Friday Video: Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Project

Zilphia Horton. Image from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

Zilphia Horton. Image from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

This week’s Friday Video highlights the work of Highlander Research and Education Center’s Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Project.

This program brings together cultural organizers from around the south to learn from other grassroots organizations and develop strategies for their home communities. Drawing from local cultures, participants gain skills to help them better advocate for community issues and concerns. This is an ongoing program with deep roots in the past.

Why Zilphia?

The historic work of Highlander is most often associated with Zilphia’s husband, Myles Horton. Yet Zilphia was largely responsible for recognizing the importance of art and culture in movement building.Originally from Paris, Arkansas, Zilphia grew up in the small coal field area where her father worked in the Paris Purity Coal Company. According to Greg A. Phelp’s entry on Zilphia in the Arkansas Encyclopedia,  her father’s “ample income provided the family with an affluent lifestyle, including private music lessons for Zilphia, who began studying piano at age five and became an accomplished classical musician.” 

Years after leaving Paris Zilphia married Horton and, according to Phelp’s, ” pioneered the mobilization of folk culture resources, especially music, in the service of social justice causes.” Of course, cultural organizing didn’t originate with Zilphia. She was drawing from the communities from which she came and with whom she was working. She greatly influenced Pete Seeger, and, according to Phelps, “Lee Hays credited her with motivating him to become a folk singer.” You can read all of the entry from the Arkansas Encyclopedia here. 

Organizing for Today:

Watch the video below to learn more about the history of the Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Project, how it works today, and its current Arkansas connections, including information from Tufara Waller Muhummad who works to shed light on Zilphia’s legacy. What are your thoughts on the project? How might this work look in your communities? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.