In 1942, writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston rented a room on the second floor of a house in St. Augustine, Florida, and during this time revised her memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road. This two-story house sits about a mile west of downtown and today is in need of significant repair.
Last November 2019, an article ran on the front page of the St. Augustine Record about a local artist who had painted a mural of Zora Neale Hurston on the house. Artist Mychal Duffey explains that she drives by the house regularly and always thinks of Hurston, a woman who has inspired her. When Duffey approached the owner and sole occupant of the house, 97-year-old Johnnie Pasco, about her vision, she was granted permission.
When I relocated to St Augustine five years ago, I discovered Zora Neale Hurston had lived in St. Augustine several different times throughout her life and after a small park I pass each day was named after her, I looked into this remarkable woman and wrote a post for this site: Zora Neale Hurston: The Real Deal (1891-1960).
This mural resembling a black and white sketch seems fitting for Hurston: a life in the black and the white that she uniquely navigated. The outcomes were not always what she hoped for, but she did her best to work it. Honestly, few ever worked it quite as Hurston did.
A bit of a trickster, even Hurston’s birthdate became a prop she used for leverage:
“Given that she came to Barnard to complete her education as a 34-year-old woman passing for age 26, and that she struggled to procure a golf outfit for her physical-education class even as she won accolades for her stories from those shepherding the Harlem Renaissance, who she was or wanted to be can only be uncertain, and perhaps strategically so”(Miller).
The only black student at Barnard College in 1925, she had to have something up her sleeve to navigate the terrain as successfully as she did.
Consistently bold and brilliant in the face of discrimination and rejection: this is genius. For Hurston, this protective and empowering performance provided the space and resources necessary to accomplish all she did, leaving a treasure trove still yielding discoveries.
This passage from a 2010 New York Times article, Forgotten Florida, Through a Writer’s Eyes demonstrates Hurston’s talent:
“But what about segregation? All those buses and trains Zora rode? Didn’t she ever ride in the back of the bus?” I asked, still puzzled by the logistics of her intrepid travels with little mention of inequality.
Miss Russ laughed, and said: “Oh, no. Zora marched to her own beat. She talked her way up front”(Graham).
I’m moved by the mural rendered by the young artist inspired by Hurston. Zoramania (as the resurgence of Hurston is called by some) or not, it specially honors this space where Hurston once lived.
I try to envision the room in this house where Hurston settled herself and revised her autobiography, deciding, and being told by her publisher, what to include and what to leave out. Controversial still, and a disappointment to those anticipating a tell-all, this final book of Hurston’s “is an account of a woman who triumphed against great odds – greater odds than she will ever admit to here – to secure an education and capture fame”(Dust xiv).
Robert E. Hemenway, in his introduction to the second edition of Dust Tracks on a Road published in 1984, goes on to say,
“Her autobiography, placed in the larger context of her biography, illustrates the special kinds of pressure faced by black writers of the 1930s and 1940s. In her case the pressures were both racial and sexual. She was a pioneering role model, a woman who rejected sexist roles, traveling with only a handgun, a two-dollar dress, and a suitcase full of courage through some of the roughest and remotest parts of the rural South”(Dust xv).
I picture Hurston leaning over the rail of the second-floor veranda, after teaching class at the then Florida Normal College or working on her book, leaning there breathing the fresh air, observing the activity below, shouting hello to a neighbor and friend.
Hurston moved and traveled a lot, creating many dust tracks along her road.
Is this particular track, her short stay in a room in this house, worth saving?
Many in the area believe so and some have been active in their attempts to preserve the site. An official historic marker was erected in 2003 in front of the house, but the house itself is not thriving.
I believe artist Mychal Duffey selected the perfect Hurston quote for her mural:
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
Zora Neale Hurston was a #Nasty Woman Writer extraordinaire.
© Maria Dintino 2020
Gardner, Sheldon. “Hurston House Gets Mural.” The St. Augustine Record. 15 November 2019.
Graham, Adam H. “Forgotten Florida, Through a Writer’s Eyes.” The New York Times. 4 April 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/travel/04culture.html
Hurston, Zora Neale. Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography, 2nd edition. University of Illinois Press, 1984.
Miller, Monica L. “Introduction: Zoramania to ‘Jumpin’ at the Sun’: Reassessing the Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston.” The Scholar and Feminist Online. Winter 2005. http://sfonline.barnard.edu/hurston/printint.htm