January 7, 1891: Writer Zora Neale Hurston is Born. From PBS:
Zora Neale Hurston was an African American writer known for her novels and collections of folklore. She was born on this day in 1891, in Eatonville, Florida, a town founded by African Americans. Hurston’s best-known novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937). The story sensitively portrays a young African American woman’s realization of her identity and independence.
Editor’s Note: Less known, is the story that Hurston was a conservative thinker and writer (she wrote political op-ed columns late in life) and outspoken Republican. Zora was ahead of her time in challenging the grievance culture and ‘victim’ mentality of her socialist-leaning literary peers, valuing liberty, promoting self-reliance, advocating color-blind equality under the law, discouraging dependence, and swimming against the tide, during a time when black thinkers and writers were openly advocating the virtues of the emerging welfare state. Zora would have felt at home with modern anti race-baiting conservative critics.
On closer examination, however, Zora’s political affiliation, and alleged conservative ideology, is not a settled question. Was Zora Neale Hurston a conservative? It’s not as clear as my above comments would suggest. (I’ve read conflicting reports) In a review of a biography of Hurston, “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston” NRO‘s Roger Clegg, in 2004, touches on this subject:
I will not argue that Hurston was a conservative — as Boyd says, “we don’t know” how she would have taken to Clarence Thomas — but there was much about her that conservatives should find endearing. She was anti-Communist (in 1951, she wrote an article for American Legion Magazine titled “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism”), patriotic (“My country, right or wrong,” she wrote in 1928), “a registered Republican” (not so unusual for African Americans not so very long ago) — who supported Robert Taft in his 1952 presidential bid and, in other elections, opposed Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Claude Pepper — and a proud Southerner.
But what is most refreshing is not so much her overt politics as her attitude toward race, and race relations — and the very fact that she was obsessed with neither. She was criticized by black activist authors like Richard Wright because she did not believe that African-American artists had a duty to advance some political agenda. W. E. B. DuBois had declared in 1926, “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.” So Hurston knew that “Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem,” but maintained nonetheless, “I was and am thoroughly sick of the subject. My interest lies in what makes a man or woman do such-and-so, regardless of his color.”