“The Town That Freedom Built”
Zora’s Place, named after writer Zora Neale Hurston, is located in Eatonville, Florida, the nation’s oldest all-black incorporated municipality, founded in 1887 by a community of formerly enslaved Africans, who dreamed of raising their families off of plantations, in a community of their own choosing – and succeeded.
Now in its 19th year, the ZORA! Festival – or Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities – celebrates the life, work, and community contributions of writer, anthropologist, and politically engaged Hurston. Just two blocks from Zora’s Place is the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, more affectionately referred to as The Hurston. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc., completes the triad of organizations that, along with the hard work of dedicated staff, volunteers, and community members, gather speakers, organize art exhibitions, and create youth events for the ZORA! Festival each year.
Although some events require ticket purchase, many community events are free of charge, including a reading by poet and activist Sonia Sanchez later this month.
Writer and activist Alice Walker is credited with bringing Zora Neale Hurston back from obscurity, after writing an article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, which Ms. Magazine published in its March 1975 issue. Using Hurston’s text in her classrooms, Walker succeeded in bringing greater awareness to the important work and documentation of Southern Black people in Hurston’s clear-eyed, nuanced writing, revealing her skill as writer and trained anthropologist within and of her own community. It is little wonder, then, that Hurston is referred to as “the Genius of the South.”
Along with an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston authored numerous oral histories and loosely disguised Eatonville community-based novels, including the famous Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston enlarged the already influential, creative, and powerful co-creators of the Harlem Renaissance zeitgeist of Black artists, activists, and intellectuals.
Behind every community event are organizers, and N.Y. Nathiri’s energy and dedication to Eatonville show in her work as an historic preservationist, as well as life-time community member of “the town that freedom built.” And behind every organizer is a family, and so it is with N.Y. Nathiri and her vibrant mother, Ella Johnson Dinkins, who remembers a time when the streets of Eatonville were gravel, and 25 families lived there. Thank you, N.Y. Nathiri, Ella Johnson Dinkins, and the community of Eatonville, Florida, for keeping the energy of Zora Neale Hurston and the practical implementation of the promise of freedom alive.
(N.Y. Nathiri; Soo Na Pak; Ella Johnson Dinkins)