Throughout the history of our great nation, we have been blessed with many great writers those black and white. Some of these writers have left profoundly inspirational impressions on our lives, touching us in a way that will never be forgotten. During the ” “Roaring 20’s,” many new aspects of life were introduced to American society, forever changing our lives. Along with the “Roaring 20’s,” came the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement during which black art, literature, and music received much deserved credit. It originated in New York City’s Harlem district and was also called the Black Renaissance, or New Negro Movement. It was quite common in African-American society for people to exchange tales and folklores that stemmed as far back as their ancestor’s days in Africa. One of the most accomplished writers of this time was a beautiful, young and extremely intelligent woman. This young woman took this common practice and used them in her novels and tales. It was this simple yet intriguing idea for writing stories that helped launch Zora into the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance. Regardless, of her trying and discouraging lifestyle as a child, Zora chose to press onward and upward throughout her life. Zora had more than her fair share of hardships from her early childhood up until her last days on this earth. Though tough times were all too frequent, Zora continuously worked tirelessly towards her destiny. In her lifetime she was acknowledged as a leading force for the Harlem Renaissance, forever revolutionizing America’s views of African-American’s as well as the great intelligence and creative capability of women. Through her short stories, poems, and novels Zora was able to reach many people nation wide and therefore further express her views and beliefs to those black and white.
On January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama Lucy Ann Potts Hurston gave birth to the sixth of her eight children. This child was given the name Zora or “light of dawn,” little did her parents know, she would certainly live up to her meaningful name. Lucy Ann Potts Hurston was an elementary school teacher until she later married John Hurston, a mulatto pastor of Zion Hope Baptist Church and the Macedonia Baptist church, farmer, carpenter and later Mayor of Eatonville of 1897 serving three terms. When she was three years old Zora’s family moved to Eatonville, an affluent black community, in Florida. Zora’s family lived in a lovely spacious house with a plethora of food to eat from their large garden. It in Eatonville that young Zora found a since of security and sort of a “heaven on earth” where blacks were free from white society and its influences. It was this type of community that kept Zora from experiencing any severe forms of racism early on in life. Zora spent many days of her youth listening to stories told by adults on the porch of Joe Clark’s store. As a child Zora’s mother encouraged her to be autonomous, inventive and to “jump at de sun.” Sadly when Zora was only nine she lost her beloved mother to a strenuous battle with an illness. The loss and its after effects were deeply felt by Zora and her siblings. Soon after her mother’s death John soon remarried and Zora was soon after passed from family member to family member like a “bad penny.” Her first stop was in Jacksonville, Mississippi, where her sister, Sarah was attending school. Often Zora’s bill would not be paid giving her no choice but to work cleaning kitchens after school and scrubbing stairs on Saturdays to save up for tuition. Shortly after Zora moved in with her sister, Sarah got married and left Zora when she moved to Palmetto. Several weeks after school had ended Zora’s father failed to send money for her return home leaving the school to pay for her homecoming.
Once returned Zora, as well as her other siblings were then sent to live with friends and family members of their deceased mother. Zora was sent to live with her uncle Bob and his wife. It was during this time the Zora was faced task of having to attend school occasionally and work as a domestic regularly.
Despite her many hardships as a young girl, Zora went to school and became very successful. At age twenty-six Zora enrolled at Morgan Academy, now Morgan University, as a sixteen year old. She worked as a waitress during the day and worked as a student during the night. Zora graduated in 1918 and moved to Washington, D.C. where she attended Howard University and received and associate degree in 1920. While in attendance of Howard University she joined a literary club sponsored by philosophy professor Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory. It was during this time that her first short story and poem were published in the universities literary magazine Stylus, “John Redding Goes to Sea” and “O Night.” At the age of thirty-four Zora moved to New York where she enrolled as the only black student of Barnard College and studied anthropology. It was also in New York that she submitted two award-winning short stories, “Black Death” and “Spunk,” to Opportunity magazine. New York became the city of unlimited opportunity giving Zora the chance to meet many inspirational and successful people including Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas, Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Wallace Thurman. It was with these great minds that enabled Zora to publish a quarterly magazine devoted to younger black artists. The group titled their magazine Fire, and unfortunately had only one volume. In 1927 Zora did an interview with a former slave; she published her findings in an article “Cudjo’s Own Story of the Last African Slaves.” Many of her writings were based on black folklore in Eatonville but were expanded to the Caribbean in 1929 and 1930 when she traveled to the Bahamas collecting legends. It was at during this time that she discovered a solid relationship between African American and African Caribbean folklores. She used this as a to create her fiction stories in which she successfully attempted to capture the essence of the life she was exposed to during her childhood in Eatonville. In 1930 Zora collaborated with an old acquaintance, Langston Hughes, for play Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life but the two became mixed up in a quarrel over who deserved credit for it causing the play never to be seen.
Zora continued her studies of folklore in Jamaica and Haiti on Caribbean voodoo, giving her the basis for Tell My Horse in 1938. This one of her many works to be criticized as misrepresentative also in this category was her second to last novel Moses, Man of the Mountain. In 1942 Zora released an autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, a very profitable accomplishment. However, her story failed to accurately portray her life and creating the ideal world that she fantasized about. In 1948 she released her final novel Seraph on the Suwannee, a story about a white family in Florida in the early twentieth century, this too was on her list of novels heavily criticized but she was recognized for her writing ability.
As a result of living in a wealthy and isolated black neighborhood Zora failed to realize the presence of issues with race. Although racism was especially abundant during these times, Zora’s entire outlook on life was altered significantly because of her privileged upbringing. While the majority of African-Americans were struggling severely and just barely getting by. Relentlessly they worked unbelievably hard to receive what should have been their natural born rights. Throughout here Hurston’s career she was criticized, like most writers, for her many of her unforgettable creations. Amongst the many things that she was criticized for was her failure to broach the matter of racism and discrimination. Zora’s style of writing and views did not fit in with the newfound styles of the contemporaries. Her reputation was additionally tainted in 1948 when allegations about her suddenly emerged. Zora was immediately charged and arrested for molesting a ten-year-old mentally retarded boy. Soon after, for reasons unknown, the boy’s parents dropped the charges against Hurston. Zora proceeded down the exceedingly controversial path she had chosen in life by tarnishing her reputation even more when she wrote an article in 1950 against the right of blacks to vote in the south. In this article she accused politicians of using blacks as a means of buying votes. In 1954 she criticized the desegregation ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Ks. In this article she stated that she believed that black children and white children should not attend the same schools.
Zora went on writing many publications that separated her from blacks; she was marked as a traitor. For this reason she spent her last days alone and in poverty working as a domestic until falling ill and dying of a stroke in 1960. However controversial, Zora will be remembered for her great contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and fine literary works. She has been a very influential and a true inspirational figure to many writers of today. One that comes to mind is a local playwright by the name of Mari Evans, who recently did a rendition of Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, titled “Eyes” Zora had a different outlook on life than most African Americans of her time but has remained the cornerstone of the Harlem Renaissance making black culture known and felt by all. That is why Zora will remain an outstanding and successful pillar in the literary world for many years to come.