Thomas H. Landess
At the moment Mrs. Peterkin is all but forgotten; and her fiction, when it is discussed at all, is usually dismissed as either malicious or trivial….
The earliest rebirth of interest in her work, however, may come in the fields of sociology, folklore, and history, where she has much to offer the serious scholar. Certainly her portrayal of plantation life has a ring of authenticity that is lacking in most modern fiction on the subject; and since she was often more reporter than literary artist, she is all the more valuable as a primary source for historical research.
Both Black April and Roll, Jordan, Roll are priceless collections of black folklore and contain much material that bears close examination. Once again her artistic failures become positive virtues to serious students in the field. The tedious initiation of Breeze into plantation life is, at the same time, a compendious catalogue of Gullah attitudes on a variety of subjects; and the loose structure of her last major work allows for a more overt examination of black folkways than would other-wise have been possible. To be sure, these books are not, in and of themselves, examples of good scholarship; but they are certainly the raw material for more thoughtful investigation.
And one can envision a day—far in the future, to be sure—when historians will be able to look at the South dispassionately enough to see its essential complexity. To such excellent sages, Mrs. Peterkin will surely be a more reliable authority than Thomas Nelson Page on the one hand, or Erskine Caldwell on the other; for she lived in the interregnum between the tyrannies of two mythologies; and for a moment in time, with the scales of opinion perfectly balanced, she wrote honestly and clearly of what she knew to be true. (p. 150)
Thomas H. Landess, in his Julia Peterkin, Twayne Publishers, 1976, 160 p.