February 23: Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born in Alabama in 1891. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns incorporated in the United States, and the nation's first Black planned community. But it was in 1901 when she was first given books by a group of school teachers visiting Eatonville from up North that Hurston says she was really born -- she'd experienced a literary awakening that opened her eyes to the world. She later claimed 1901 as her birth year to gain free admission to Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University in Baltimore. She went on to study at Howard University, where she was co-founded The Hilltop, the student newspaper that still runs today, and was one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
Ms. Hurston was a revered anthropologist and ethnogropher; her time spent in a thriving all-Black town as a child allowed her to explore the complexities of stories of Black folks from different places in the South, as well as Africa and the Caribbean. She was known for her research on Hoodoo, She was also an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance, joining forces with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman to propel the voices of young artists forward. Her most famous work is Their Eyes Were Watching God, but in 1927, she interviewed Cudjoe Kazzola Lewis of Africatown, Alabama, who was the last known survivor of the enslaved Africans carried aboard Clotilda, an illegal slave ship that had entered the U.S. after the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade on a bet -- just to see if the smugglers could get away with it. Publishers refused to publish Barracoon, the story about Cudjoe, because they wanted Hurston to change the language to reflect standard American English, but Hurston believed it was important to tell the story in Cudjoe's own voice.
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Ms. Hurston said her life really began when she was introduced to books. What is your favorite book? Why does it excite you?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes were very good friends. Even though they were very different people, they had a shared mission of capturing and preserving the native speech of the Black people they wrote about as a way to show the complexity and diversity of Black people and their experiences. Think about the power of language. Do you use language differently in different settings? How can language be seen as an instrument of power for those who employ it?
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
Zora Neale Hurston's story is as much one of her own accomplishment as it is a testament to the possibilities when young people are allowed to grow up in a world without strife, that is set up for them to thrive. Though all four of her grandparents had been born into slavery, she described Eatonville as "a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.” All of the city's leaders were Black, including her father, born a sharecropper in Alabama who later served as mayor of Eatonville. If you could plan a community from scratch, what would it look like? What would be the main institutions in the town, and what would be its laws? How would you ensure equity of opportunity for all who live in the town?
Zora Neale Hurston was an advocate for giving voice to the voiceless -- and preserving their voice, not forcing it to conform to the standard. In what ways are you encouraging your students to develop their voices and fully embrace their language traditions to amplify their stories?
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About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.