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Zora Neale Hurston's Final Decade

Virginia Lynn Moylan

Publication Year: 2012

In 1948, false accusations of child molestation all but erased the reputation and career Zora Neale Hurston had worked for decades to build. Sensationalized in the profit-seeking press and relentlessly pursued by a prosecution more interested in a personal crusade than justice, the morals charge brought against her nearly drove her to suicide.

But she lived on. She lived on past her accuser’s admission that he had fabricated his whole story. She lived on for another twelve years, during which time she participated in some of the most remarkable events, movements, and projects of the day.

Since her death, scholars and the public have rediscovered Hurston’s work and conscientiously researched her biography. Nevertheless, the last decade of her life has remained relatively unexplored. Virginia Moylan fills in the details--investigating subjects as varied as Hurston’s reporting on the trial of Ruby McCollum (a black woman convicted of murdering her white lover), her participation in designing an "anthropologically correct" black baby doll to combat stereotypes, her impassioned and radical biography of King Herod, and her controversial objections to court-ordered desegregation.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-11

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

Alice Walker once declared that “no one could wish for a more advantageous heritage than that bequeathed to the black writer in the South.”1 A stronger case for a black southern writer who took advantage of this blessing could not be made than for that of writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, who framed the lives

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Zora Neale Hurston: A Biographical Sketch, 1891–1948

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pp. 7-38

Given Zora Neale Hurston’s inextricable ties to the state of Florida, it was only fitting that she would spend her final decade on its sandy shores. Known as the Sunshine State, Florida has been a mecca for the rich, a refuge for the lawless, a haven for the retired, and many other things to its countless residents and tourists. To Hurston, Florida was...

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1. In Hell’s Basement: Harlem, 1948–1949

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pp. 39-48

Hurston’s nightmare began Monday, September 13, 1948 with an unexpected knock on the door of her rented room at West 112th Street in Harlem. Charles Scribner’s Sons’ publication of her fourth and latest novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, was only a month away, and her immediate concern was its success. But that concern vanished when she...

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2. Sunshine and Southern Politics: Miami, 1950

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pp. 49-64

Hurston returned to her home state at a pivotal time in the history of the South and the nation. The decade of the ’50s ushered in the beginning of the Cold War with Russia and signaled a challenge to the nation to extend to all its citizens the social, economic, and political freedoms guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and fought for in...

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3. Sara Creech and Her Beautiful Doll: Belle Glade, 1950–1951

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pp. 65-86

After the election, Hurston continued to ghostwrite for Judge Smathers. In early May, at the request of her friend Sara Creech, she drove over 120 miles to Belle Glade, Florida, the little farming community that had inspired the setting in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The purpose of her visit was to speak to the members of the innovative...

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4. Herod the Sun-Like Splendor: Eau Gallie, 1951–1956

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pp. 87-114

Hurston’s Eau Gallie “farm,” as she called it, was not as inspirational or enduring as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Cross Creek, but it was the place where she found the privacy, contentment, and peace she had so longed for. Situated two blocks west of the scenic Indian River and shaded by palms and moss-draped oaks, her cozy one-room cottage...

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5. Death on the Suwannee: Live Oak, 1952–1953

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pp. 115-129

The facts surrounding the McCollum trial had all the elements of a best-selling novel: forbidden love, deep betrayal, insatiable greed, political corruption, bizarre revelations, and bloody murder. Hurston accepted the Pittsburgh Courier’s offer out of a need for cash, but she was also drawn by a genuine fascination with the “dramatics of the case...

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6. A Crisis in Dixie: Eau Gallie, 1954–1956

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pp. 130-148

When the McCollum trial ended in late December 1952, Zora returned to her Eau Gallie farm and pondered her own fate. Just a few weeks shy of sixty-two, she was facing her golden years without the benefit of savings, investments, or dependable income. Her literary powers had dimmed with age and illness, and she was at odds with a racist...

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7. The Last Horizon: Fort Pierce, 1956–1960

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pp. 149-162

Hurston began her new job on June 18, 1956.1 Her duties managing Pan American’s technical literature were relatively easy and the position provided her with a steady income. In April, finding her Cocoa Beach efficiency apartment at 516½ King Street inadequate, she rented a comfortable, private mobile home eleven miles from Patrick AFB...

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Conclusion

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pp. 163-166

Hurston lived the last decade of her life the same way she had always lived it, with courage, resilience, generosity, and aplomb. Her last years were fraught with ill health, financial difficulties, and personal and professional disappointments, yet she maintained an unrelenting joie de vivre. Her ability “to come out more than conquer”1 helped...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 167-170

Notes

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pp. 171-184

Select Bibliography

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pp. 185-186

Index

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pp. 187-193


E-ISBN-13: 9780813048505
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813035789

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 21 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Hurston, Zora Neale -- Last years.
  • Hurston, Zora Neale -- Homes and haunts -- Florida.
  • Authors, American -- Homes and haunts -- Florida.
  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • African American women authors -- Biography.
  • African American authors -- Biography.
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