me. The next step was selecting the right excerpt from Hurston’s acclaimed celebration of black life in rural Florida in the early 20th century. Here’s the excerpt, which depicts the death of a famous mule in town and the locals’ reaction. I have encouraged David to substitute “Tim Tebow” for “mule,” and “Nick Saban” for “Stark,” when he reads it at our next state council gathering in Washington in March. It should be a sparkling literary event.

“When the news got around, it was like the end of a war or something like that…But finally there was nothing to do but drag him out like all other dead brutes. Drag him out to the edge of the hammock, which was far enough to satisfy sanitary condition in the town. The rest was up to the buzzards…”

“Out in the swamp they made great ceremony over the mule. They mocked everything human in death. Stark led off with a great eulogy on our departed citizen, our most distinguished citizen and the grief he left behind him, and the people loved the speech…He stood on the distended belly of the mule for a platform and made gestures…He spoke of the joys of mule-heaven to which the dear brother had departed this valley of sorrow…”

“Everybody enjoyed themselves to the highest, and then finally the mule was left to the already impatient buzzards…”

Note: The Encyclopedia of Alabama claims that the controversy has been largely settled in Alabama’s favor.

Written by: Bob S.