Like it or not, it is Black History month, a time when the establishment celebrates Marxists such as W.E. Du Bois, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, and an assortment of other radicals. Most mainstream conservatives search to find famous blacks that they can trumpet as conservative heroes. Neoconservatives do this by promoting the cult of Martin Luther King Jr. and have nostalgia for the "golden era" of the civil rights movement that never existed. Any genuine conservative or libertarian does not need to be told that King was clearly always a man of the Left who supported democratic socialism, reparations for slavery, and affirmative action. Others properly look towards Booker T. Washington. However there is one African American who is widely ignored by the Right, largely because she has become a hero to multiculturalists and organized feminism. That woman is Zora Neale Hurston.
Hurston was born in Eatonville, Florida, a small self-sufficient black town. Her father was a Baptist minister who would later become its mayor. She educated herself before attending high school in Maryland and then college at Howard University, where she was inspired to start a literary career. She transferred to Barnard College, where she studied under Franz Boas. For several years, she traveled around the South, Hati, and Jamaica to collect local folklore.
While in New York, Hurston became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. The black literary establishment of the time, who Hurston dubbed "The Niggerati," led by figures such as Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois, felt that black writers should use their talent for political aims. In a piece entitled, "Blueprint for Negro Writers," Wright said that black writers should depict members of their race as the proletariat and middle class who promoted black nationalism, but knew "its ultimate aims are unrealizable within the framework of capitalist America." Hurston and other writers of Harlem Renaissance completely rejected this vision as "the sobbing school of Negrohood." and accordingly wrote stories that celebrated black community and individualism.
Her first novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine was published in 1934 and praised by the New York Times as "the most vital and original novel about the American Negro that has yet been written by a member of the Negro race.” Her next and best-known novel, Their Eyes were Watching God, came out in 1938 and took place in her native Eatonville, Florida. In 1939 she wrote Moses, Man of the Mountain, which combined the biblical story of Exodus with black folklore. In this book, Hurston sees Moses' great accomplishment not just as liberating the Hebrews, but steeping down from his powerful position. Her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on the Road, defended the Antebellum South and condemned Reconstruction. Her final novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, was published and 1948 and did not have as much critical or commercial success as her previous works.
After World War II, Hurston began to write increasingly about politics. In 1950 she wrote an article for American Legion entitled "I saw the Negro Vote Peddled" complaining how leftist groups and labor unions consistently would try to see blacks as one homogeneous voting block. In 1951 she wrote another article for American Legion called "Why the Negro Won't Buy Communism" where she attacked Communists who tried to make blacks as a new proletariat.
Though an ardent anti-communist, Hurston spoke out against American imperialism. In a 1945 article for Negro Digest entitled, "Crazy for this Democracy," she challenged the U.S. foreign policy and wrote,
Did F.D.R., aristocrat from Groton and Harvard, using the British language say " arse-and-all" of Democracy when I thought he said plain arsenal? Maybe he did, and I have been mistaken all this time. From what is going on, I think that is what he must have said.
When Robert Taft went up against the Eastern Establishment for the Republican presidential nomination, Hurston enthusiastically supported him. In 1951 she wrote a column for the Saturday Evening Post entitled "A Negro Voter Sizes Up Taft." She was fed up with the New Dealers who controlled the country for the last 20 years. The prevailing attitude was that,
Anyone who endorsed the Constitution was a "capitalistic reactionary," and to admit patriotism was to be classed as a "dirty chauvinist." Anyone worth a samovar of tea was a "liberal," was known as an "intellectual," and went about talking about "directives" instead of plain orders.
But the exposure of many prominent members of the Truman and Roosevelt administrations as communist spies left them with an opportunity to reclaim the country. There had been an "American resistance army for a number of years, a sort of guerilla band doing what they could do to restore constitutional government" and Taft could be their leader.
Hurston thought that many blacks had been tricked into believing that anyone who was a liberal was a friend to the blacks. She countered that Taft was the true liberal, "in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson", but most people did not see him as such because,
The word "liberal" is now an unstable and devious thing in connotation. For example, card-carrying members of the Communist Party describe themselves as liberals to hide their party affiliation. Pinkos and other degrees of fellow travelers boast of being liberals. Led astray be leftists, who do not, however, admit they are pro-Kremlin, great numbers of uninformed persons believe that the perfect interpretation of term "liberal" is a person who desires greater Government control and Federal handouts.
She acknowledged that Taft was not exceptionally charismatic or "a people's man, in the popular sense of the term." But Hurston, recognizing that presidential "giants" were dangerous, saw this trait as a good thing and harkened back "to the men who held high office in this republic during the period brought to close by the advent of Jacksonian democracy" before "the mob took over."
Hurston was criticized for not addressing racial issues, but she hardly ignored them. She criticized Jim Crow laws, and was well aware of the many racial problems that existed. However, she thought that these issues could be addressed by local communities and within the states, rather than through white northern liberals, the Federal government, and unconstitutional laws. In a review of Lance Jones's, The Jeanes Teacher in the United States she said,
When one finishes the book, it is impossible to believe anything other than that the New South will work out all its problems. It is just a matter of effort and time. There is no patronizing attitude toward a minority group, nor glossing over the unfortunate facts of the Negro being in part responsible for lack of progress by his own indifference to consequences. No attempt to make anything else out of the reconstruction period, but what it was. A second forceful conquest of the South by the carpetbaggers, by the setting up of Negro Governments inadequate to their fate, the inevitable result being immediate chaos and violence and bitterness that is just now beginning to wane.
Naturally, she was infuriated when the Federal government decided to u2018solve' the South's problems again. After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel condemning it. She was not only upset that about the constitutional implications of the case, but also that it would not even help black America. She asked, "How much satisfaction can I get from a court order for somebody to associate with me who does not wish me near them?"
As the civil rights revolution marched on, Hurston's views began to go out of favor, and her career suffered because of them. She spent the last 10 years of her life working as a maid, substitute teacher, and librarian and died poor in 1960.
Leftist admirers of Hurston have a hard time figuring out what to make of her right-wing beliefs. Most just put it down the memory hole and pretend they never existed. Alice Walker wrote, "I think we are better off if we think of Zora Neale Hurston as an artist, period – rather than as the artist/politician most black writers have been required to be. This frees us to appreciate the complexity and richness of her work in the same way we can appreciate Billie Holiday's glorious phrasing or Bessie Smith's perfect and raunchy lyrics, without the necessity of ridiculing the former's addiction to heroin or the later's(sic) excessive love of gin." The implication of this statement is clear: blacks that hold victimologist and collectivist dogma and no literary talent (such as Walker) should make use of their sub-par artistic work to preach their propaganda, but we should ignore the beliefs of someone who many (including Walker) regard as the greatest black woman author this country has seen because she was a right-wing individualist. It is also laughable that Walker, an avowed communist and apologist for murderers and dictators, would compare Hurston's political beliefs to drug addiction.
Zora Neale Hurtston would would be rolling in her grave if she knew how the Left was portraying her. While she should be remembered primarily for her literature, her politics should never be forgotten.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he is the president of the college libertarians and a writer for the conservative student newspaper, The Remnant. A selection of his articles can be viewed here.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com