Florida’s Grown Folks Black History Tour Honors Zora Neal Hurston


By Douglas C. Lyons

SAINT AUGUSTINE — The legendary Zora Neale Hurston and the town of Eatonville, are almost inseparable. Eatonville is  one of the nation’s oldest all-black townships and the literary, if not spiritual, home of Ms. Hurston.

But, you won’t find a state historic marker erected in Ms.Hurston’s honor in the town that freedom built. For that, you have to travel to a far older quaint, historic community — St. Augustine, Fla.

There, at the corner of King and McLaughlin Streets just over the city line, sits a weathered two story Vernacular construction house, one of Florida’s few surviving structures that is associated with the famed author’s life.

Zora Neale Hurston once lived here.

In 1942, Ms. Hurston taught literature at the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, a small “Negro” college that later was relocated to Miami. The name changed, too. It’s now Florida Memorial College.

According to the excellent biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, Ms. Hurston took the teaching job as summer employment in order to “keep on eating.”

Site where Zora Neale Hurston wrote her autobiography Dust on the Road.

Ms. Hurston’s time in St. Augustine was well spent. She taught, lived in modest comfort in the then-on-campus building, and she completed her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.

Making tracks is pretty much what we’ve done on this initial Florida Black Historic Marker Tour. We’ve trekked across the Sunshine State from Delray Beach to Rosewood,  back to Fort Lauderdale and finally to St. Augustine. There is one more stop, a bit of a disappointment for me, but an adventure nevertheless.

Our last stop can only be described as the eerie remains of a brutal war involving an early black settlement located in what may now be Florida’s most inaccessible historic site.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.

Accessibility: Easy. From I-95, head east into St. Augustine on SR 16, which is Charles Usinas Memorial Highway. Take it to North Ponce de Leon Boulevard (SR 5) and turn right. Take North Ponce de Leon Boulevard to West King Street. The marker is about two miles away at 791 W. King St.

Area Attractions: The marker is located in a residential community. So there’s not much to see in the area. The best bet is to hop back in your car and head east on King Street into St. Augustine for sightseeing and entertainment.

Castillo de San Marcos is the big tourist attraction in the city historic district. Take King Street from the marker to Avenida Menedez (A1A). Turn left and continue north for less than a mile. You’re also close to the bridge to St. Augustine Beach.

Fort Mose Historic State Park is the first of two black historical attractions that should be on anyone’s itinerary when visiting St. Augustine. The waterfront site contains plenty of park amenities and an interactive museum that tells the complete story of the first legally sanctioned black settlement in what would become the United States. From the marker, go east on King Street to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and turn left. Take North Ponce de Leon  Boulevard to Saratoga Road and turn right. Keep straight to the fort.

Lincolnville is the picturesque historic black community of St. Augustine. It is  worth a visit. Take King Street east to Martin Luther King Ave. Turn right and you’re there. Lincolnville remains historic, but has undergone re-gentrification. Still, the homes, churches and tree-lined streets make for quiet walks. Riding tours are also available.



Writing Was No Crystal Stair for Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

[Zora Neale] Hurston was no genius in money matters, as she implied, but neither was she the improvident imbecile that some people seemed to think she was. She was generous to a fault, some of her friends remembered, and she couldn’t seem to keep a dollar from slipping through her fingers. But Hurston’s almost perpetual lack of money did not stem from any particular wastefulness. The fact is, most writers of her generation, especially black ones, simply did not earn enough money from their craft alone to support themselves, much less to plan for retirement.”

Source: Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd Scribner, 2003   p. 418

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Imagine If Zora Neale Hurston Had Told the Truth About Her Age

By Douglas C. Lyons

It’s impolite to ask a woman her age. Chances are, though, you wouldn’t get a straight answer out of Zora Neale Hurston. For most of her life, she never told the truth about her age. Friends, lovers, close friends fellow writers — few had a clue.

hurston-zora-neale-locHurston lied about her age for good reason. She wanted to get an education and realized that she couldn’t as an older student. So, she cut her age, by a decade.

In a quiet act of revolution, in a city where few people knew her history, she decided to subvert the rules. The Maryland Code — the document that codified the state’s general laws — provided for free admission to public schools for “all colored youth between six and twenty years of age.” In 1917, Zora was 26 years old. In order to qualify for free schooling, she shaved 10 years off her life, telling Baltimore school officials her year of birth was 1901. 

A young Zora Neale Hurston turned back the clock and changed the course of history. An uneducated Hurston probably wouldn’t have produced Their Eyes Were Watching God or travelled the South collecting the language and lyrics of rural black Americans that ultimately sealed their experiences into American culture.  One can only imagine the world’s loss had she told the truth.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.

Source: Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston By Valerie Boyd Scribner 2003 p. 75