The Servants and Mrs. Rawlings: Martha Mickens and African American Life at Cross Creek
The year is about 1940. It is evening at Cross Creek, the home of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a simple wood-frame house set among working orange groves near Hawthorne in North Central Florida. An unknown photographer is documenting an evening of dining and entertainment for Rawlings and a group of her friends, who like the author are white people of means and accomplishment. One photograph focuses on three African American women who are standing in a row and singing, their eyes cast upward, accompanied by a man on the harmonica. A second man leans on the head of a guitar, and the guests, in the foreground, listen attentively. The performers are all Rawlings's employees or their family members: a woman in her sixties named Martha Mickens, two of her adult children, and the children's spouses. They are likely singing spirituals or hymns, for Martha Mickens knows a huge repertoire.1 In a second photograph of the same evening, Rawlings's friend Rebecca Camp stands in the middle of the dining room. Behind Camp, with her back to the camera and headed toward the kitchen, is Idella Parker, Rawlings's cook, in full formal servant's uniform: white headpiece, dark dress with a white collar, and white apron. Although the dining table is not visible, the diners likely enjoyed one of Parker's sumptuous meals, perhaps a roast pork loin from one of Rawlings's pigs or seafood Newburg, made with fresh fish from the nearby Atlantic, served on one of Rawlings's several sets of imported china.2 The photograph centers on Camp in her evening dress; Parker, in her worker's garb, is busy in the background.
"The Servants and Mrs. Rawlings: Martha Mickens and African American Life at Cross Creek,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 89:
4, Article 7.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol89/iss4/7