Viola B. Muse (1898-1981) worked from 1936 through 1939 as an interviewer and writer in the Negro Writers Unit of the Florida Federal Writers Project in Jacksonville, Florida. Muse and the other writers in the Negro Writers Unit, including Zora Neale Hurston, attempted to document the achievements and folkways of African-American communities in Florida, and in Jacksonville specifically. During the years in which she worked for the Federal Writers Project, Muse traveled around LaVilla, Durkeeville, Brooklyn, and other Black neighborhoods in Jacksonville to interview everyday citizens. She visited neighbors’ homes and took notes on the paintings that hung on their living room walls; she walked through segregated Black schools and collected poems and drawings made by precocious pupils; she interviewed formerly enslaved Jacksonvillians about their experiences under slavery; she dropped into hickory furniture workshops to inquire about the skills of local craftsmen. Muse jotted down some of her notes on the back of cut-up Depression-era job relief forms, paraphrasing the stories her interview subjects relayed and recording her own detailed observations about these people, their homes, and their workplaces. Very little of the information that Muse collected ever saw the light of publication.
The Viola Muse Digital Edition (VMDE) publishes Muse’s Federal Writers Project notes and drafts for the first time, preserving Muse’s documents as images while also transcribing them into faithful and readable formats. (For more information, see About this Edition.) The VMDE includes historical maps that locate the homes of Muse’s interview subjects and other localities mentioned, along with contextual essays on Muse’s biography, the history of the Florida Federal Writers Project and the Florida Negro Writers Unit, and the geography of early 20th-century African American Jacksonville.
The VMDE is collaboration between the University of North Florida and the Jacksonville Historical Society, where Muse’s papers are held. This scholarly digital edition was undertaken with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Digital Humanities Institute at UNF. All photographs of Viola B. Muse in the VDME appear courtesy of the Ritz Theater and Museum in Jacksonville, FL. The VMDE was published in full in the fall of 2022. Over time, the VMDE will be supplemented with additional born-digital materials.
If you have any questions or comments, or would like to contribute a remembrance of Viola B. Muse, please contact us.