The Corner

Zora! Zora! Zora!

Feminists began to embrace and promote the legacy of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) in the 1970s, starting with an article by Alice Walker in Ms. magazine. This rescue effort was necessary, according to a pair of Harvard professors in the Chronicle of Higher Education, because Hurston had lapsed into obscurity “probably due to her political views.”

Hurston was a conservative–an inconvenient fact that many of her earliest posthumous supporters chose to ignore. But as scholars look into her life and work, and discover previously unknown stories she had written, the truth is coming out:

Yet Hurston’s rural folk orientation seemed to go along with her conservative leanings and made some of her views compatible with those of the Southern Agrarians like Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate. She thought Reconstruction was a deplorable period, favored Booker T. Washington over W.E.B. Du Bois even decades after Washington’s death, and opposed the New Deal; in 1954 she also opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Still, Hurston’s conservatism had its roots in a racial consciousness that did not differ substantially from that of critics like Sterling Brown, Ralph Ellison, and Wright. She was well aware of the racial violence of her country, and she criticized Jim Crow. Her major objections to Reconstruction, and later to Brown, were not that the problems they sought to solve were unimportant, but that the solutions sought to bring about change in the wrong way. Hurston idealized Eatonville, the town where she grew up, because it was, as she put it, a “pure Negro town,” a self-sufficient, independent place, a “burly, boiling, hard-hitting, rugged-individualistic setting,” filled with black pride and self-determination. She rejected what she called the “sobbing school of Negrohood,” famously declaring that she did not feel “tragically colored.” She believed in empowering black individuals and communities to gain economic and social justice for themselves, instead of depending on white Northern liberals or the federal government. To her, Brown assumed the inferiority of black culture and life, imposing a supposedly more developed white culture on black people.

Conservatives and libertarians are taking note. David Beito and Linda Royster Beito have written about Hurston for the Independence Institute (pdf) and John McWhorter covered Hurston in an article for City Journal.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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