Zora Neale Hurston posthumously became a famed author in America and beyond. Hurston’s writings about civil rights issues, especially in education, seemed to encapsulate the whole racist issues that America faced in the C20th.
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7th, 1891, in Alabama. Her father was a sharecropper and a Baptist preacher while her mother had been a schoolteacher. The fifth of eight children, Zora, along with her family, moved to Florida shortly after her birth.
Hurston was devastated by the death of her mother in 1904 – when Zora was aged 13. In the same year, her father took her out of school and she had to care for the children of her older brother. Tired of this work, at the age of sixteen, Hurston joined a travelling theatre and then became a domestic for a white family. The family she worked for recognised that Hurston had an intellectual ability and they arranged for her to attend the high school at Morgan Academy in Baltimore. Hurston graduated from this in June 1918.
Between 1918 and 1922, Hurston attended Howard University. It was during her stay at this university that she started to write for university publications, followed by entering writing contests in newspapers and magazines.
In 1925, Hurston went to New York and enrolled at Barnard College. After graduating from here, Hurston gained a reputation as a writer and wealthy New York patrons sponsored her.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Hurston’s star in the world of literature started to shine brightly. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work, the white population in New York toasted her and her written achievements. Ironically, the black community were less than enthralled as they felt that she had sold out to the ‘whites’. Hurston called her detractors the ‘niggerati’. She condemned them for being racially blinkered and adopting a black versus white stance.
However, her standing fell when she was arrested and charged with molesting a 10-year old boy. Though she was acquitted of the charge, the damage to her reputation had been done. Publishers rejected her work, and she quickly sunk into depression.
In 1950, Hurston returned to Florida and worked as a cleaner. She attempted to revive her literary career but failed. She attempted a number of jobs but became a penniless recluse.
In particular, she wrote about schooling in the South and how legislation was likely to change little if there was no change of heart amongst those involved. Hurston commented how the law could end segregation in schools, but that it could not end segregation in the heart and that all that the South would end up with were schools that had been segregated by federal law but saw segregation within them regardless as whites congregated with whites and blacks with blacks.
In 1959, Zora Hurston had a fatal stroke and was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.