The Bicentennial Visits “The Soul of Zora”
Posted March 16, 2019
On Thursday, March 14th, the Bicentennial traveled to Tuskegee University’s Legacy Museum to visit the beautifully curated Zora Neale Hurston exhibit, entitled “The Soul of Zora: A Literary Legacy through Quilts.” This was made possible by an NEH grant that focuses on the literary legacies of Hurston, Ralph W. Ellison and Albert Murray. Dr. A.T. Ankumah was the principal investigator for this project, and Drs. Rhonda Collier and Zanice Bond were both co-directors.
Dr. Collier spoke on how rooted in locality Hurston’s work is, often evoking imagery of the trains that run from Macon County to Opelika, and of the broad nature of her topics. Dr. Bond echoed this sentiment, saying that “when you consider her on a fuller spectrum, she’s not just a novelist. She’s a playwright, she’s a folklorist, an anthropologist. She’s also talking about injustice, and her body not being so fabulous that it can’t be sacrificed for humanity and justice’s sake. One of the things that is still missing today is that we’re not always talking to each other in simple interviews or conversation, which is how she (Hurston) created her work. This is relevant today not only historically, but how to talk to people.”
Other visitors reflected on how Zora had navigated her social and cultural world as an African-American woman, while always maintaining her direct and accessible style. Lennora Pierrot said that “Through her mastery of the English language she has a way of getting you connected, without knowing you’re connected. As a black woman, Zora helped empower me, and to find my voice.”
Theo Moore II, a Collections Manager and Educator at the museum, as well as a documentarian in his own right (check out Hiztorical Vision Productions!) said that “She was ahead of her time. Of course, there were some people that disagreed with her way of thinking, and all of them did. Booker T. Washington experienced the same thing with helping to advance African-Americans in this country. It’s awesome that we’re still celebrating her I’m glad to see that people are honoring her work.”
For more by Hurston, check out Barracoon. It describes the experiences of Cudjoe “Kossola” Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States. It was released just last year, and is a prime example of Hurston’s anthropological work, direct but sensitive storytelling, and gift for human connection. Also, stay tuned for Deborah G. Plant’s visit to Tuskegee. She edited Barracoon and will provide a fascinating insight into the process of preparing the manuscript for publication.
Thank you to Tuskegee University’s Legacy Museum and the amazing people who put this together. The Bicentennial Commission is proud to support this exhibit. Now go check it out for yourself!