Race relations and labor in Sweat and Irons

To Willie Cole, the ironing board and iron have much more significant than being a simple household appliances. In Zora Hurston’s short story Sweat, Delia is a washerwoman working hard every day. The short story emphasizes the physical labor that Delia has to put in, in order to provide for her and her abusive husband Sykes. In Willie Cole’s artwork involving irons, he is also emphasizing the physical labor that washerwomen had to put in to support themselves. Cole’s iron project means a lot to him because he comes from a family of washerwoman. He knew how much sweat and blood goes into the work that his family, along with Delia in the story did. For Cole’s artwork, he needed to make the ironing boards look like they had been used by making scratches and dents in them. By naming the ironing boards after real people in his life, he is saying that they are beaten down as well from their hard work as washerwomen, just like the ironing boards. In the short story, Delia was beat down as well, both by her work and her husband.

When Willie Cole was talking about the slave ship that looked like an iron board, Cole connected domestic labor like the labor done by washwoman, to the long history of racism, slavery, and suffering in the United States. Although working as a washwoman gave Delia some power because she was able to make money and provide for herself without relying on a man to provide for her, it also made her relationship more complicated. Working for white people seemed to put extra tension on Delia and Sykes’ marriage. Sykes hated that Delia was working for white people and told her not to bring the white people’s clothes into their house.  He also left the house when Delia threatened to make him go to court with white people if he ever hit her again. When she came back that night after church, Delia made it seem like it was possible that the threat of white people could have really frightened Sykes and made him sorry for what he has done to her, though we soon learn this is not the case. Although they lived in an all-Black town, Eatonville Florida, race relations continue to be a theme in Sweat, similarly the history of racism is a theme in Willie Coles artwork.

Harvard exhibit reveals 'the spirit' within everyday objects – Harvard Gazette

The first picture is of the slave ship and the second picture is the flattened ironing board.

Sermons and Trains

God’s Trombones is a book of sermons and poetry, written by James Weldon Johnson. The book was published in 1927 and it is still very common for preachers to recite surmans from the book today. I have attached a clip of William Warfield reciting one of the most popular sermons in God’s Trombones titled “Creation”, so that everyone can get a feel of what the book, (and sermons written in it) are like.

Reading about God’s Trombones and listening to performances of the poems and sermons, gave me a clearer view of what the song “The Little Black Train is Coming” was talking about.  It also gave me a better understanding of the songs and religion in the movie “Hallelujah”. When reading about God’s Trombones, I found that the train was used in the book to symbolise death. In Death’s Black Train is Coming, it seems that the train also symbolizes death. The stanza that made me think this was the case, was when it goes “There some men and there some women, That care nothing for the gospel light, till they hear the bell ring and the whistle blow, o the little black train in sight”.  I took that to mean that there were men and women that did not pray and were not religious until they were dying. People started praying and caring “for the gospel light”, only when they are close to death. 

Death and hardship was a major theme throughout the book God’s Trombones. Death was also a very big part of the movie “Hallelujah”. Near the start of the movie, when the young boy is shot and killed, singing sermons and Zeke becoming a pastor is what gets the family through the hard time. Chick only starts really liking Zeke when she sees him singing and reciting sermons. Much of the movie revolved around religious songs and sermons. There are many similarities in Zekes preaching and the sermons written in God’s Trombones.  In God’s Trombones, poems and sermons are meant to do the same thing that they did for the Mammys family. They help people that are struggling or mourning come to peace with their loss.