“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny"
—Zora Neale Hurston
Living in Cocoa 1891 - 1960
In 1956, writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston lived at 516 ½ King Street in Cocoa. The efficiency apartment was less than half a mile from this building.
While living in Cocoa, Hurston worked as a Technical Librarian for Pan American World Airways. She was fired in May 1957, because she was “too well educated for the job.” Hurston left Cocoa to take a position at The Chronicle newspaper in Fort Pierce, where she died three years later.
Zora Neale Hurston is remembered as a controversial figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a talented anthropologist and collector of folklore, and a beloved novelist. While she will always be closely associated with her adopted hometown of Eatonville, near Orlando, Brevard County is where Hurston spent some of her happiest and most productive years.
Living in Brevard
On July 9, 1951, Hurston wrote in a letter to Florida historian Jean Parker Waterbury, “Somehow, this one spot on earth feels like home to me. I have always intended to come back here. That is why I am doing so much to make a go of it.”
It would be natural to assume that Hurston was writing about Eatonville. Growing up in the oldest municipality in the United States entirely governed by African Americans instilled in Hurston a fierce confidence in her abilities and a unique perspective on race. Eatonville figures prominently in much of Hurston’s work, from her powerful 1928 essay How It Feels To Be Colored Me to her acclaimed 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
But Hurston was not writing about Eatonville when she spoke of “the one spot on earth [that] feels like home to me” where she was “the happiest I’ve been in the last ten years” and where she wanted to “build a comfortable little new house” to live out the rest of her life. She was talking about Eau Gallie in Brevard County, about 17 miles south of Cocoa.
Working in Brevard
Hurston first moved to Eau Gallie in 1929, where she was very productive. Here she wrote her most important book of African American folklore Mules and Men (published in 1935), documented research she had done in Florida and New Orleans to fill an entire issue of the Journal of American Folklore, and made significant progress on her theatrical pieces.
After returning to New York in 1929, Hurston came back to Eau Gallie in 1951, moving into the same cottage where she had lived previously. Between 1951 and 1956, Hurston worked on her manuscript Herod the Great; covered the murder trial of Ruby McCollum, a Black woman who killed her white abuser; and wrote an editorial for the Orlando Sentinel arguing against the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her controversial disapproval of public school integration reflects her belief in the need to preserve African American culture and communities.