A half century ago this week, a former maid who’d dabbled in writing was buried in a Fort Pierce pauper’s grave.
It’s only in the past few decades that Zora Neale Hurston earned the adulation she never got in life.
Hurston wrote with passion and poetry and humor about the joys and turmoils of blacks living and dying far beyond the main roads of central and south Florida.
“Miss Zora’’ rose to prominence, was gradually ostracized by her own people and died destitute in Fort Pierce, only to be reborn only as an artist can be — through her work.
She was raised in Eatonville, north of Orlando. It was America’s first all-black town when it was founded in 1887.
Her mother once said, “You jump at de sun.”
Her mother died and her father, a tenant farmer and pastor, handed her off to relatives. She was a maid, graduated high school, and went to Howard University in Washington.
She was 30 when she wrote her first story in 1921 but lied about her age by a decade, making her an undeserving prodigy. She moved to New York in 1925 and was swept up in the Harlem Renaissance.
Her career climaxed with 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a swirling trail of a woman’s journey to independence that climaxes with the Glades’ great 1928 hurricane.
But fame didn’t always translate to fortune; she never made $1,000 on a book and once was a secretary to novelist Fanny Hurst.
Two marriages failed.
Peers accused her of Uncle Tomism after she became a political conservative, decrying integration.
Her last novel, Seraph on the Suwannee, was published in 1948.
She was a maid, a substitute teacher, and a columnist for the black weekly Fort Pierce Chronicle.
She died broke in a Fort Pierce nursing home in 1960. Friends donated for her funeral.
In 1973, Alice Walker (The Color Purple) paid for a marker for her grave.
Eatonville’s Zora Neale Hurston Center was opened in 1987, a monument to the woman who prophesied: “When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know that I shall still be part and parcel of the world.’’
Special thanks to Post staff writer Scott Eyman.