Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zora Neale Hurston

Last weekend I had brunch at Eatonville, a Washington, DC restaurant named after the birthplace of folklorist and writer Zora Neale Hurston.

In 1924 Hurston’s story Drenched in Light was published in Opportunity magazine after she won one of the writing prizes. Hurston lived in Florida at the time and the editor Charles S. Johnson encouraged her to move to New York City. He suggested that Hurston contact his assistant Ethel Ray (Regina’s roommate), assuring her that she would be warmly welcomed at her apartment. Hurston ended up staying on their couch when she first arrived in New York City.* Ethel recollected that, “Zora could tell a good story…pretended that she couldn’t talk English and so she was passed off as an African and was permitted to stay at this hotel. It gave us a good laugh.” Later, “Zora was a person rather hard to keep within bounds, you had to ride herd on her a bit, so she stayed with us at the time. We felt responsible in making certain that she was going to keep these appointments (at Barnard College for a scholarship) because with her if something else interesting came up, off she was.”**

* Valerie Boyd, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Great Britain: Virago, 2003).

Ethel Ray Nance, interview by Anne Allen Shockley, tape recording, San Francisco, CA., 18 November 1970 and Nashville, TN., 23 December 1970. Black Oral History Collection, Fisk University, Nashville, TN.

Alexandria, Virginia

A year after Regina Andrews became the first African American to head a branch of the New York Public Library there was a sit-in at a public library in Alexandria, Virginia in 1939. African Americans were not allowed to use the public library so several men (William Evans, Otto L. Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray and Clarence Strange) staged a sit-in to protest the policy and were arrested (see picture on the right). This was organized by a young African American lawyer Samuel Tucker (Otto's brother). Instead of integrating the library, the city created a Negro branch--separate and unequal. Samuel Tucker refused to use the new branch. Last weekend I was in Alexandria and took pictures of the original library and the former Negro branch which is now a museum. For more about the sit-in.