On July 9, 1951, writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston wrote in a letter to Florida historian Jean Parker Waterbury: “Somehow, this one spot on earth feels like home to me. I have always intended to come back here. That is why I am doing so much to make a go of it.”
It would be natural to assume that Hurston was writing about her adopted hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Growing up in Eatonville, the oldest incorporated municipality in the United States entirely governed by African Americans, instilled in Hurston a fierce confidence in her abilities and a unique perspective on race. Eatonville figures prominently in much of Hurston’s work, from her powerful 1928 essay How It Feels To Be Colored Me to her acclaimed 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Since 1990, the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) has celebrated their town’s most famous citizen with the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. Hurston will forever be associated with the historic town of Eatonville.
Hurston, however, was not writing about Eatonville when she spoke of “the one spot on earth [that] feels like home to me” where she was “the happiest I have been in the last ten years” and where she wanted to “build a comfortable little new house” to live out the rest of her life.
Unknown to most, Zora Neale Hurston called Brevard County “home” for some of the happiest and most productive years of her life.
Hurston first moved to Eau Gallie in 1929. Here she wrote the book of African American folklore Mules and Men (published in 1935), documented research she had done in Florida and New Orleans to fill an entire issue of the Journal of American Folklore, and made significant progress on some of her theatrical pieces.
After returning to New York in late 1929, Hurston came back to Eau Gallie in 1951, moving into the same cottage where she had lived previously. While living in Eau Gallie between 1951 and 1956, Hurston staged a concert at Melbourne High School (its first integrated event); worked on the project that became her passion, the manuscript for Herod the Great; covered the 1952 murder trial of Ruby McCollum (an African American woman who killed her white lover); and wrote an editorial for the Orlando Sentinel arguing against the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her controversial disapproval of public school integration reflected her belief in the need to preserve African American culture and communities.
While working as a librarian at the Technical Library for Pan American World Airways on Patrick Air Force Base, Hurston was unable to purchase her much loved Eau Gallie cottage, so she moved to an efficiency apartment in Cocoa. In June, 1956, Hurston moved from the apartment to a mobile home on Merritt Island. She was fired from her job in May 1957, because she was “too well-educated for the job.” She then left her happy life in Brevard County to take a job at the Chronicle in Fort Pierce, where she died three years later.
Zora Neale Hurston is remembered as a controversial figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a talented anthropologist and collector of folklore, and a beloved novelist. While she will always be closely associated with her adopted hometown of Eatonville, Brevard County is where Hurston spent some of her happiest and most productive years, in her cottage on the northeast corner of what is now the intersection of Guava Avenue and Aurora Road in Eau Gallie.
More information about Zora Neale Hurston’s time in Brevard County can be found in the book Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade by Virginia Lynn Moylan and the television documentary The Lost Years of Zora Neale Hurston airing on WUCF TV, Friday, February 7 at 10:30 pm and Sunday, February 9 at 1:30 pm.
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is producer and host of
“Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Radio Magazine of the Florida Historical Society,”
broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30
and Sunday afternoons at 4:00,
and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00.