Hnn | HNN Articles

Celebrating Black History Month: A Profile of Author and Humanist Zora Neale Hurston

 

In honor of Black History Month, Humanist Network News will be featuring a profile of a prominent black humanist or atheist in history. This week we feature the famed author Zora Neale Hurston. This profile originally appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of The Humanist.

Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.

—Zora Neale Hurston, from her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road

Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, the fifth of eight children. Her father was a Baptist preacher and farmer and her mother was a teacher. When Zora was three the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all-black township in the United States, of which her father later became the mayor. Her happy childhood in Eatonville, remembered in stories she wrote later as a place where blacks were independent, successful, and culturally affirmed, may have contributed to her opposition later on to integration, chiefly the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.

Hurston’s mother died when Zora was thirteen. Her father quickly remarried, and Zora was sent to boarding school. After a time he stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled. She worked as a maid in a traveling theatrical company, and then, in 1917, the twenty-six-year-old lied about her age to gain admission to the Morgan Academy, graduating from the high school the following year.

Hurston attended Howard University and in 1927 graduated from Barnard College with a BA in anthropology, followed by two years as a graduate student at Columbia. In New York she became a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance. The engaging and gregarious Hurston, together with Langston Hughes and other writers, formed what they called the Niggerati and published the literary magazine, Fire!!, in 1926.

Starting in 1928, Hurston’s anthropological research was funded by philanthropist and socialite Charlotte Osgood Mason. Hurston traveled to the American South and the Caribbean, developing a talent for dialects that would appear in her stories and which was further honed in later travels to Jamaica and Haiti to study African rituals.

Hurston’s critically acclaimed study of African-American folklore, Mules and Men, was published in 1935. She also published three novels in the 1930s: Jonah's Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God (her most famous work, written when she was in Haiti), and Moses, Man of the Mountain. In all she published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, several plays, and numerous short stories, essays, and articles. She also married twice, but neither marriage lasted very long. She never had children.

Hurston’s literary star had faded by the 1950s. It’s said that the folklorist bent of her work and use of African-American dialect was seen as something like caricature that pandered to white readers and disempowered blacks.

Hurston suffered a stroke in 1959 and had to enter a county welfare home in Florida, where she’d moved around 1950. She died penniless in 1960—the cause listed as hypertensive heart disease—and was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery at nearby Fort Pierce.

In 1973, writer and Hurston fan Alice Walker located Hurston’s grave and had a headstone installed. Walker’s Ms. magazine article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” published two years later, launched a renewed interest in Hurston’s work; a number of story collections were published posthumously, several documentaries about her life have been made, and Eatonville holds an annual festival in her name.

A strong feminist, Hurston was also very skeptical about organized religion, referring to its creeds as “collections of words around a wish.” “I feel no need for such,” she wrote in her autobiography. “However, I would not, by word or deed, attempt to deprive another of the consolation it affords. It is simply not for me. Somebody else may have my rapturous glance at the archangels. The springing of the yellow line of morning out of the misty deep of dawn, is glory enough for me.”

blog comments powered by Disqus

American Humanist Association

Hey, take a breather and complete this puzzle! You work so hard. You really do d...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

It is unfortunate and far from fair when humanist celebrants are considered unof...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Here is a break down of how religious beliefs affect political choices.

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

We are all familiar with this case. It may have been played out a bit in the med...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

It is likely many of you will prefer this quote over the last. Enjoy!

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

What is your opinion on the United States' level of cooperation with the ICC? T...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Ethical Dilemma: Advice for an Isolated Teenage Atheist Get TheHumanist.co...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

The AHA is mentioned in this article about Humanist of the Year Barney Frank.

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Check out the latest Humanist Hour Podcast with Muhammad Syed and Hiba Krisht on...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

The NY Daily News reports on our recent congressional briefing

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Carroll County: A Small Maryland Community Gets Big Attention for All the Wrong...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Matthew Bulger, the AHA's legislative associate, reports on our first congressio...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

We're happy to welcome a new chapter, Washington DC, Atheists, Humanists and Agn...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Check out some photos from yesterday's congressional briefing on humanist celebr...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

Our first congressional briefing was a success! The room was completely packed w...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Wonder Works Day Camp in Moscow, Idaho has begun! The first day was a huge succe...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

The briefing on military chaplaincy has begun.

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Today, the American Humanist Association will be hosting our first Congressional...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Here is a video from Harvard's Making Caring Common Project. 5 Ways to Raise M...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

Why the Way We Live is More Important. Get TheHumanist.com by email once a week...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

Hey, have a laugh! http://hmn.st/1sFRZ33 Get TheHumanist.com by email once a we...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

No matter how right or how wrong, religion can not establish morality for the ma...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

I have come across this many times. While this topic may not be important to all...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

Jesus Cones! A new way to violate church-state separation, in Gwinnett County, G...

11 days ago

American Humanist Association

Well this is rad! AHA Board Member Herb Silverman is featured in this short (10...

12 days ago

American Humanist Association

It may seem silly, maybe even a blatant mockery, but if you really think about i...

12 days ago