Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville's 1st celebrity

By Tracy Richardson - Web Editor
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Nora Neale Hurston Eatonville, FL Considered one of the pre-eminent writers of twentieth-century African-American literature, Hurston was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance and has influenced such writers as Ralph Ellison, Toni…

Born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida when she was just learning to walk. Eatonville, the first incorporated African-American community, was as Hurston described it, "a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse."

Growing up in an eight-room house situated on five acres of land, Zora had a happy childhood. She managed to frequently cause run-ins with her preacher-father over her rambunctious spirit. Her mother however, took a different approach. She would urge Zora and her seven brothers and sisters to "jump at de sun." Hurston later explained, "We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground."

At age 13, Zora's idyllic life took a turn for the worst when her mother, Lucy Hurston, pasted away. Her father quickly re-married to a woman that whom Zora "almost" killed in a fistfight. She seemed to have little time or money for her or her brothers and sisters. After this, Zora took a series of jobs over the years, struggled to finish school then joined the traveling show of Gilbert & Sullivan as a maid to the lead singer.

By 1935, Zora had graduated from Barnard College and had published several short stories, as well as a novel. She also published a well-received collection of Black Southern folklore, but in the 1930's and 1940's her career was on high-speed.

Even with all the success she achieved, she never garnered financial success. By the time she died on January 28, 1960 in Fort Pierce, her neighbors took up a collection for her funeral.  They were unable to raise enough money for a headstone so her grave site remained unmarked until 1973.

Some of Zora's most memorable works are; "Their Eyes Were Watching God," "Tell My Horse," and "Moses, Man of the Mountain" among others.

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