An afternoon to honor Zora

Gainesville chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority remembers author Zora Neale Hurston


Felicia Walton reads an excerpt from the novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neal Hurston, during "An Afternoon With Zora."

ANDREA SARCOS/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.

Extremely lousy weather couldn't cancel An Afternoon with Zora.

The outdoor event to honor author Zora Neale Hurston was moved indoors for a shorter program, but with Zora-style hats and an outpouring of love from Hurston's sisters in the Delta Sigma Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.

Although the program planned for outdoors on NW 5th Avenue last Saturday got rained out, it was not cancelled. Instead it was moved — minus the music and dance, but with plenty of hats — to the Institute of Black Culture on W. University Ave.

Hurston (1891-1960) of Eatonville, near Orlando, was an author, anthropologist and a member of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and intellectual movement and a celebration of African-American heritage and culture in the 1920s and 1930s.

Keturah Bailey, event organizer and a member of the sorority, said the event focused on community. "She (Hurston) lived in a community like ours," Bailey said. "Zora wrote in the Negro dialect, validated by Zora, who had the academic credentials."

A highlight of the program was Felicia Walton's dramatic reading of an excerpt from Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," an American classic novel published in 1937 and regarded as an influential and original work in both African-American literature and women's literature. The novel centers around Jenie Crawford, a black teenager whose romantic notions meet with harsh reality on her path to womanhood.

Diedre Houcher, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at the University of Florida, spoke about black teachers during segregation and the legacy of Anna C. Nealy, a guidance counselor and teacher at Gainesville's historic all-black Lincoln High School.

"These were teachers who came from a family of teachers," Houcher said. "Life centered around school."

Terri Bailey, a resident of the Pleasant Street neighborhood, reminisced about growing up there and also read an original poem, "The Pleasant Street Elite."

"How painful it is to see our beloved neighborhood decline," Terri Bailey said. "One of my goals and mission is to bring back the glory to Fifth Avenue."

During the event's intermission, some shared comments.

Keturah Bailey said she felt encouraged, supported and inspired by the attendance.

"It's a testament to the kind of woman Zora Neale Hurston was," Keturah Bailey said. "Everyone who had something to share came out because they had a story to tell."

Lizzie Jenkins, president of the Delta Sigma Zeta chapter, was pleased with the event.

"It's very educational and it's keeping Zora's dream alive," Jenkins said. "The message was delivered. As a Zeta soror, we want to honor her."

"The location was changed because of the weather," continued Jenkins, "but the message was the same."

Sorority member Leanetta McNealy, who also is a member of the Alachua County School Board, spoke about her father's friendship with Hurston. She said her father, Felix Cosby, who died in 2006 at the age of 96 and was the first school principal in Eatonville, told her that in the 1930s, Hurston would come to visit the school.

"He said she would sit on the porch and talk and read to the children," McNealy said.

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