Zora Neale Hurston's essay, Characteristics of Negro Expression, published in 1934, was perhaps the first attempt in an official form of record* to define the jook joint. Hurston treated the jook as an indigenous black cultural formation:

Jook is a word for a Negro pleasure house. It may mean a bawdy house. It may mean the house set apart on public works where the men and women dance, drink and gamble. Often, it is a combination of all these. (89)

Similar to night clubs, jook joints acquired a particular flavor through their association with work camp culture in the South. The Federal Writers' Project's Florida state guide linked jook joints in Florida to Negro labor in turpentine camps in the north of the state; "least known are the Negro 'jooks,' primitive rural counterparts of resort night clubs, where turpentine workers take their evening relaxation deep in the pine forests" (114).

It is no coincidence that jook joints are associated with work camps; they arose as the necessary secular social counterpart to the reorganized labor system after emancipation. "They were often constructed out in work camps, turpentine or sawmill camps, allowing workers to let off steam after a hard day's, or more often week's, work" (Juke Joints and Jubilee5). Some scholars have argued jook joints reproduced the private space of recreation on the plantation, in the new social order (Hazzard-Gordon 77).

*The Oxford English dictionary definition of jook lists her Mules and Men, published in 1935, as the first mention of the word in the literature.


Juliet Gorman, May 2001


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If that reference to a bawdy house intrigued you, you can check out some other names for jook joints, and the etymology of the term.

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