Honoring Zora Neale Hurston for Women’s History Month!!!

21 Mar

 

“This is my world and I shall be in it surrounded by it, if it’s the last thing I do on God’s green dirt ball!” – Zora Neale Hurston.

On the 7th day of May in 1891 John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston met their daughter, Zora Neale Hurston who became a legend, anthropologist, folklorist and multi-award winning author during the amazing years of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston comes from a strong educated family. Her father was a pastor and her mother was a schoolteacher. They lived in Eatonville, Florida a small black owned/black run community. Growing up in an all black environment strengthenend her and gave her a boost of confidence. Her love for reading was extraordinary. Her favorite book was Hercules. Books took her to a new world.

In 1904 Zora turned thirteen and her mother passed away. Zora was hurt and read to escape her pain. Soon after the death of her mother Zora was sent to a boarding school in Jackson, Florida. She often referred to her “key to success” as her “oyster knife” to open doors to places, people, and education. Next she attended Columbia-University where she trained to become an Anthropologist.

In her lifetime she published four novels, two nonfiction books, dozens of newspaper articles and magazine stories. She also directed and wrote plays. She traveled to Honduras to study voodoo and New Orleans to study hoodoo. She was the most respected female during the Harlem Renaissance. She was a very controversial type of person. As a teen Zora would go to the Mayor of Eatonville, Joe Clark’s storefront porch to listen to adults talk, share stories and tall tales over a game of chess and an ice-cold soda pop. The stories were passed down from generation to generation. And this is how she created most of her stories and characters. Outside of writing books she had odd jobs cooking and cleaning.

In time she was granted a new job as a wardrobe assistant with Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Troupe. She traveled across the country for a year and a half with the cast. As she grew gracefully older, others often questioned her about marriage. However marriage wasn’t her main focus. She wanted to travel, write and meet new people. That was her plan and that is exactly what she did.

By 1919 Zora was accepted to Howard University where she became a woman of Zeta Phi Beta. She then moved to New York,  where she wrote “Drenched in the Light” for The Opportunity Magazine Contest and won! In 1920 Zora attended Barnard College with the help of Annie Minor who helped Hurston finance her education. Hurston was the first black student to attend Barnard.

Zora drove a black Chevy, which she called “Sassy Suzy” through the backwoods of the segregated south, which was extremely dangerous during those years. She was dedicated to her work and job as a journalist and figured if her research was worth dying for. Luckily she had safe travels and stumbled upon her first love and husband, Herbert Sheen May 1927. He was a doctor in Chicago. She also met an elderly white woman soon to be referred as “Godmother”, Charlotte Osgood Mason. She was a wealthy New Yorker. Godmother assisted Zora with getting her writing licenses however all of Zora’s written work would be copy written in her Godmother’s name. Zora also had the chance to film the last man who came from Africa. His African name was Kazool when he arrived in America he changed his name to Cudjoe Lewis. The ship he traveled on was called “Clotilde”.

But Zora wanted more for her writing experience. So she strikes again this time she held a lying contest and included liar’s stories in her book. This concept made her stories even more dramatic and interesting. She carried the lies home and poured them out on paper for hours and hours. Her next move was to visit New Orleans and tamper with Hoodoo. Her Hoodoo Doctor Luke Turner placed rattlesnake skin on her back as she laid on her empty stomach. She was asked to stay in a room for three days with the snakeskin touching her navel she than began to hallucinate.

Zora and Langston Hughes wrote a comical play together in Alabama called “Mule Bone”. Zora ran out of money and could not pay rent. Her landlord kicked her out and she went to live with her Uncle Isaiah. Then a novel she had been writing for three years was accepted and published and she was awarded two hundred dollars. The name of the novel was “Jonah’s God Vine” a story about a father and daughter relationship.

Zora then returned to New York to receive a Rosewald Fellowship to become a graduate student in Anthropology at Columbia. She also came across a new love, graduate student Precival Punter, in 1935. Punter wanted her hand in marriage but she declined. She wanted to write and travel. She left him and ventured off to Jamaica in April 1936. She was the first female to go hunting for wild boar with the Maroons. Maroons are descendents of slaves who’d escaped to the mountains of Jamaica.

A few days later she traveled to Haiti to learn voodoo where she wrote one of my favorite books and movie; powerful love story, “Their Eyes were Watching God”, a subliminal story about herself and Punter. After finishing “Their Eyes were Watching God” in seven weeks she dug deeper into voodoo and became ill for two weeks and was on bed rest. A year later she returned to America.

In1941 she began working at Paramount Pictures in California making one hundred dollars a week. As you can see she did not like being consistent so she soon moved back to Florida, Daytona to be exact. She bought herself a boat house “Wanabo”. She then wrote her Autobiography “Dust Tracks on the Road” and took a risk to write a book about white people called “Seraph on the Swanee”. When she returned back to New York she was charged with child molestation, and grew very depressed. Her landlady accused her of molesting her son and two other neighborhood boys. The media destroyed her image and self-esteem she considered committing suicide. Later, the boys admitted to lying and her case was dropped. She moved to Miami and began teaching.

At age sixty-eight she wrote “A Life of Herod the Great”. Once Zora’s health began to fail from heart disease and high blood pressure she resigned as a teacher. One of her students Hassie, often visited her. Hassie would come by to cook and clean for Zora and Zora would share some of her life experiences and give Hassie all her unpublished work along with three autographed books. She never stopped writing instead she became pen pals with her first husband. January 28th, 1960 Zora had a stroke and was rushed to Fort Pierce Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Zora Neale Hurston was a legend. She was a compromised artist. She valued the arts of mankind. She was a leader, a voice, and a free spirited person but most importantly she was a trailblazer. She is my hero!

 

Written By- Alexis Small

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