Zora Neale Hurston
In the final decade of her life, Hurston took on a series of eclectic and often menial jobs to support herself. She worked as a maid in Florida, even as she was publishing well-regarded essays in the Saturday Evening Post and other publications. The Pittsburgh Courier newspaper hired her in 1952 to cover the sensational trial of Ruby McCollum, a black woman accused of shooting her white lover. Following the trial (McCollum's death sentence was eventually overturned and she was ruled insane), Hurston wrote a column for the Fort Pierce (Fla.) Chronicle about voodoo. She also refused to back down from her controversial politics, speaking out in 1954 against the Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate the public schools. (Hurston feared that integrated schools would be bad for black children, denying them the opportunity of education by black teachers that she had enjoyed as a child in Eatonville.) She also worked as a substitute teacher during this time.
In 1959, Hurston suffered a stroke. With no money or connections, she was forced to accept public assistance and moved into the St. Lucie County Welfare Home in Florida. On 28 January 1960, a few weeks after her 69th birthday, Hurston died of heart disease at the welfare home. Her neighbors were able to raise enough money to cover the cost of her funeral, but not enough for a headstone. The writer who had made such a statement during her lifetime was buried in an unmarked grave in a pauper's field, where she lay in obscurity until another young writer, Alice Walker, decided to take it upon herself to bring Hurston's body of work back to life. We can only imagine that Hurston would have been proud. She certainly would have argued that she deserved no less. "God does love black people, doesn't He?" Hurston once joked with a friend, "Or am I just out on parole?"12