Zora Neale Hurston

Women have done a lot of great and wonderful things in the field of science. One woman scientist in particular that should be very interesting for you to get to know is Zora Neal Hurston. She is an American author, folklorist, and anthropologist. She is quite prolific and she managed to publish more than 50 plays, essays, and short stories and 4 novels. One of her best known works is entitled Their Eyes Were Watching God which was published in the year 1937 and is also the novel that she is best remembered for.


The Early Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was born on Notasulga, Alabama on 7 January 1891. Her parents were Lucy Ann and John Hurston; she was the 5th of 8 kids. John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, carpenter, and tenant farmer while Lucy Ann was a teacher at the local school. They didn’t stay long in Alabama though because her family made the move to Eatonville in Florida which happened to be one of the very first all-African American towns that got incorporated in the US. Zora Neale Hurston was just three when they made the move. Zora Neale Hurston has confessed that she often felt like Eatonville was her “home” and she sometimes claimed that it was her birthplace.

Later on, her father became the mayor of Eatonville; she glorified the town in her stories and often said it was a haven that allowed African Americans to live in any way they wanted to and they didn’t have to be controlled or adhere to white society mores.

The year 1901 was quite the eye-opener for young Hurston since it was the very year some schoolteachers from the north visited the town and gave her books. These books introduced her to the world and beauty of literature and this is perhaps why she describes her “birth” as something that happened in that place and that year. She spent the rest of her childhood years in Eatonville and describes what it was like in an essay she publishes in 1928 entitled How It Feels to Be Colored Me.

Hurston’s mother died in 1904 and her father got remarried to a woman named Matte Moge. This was considered a minor scandal in their town. Rumors flew that he had relations with Moge even while Lucy Ann was still alive. Hurston was sent a way by her parents to attend boarding school however she got expelled as they stopped paying her school fees. Later on, she worked as a maid to the lead singer of the Gilbert & Sullivan theatre company lead singer.

By the time 1917 rolled in, she attended Morgan College which was the high school division of the Morgan State University which is a Historic All-Black school in Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated in 1918 and in that same year she began to attend Howard University and became the earliest recruit of the Zeta Phi Beta. She helped found The Hilltop which was the student newspaper. Also, she took courses in Greek, Spanish, English, and public speaking. She earned her associates degree in 1920. A year after, she wrote John Redding Goes to Sea which is a short story that gained her entry into the Alaine Locke literary club called The Stylus.

She then went on to Barnard College at Columbia University where she was the only black student. There, she received her BA in Anthropology; she was 37 years old. While she was studying at Barnard she worked with Franz Boas to conduct an ethnographic research. She also worked with Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict for various anthropological works.

As an Adult

She married Herbert Sheen, her former classmate at Howard and a jazz musician, in 1927. He later went on to become a doctor but they divorced in 1931. Eight years later, she married Albert Price while she was holding down a job at WPA. He was 25 years younger than her and the marriage ended after just seven months.

During her later years, she not only wrote but she also served as a faculty member at the North Carolina College for Negroes. She put up a school for dramatic arts in 1934 at Bethune-Cookman College in Florida.

When the year 1956 rolled in she was given an award by the college to recognize her achievements. The college remains dedicated to preserving and letting people know about her legacy to black culture.

Her Works

She travelled quite extensively especially to the American South and Caribbean where she got immersed in the local culture and traditions as part of her anthropological work. Charlott Osgood Mason sponsored her work in the South and her work Mules and Men was based on that work and is often looked upon as a classic folklorist work.

In 1936 to 37, she made her way to Jamaica and Haiti; an expedition paid for the by Guggenheim Foundation and it was in 1938 that Tell My Horse was published.

Her Later Years

The year 1948 wasn’t a good year for Zora Neale Hurston as it was this time that she was falsely accused of molesting a child; a 10year old boy. The case was dismissed and she was in Honduras at the time of trial but her personal life was rocked by the scandalous accusation. She spent her last years as a writer for newspapers and magazines. In 1957, she moved to Fort Pierce where she took jobs like substitute teaching and even becoming a maid once more.

Her Death

She died of hypertension heart disease on 28 January 1960 and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest Cemetery in Florida. Her grave was unmarked for some time but literary scholar Charlotte Hunt and novelist Alice Walker found it and decided to mark it for Zora Neale Hurston. She is remembered for her vast literary works and her contributions to the field of anthropology. In Fort Pierce, they honor her name in a festival they call Zora Fest; a 7-day festival usually held at the end of April.