The Hidden Life of a Harlem Renaissance Author

Historians are the ones who tell the past. They will often leave out certain events or opinions that they do not necessarily agree with. The same is true when it comes to literature. A writer may often be overlooked when discussing certain time periods of history. The works of a writer should be evaluated in depth. A person studying the American Revolution can obviously look at certain recorded facts; however, the words of the great patriot Thomas Paine may provide the scholar with more in depth knowledge than facts alone can. Literature is a diverse subject with many aspects for a person to consider. The time period in which the work was written is the best source to understand the intent of the writer. Throughout the course of American History, racial issues have often been at the top of the list for many to write about. This is still a very important topic for writers even in 2013 while most believe racial issues are not prevalent anymore. One author has risen, once again, in the past ten years to start a debate within the political atmosphere in the United States. An independent female African American, Zora Neale Hurston, was the first black female in America during a time period when African Americans were fighting for the equality they deserved.

Hurston was raised in the first all-black town of Eatonville, Florida (Valentic). This is remarkable for a person of color in the early Twentieth Century to be able to say that she came from the first black town in American History. Hurston was part of the Harlem Renaissance with other great writers such as Langston Hughes. When Hurston was not writing she was collecting folklore all over the south. She enjoyed her life as an author along with being an anthropologist recording the tales and music of her people.

According to Steve Sailer in an article titled,“The Secret Zora Neale Hurston,” Nobody, however, seems very interested in Miss Hurston's own ideas. Although the reading public would have been better served by a seven-hundred-page “best of” collection, these portly volumes do at least copiously document Miss Hurston's unfashionable world view. Seldom has any author been so uniformly misread as Miss Hurston has by her self-proclaimed (and self-absorbed) heirs. Stereotyping her by skin color and sex, the “diversicrats” ignore much of the inner Zora Neale Hurston, a disciple of the greatest dead white European male authors, a connoisseur of macho braggadocio, and a shamelessly Conservative Republican who scorned victimism and leftist conformism.” Many African Americans have a hard time relating to the various political views of Hurston. The strict beliefs of Hurston were developed by herself, not enshrined into her by various people. Research is the key when a person wants to figure out why Zora Neale Hurston held her Conservative views.

Hurston held a strong belief that capitalism was the right path for America, not socialism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not someone who Hurston appreciated, unlike the majority of Americans who elected him to a total of four terms as president. Roosevelt died before carrying out his fourth term of office. F.D.R.’s tenure as president can be divided into two categories: the New Deal and World War II.

Many felt like the New Deal was the first acts of socialism introduced in the United States, Huston was among those who felt that way. This was not a popular position to have during the Great Depression. David Beito and Linda Royster Beito evaluate why Hurston believed in individualism in an academic journal titled “Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Zora Neale Hurston on War, Race, the State, and Liberty,” “Although Hurston never tried to erect a comprehensive theory, she agreed with Paterson and Lane that liberty and entrepreneurship are preconditions for a diverse, vibrant, and prosperous society. It is a mystery how and when she came to her beliefs. Several factors, no doubt, helped to nurture and reinforce any natural tendency she had toward individualism, including her upbringing in Eatonville, where self-help was necessary for survival, years of upward striving as a black woman in a white man's world, and insights gleaned from anthropological fieldwork. Her views had taken form by the 1930s at least, perhaps earlier.” This could be the very reason why she held these beliefs. The fact is she was a black woman in a white man’s world. The world Hurston lived in was not perfect; however, she made it work brilliantly for her. This is why she did not favor handouts of any kind to any of the races, especially the African Americans. She felt that handouts would be a means for the powers that be to have more control over the people. Race certainly played a role in her various political views. Beito notes that in her autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road,” “Hurston declares that bitter encounters had convinced her to shun "class or race prejudice," those "scourges of humanity," and she had instead "received the richer gift of individualism"(Beito).

World War II caused the death of millions. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the cause of the United States to get involved in the war. Like all wars, World War II, also had protestors of all kinds who believed we shouldn’t be involved in the war. Hurston wrote some of her strongest political opinions during this time. Just like her skin color, Hurston was in the minority on this matter as well. In 1945 Hurston wrote an essay for entitled, “Crazy for this Democracy,” which would be the most radical of any of her political writings. She has some rather harsh words to say about F.D.R. along with Harry Truman. Speaking of F.D.R., Hurston said, “Did F.D. R., aristocrat from Groton and Harvard, using the British language say “arse- and – all of Democracy when I thought he said plain arsenal? Maybe he did, and I have been mistaken all this time. From what is going on, I think that is what he must have said” (Epstein). She also accused the State Department of, “Using our weapons, money, and the blood of millions to carry the English, French, and Dutch and lead them back on millions of unwilling Asiatics” (Epstein). These are very strong words to use during this time period from a black female. Hurston felt that she had the right under the Bill of Rights to express whatever she wished. Gender, Race and Class in Zora Neale Hurston’s Politics, by Susan Meisenhelder , details the politics of Hurston perfectly. Hurston also had some very strong words for President Truman. She says, “Truman is a monster. I can think of him as nothing but the Butcher of Asia. Of his grin of triumph on giving the order to drop the Atom bombs on Japan. Of his maintaining troops in China who are shooting the starving Chinese for stealing a handful of food.... Of his lynching all the able Japanese under the guise of ‘War Criminals. War is war, but these men are criminals for daring to shoot at white men….”

When she endorsed Robert Taft for president, she did it because of the ideas they both fought for. Robert Taft is of the old right of the Republican Party. Taft was the leading opponent of the New Deal in the Senate. He also opposed militarism around the world. These two things alone were enough for Zora Neale Hurston to passionately endorse the Ohio Senator. In 1951, Hurston wrote an essay for the Saturday Evening Post, “A Negro Voter Sizes up Taft.” Hurston defended her actions against many African Americans by claiming Taft was the true Liberal in the sense Thomas Jefferson was (Meisenhelder). She opposed the foreign policy of interventionism.

The true act of Hurston’s political beliefs would not come out until 1954. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education outraged her. The ruling was a landmark decision for many civil rights activists. The Justices were unanimous in their decision that states could not have separate schools for whites and blacks. One would think that all black people would be happy with this decision, but Hurston held differing views for various reasons. She was against integration because she believed in the power that blacks held without any outside help.

Hurston believed that with mixing schools, black heritage would not be taught to black children (Zora Neale Hurston). This was true in many perspectives. A person can look at the history of Native Americans in the United States. In the Nineteenth Century there was a popular slogan for the natives, “Kill the Indian, but save the boy.” This belief of Hurston’s is in large part due to her anthropology work throughout the South. She would drive countless hours collecting folklore and such of her people. Hurston should not be thought of as a person against her people. She should be remembered for what she wanted her people to do, much like the train of thought Booker T. Washington had.

The life of Zora Neale Hurston should be evaluating completely with nothing left out. The way she grew up had a large impact on the way she believed. She was the first black woman of the Twentieth Century who not only crossed the fences that were boundaries; she burned them down for future generations of women of all color. Ayn Rand is celebrated across the world as an intellectual thinker. Hurston, on the other hand, is not celebrated to this extent, but she should be. The lives that this woman has touched and changed are the true work of an author. If an author cannot change your life for one reason or another, what have they done for you?

ArticleKenny Collins