Zora Neale Hurston (*January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960*) published 4 novels and over 50 short stories, plays and essays. She is probably best known for her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. In her early life her father John was a Baptist preacher (like his father before him), a tenant farmer as well as a carpenter. Her mother Lucy Ann Hurston was a teacher.
As an adult, Zora Neale Hurston was a Republican who was generally sympathetic to the foreign policy non-interventionism of the Old Right which was active in the early 1900’s. She opposed the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the interventionist foreign policy of both Roosevelt and Truman, and disagreed with the philosophy of Communism. Hurston had a ong-time opposition to segregation and opposed preferential treatment for African-Americans. She rejected the Uplift agenda advocated by W. E. B. Du Bois whose goal was to present fine and upstanding African Americans who conformed to the social mores of the day. She was part of a a group of authors during the Harlem Renaissance who created their own magazine, FIRE!!, that published the African-American experience without any filters or censors. Yet she asserted that her work was distinct from the work of fellow Harlem Renaissance writers. Her views were more similar to the libertarians at the time. Needless to say Zora Neale Hurston was a complex woman. One wonders how she would have viewed the the world of the internet as it is presently in the twenty first century. Today, some libertarians argue that the online gambling regulations interfere with the peaceful actions of those who choose to gamble, although online gambling sites that cheat their gambling customers, or engage in fraud should be prosecuted. However, online gambling is not a black and white issue among today’s libertarians. It is more nuanced than that, just as race, and how to portray African Americans was a far more complicated issue among many of the young artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston was born on Jan. 7th 1891 and had several siblings. When she was three years old her family relocated to Eatonville, FL., one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in United States. Her father would later become mayor. Hurston often glorified this place in her stories as a place where African Americans could live independently of white society, as they desired. She would spend her childhood in Eatonville and describes her experiences there in her essay “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” written in 1928. When her mother died in 1904 Hurston’s father re-married another women almost immediately. Shortly after her father and new stepmother sent her to boarding school. But they stopped paying her tuition before she graduated and the school expelled her. In 1917 Zora Neale Hurston began to attend school at Morgan Academy. It was at this point that she began to claim 1901 as her birth year apparently to qualify for a free high school education.
Hurston attended Howard University for undergraduate study. Where she co founded “The Hilltop”, the university’s student paper and was one of the earliest initiates into Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She earned an associates degree in 1920 and authored “John Redding Goes To Sea” a short story which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club in 1921. She left Howard University in 1924 and was offered a scholarship to Barnard College where she would be the only African American student. She received a B.A. in anthropology in 1927 at the age of 36. After graduating from Barnard she spent the next 2 years as a graduate student at Columbia University.
Hurston would marry 2 times. First in 1927 to a jazz musician and former classmate Herbert Sheen. However, the marriage did not last, ending in 1931. She would marry again to a man 25 years her younger in 1939 when she wed Albert Price a fellow employee at WPA. Unfortunately this marriage was short lived as well, lasting only 7 months.
Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negros which was renamed North Carolina Central University. In 1934 she also started a school of dramatic arts. It was “based upon pure Negro expression” in Daytona Beach, FL. In 1956 Hurston was bestowed the Bethune – Cookman College Award for Education and Human Relations as recognition for all of her vast accomplishments. The English department still remains dedicated to preserving her cultural legacy at Bethune-Cookman College.
Zora Neale Hurston spent the last tens years of her life as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. During a period of financial and medical difficulties, she ended up living at the St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she eventually suffered a stroke. On January 28, 1960, Zora Neale Hurston died of hypertensive heart disease.