December 6, 2020

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was a beautiful African American lady named Zora Neale Hurston who became a writer, filmmaker and anthropologist who was a major part of the Harlem Renaissance in the mid 1900s.

Born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891 to formerly enslaved parents John and Lucy A. Husrton, Zora was born the fifth of eight children.

She had six brothers (Hezekiah, John C., Richard W. Joel and Benjamin) and one sister (Sara E.). Her younger sister born two years after her, so they were close in age, none of the siblings born more than three years apart.

Zora ended up halting her education after her mother passed away. At the age of 16, she ended up leaving Eatonville, Florida, where she grew up in the all black incorporated town. There, she never knew anything other than black love and success because of the independent black community to which her father was elected mayor.

Later, Zora ended up in NY working with a theatrical company. She later enrolled as a student at Howard University and then attended Barnard College, gaining graduate education at Columbia University in anthropology.

With a background in the theatrical and an education in anthropology, she began to study African American folklore of the South and even Haitian voodoo.

All of these experiences in addition to being literary assistant to author Fannie Hurst who wrote the famous Imitation of Life, she ended up writing herself, creating many works of art, mainly focusing on black people and the rural South.

Although she didn’t get her just due while alive and during the Harlem Renaissance, she was a force to reckon with in the literature, with some of her works being recognized far more posthumously such as Barracoon:The Story of the Last Black Cargo. This story was written in 1931 but only published in 2018. It was about Cudjo Lewis, the last African man that survived the last slave ship coming from Africa to America during the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.

More of her written works include but are not limited to

  • Jonah’s Gourd Vine (her first novel written in 1938)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Mule Bone (a comedy of Negro life, co-written with Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes)
  • Dust Tracks on a Road (an autobiography)
  • Seraph on the Suwanee (her last book)
  • Moses, Man of the Mountain

Zora Neale Hurston passed away in Fort Pierce, Florida on January 28, 1960 of heart disease. The author Alice Walker found her unmarked grave and gave it a marker.

She is buried in the Garden of Heavenly Rest. She died a single well accomplished woman, although having married three times, each marriage short lived.