Although there seems to be a great deal of information about Zora Neale Hurston’s life, sifting through it remains a challenge. In her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Hurston is coyly vague about her own birth date. She claims to have “heard” that she was born in January in Eatonville, Florida, but she is also careful not to be precise about the year. Indeed, Hurston, who admits in Dust Tracks that she is a word-changer, manipulates personal dates, events, and places throughout her life. The important fact, however, is that Zora Hurston was born between 1891 and 1903—she refers to various dates during this time span—in Notasulga, Alabama, where her father grew up—not in Eatonville, as she claimed (Lowe 98). Her parents were John Hurston and Lucy Ann Potts. Lucy Potts (1865–1904) was the dark daughter of a relatively well-off landowner; she became a country schoolteacher before becoming the wife of John Hurston. John (1861–1917) was a mulatto, the son of a black woman and a white man, probably her owner. He was an itinerant carpenter, a Baptist preacher, and eventually the mayor of Eatonville. He also became the moderator of the South Florida Baptist Association. Zora was the sixth of eight children. They lived in a large house, with plenty to eat from their large garden. Zora and her siblings apparently had a happy childhood, at least until their mother died in 1904.
Not only was their home life nurturing, but so too was the town of Eatonville, a “Negro” town, run by Blacks—mayor, town council, and other municipal officers. It was the first Negro town to be incorporated and the first to