Fort Pierce Was Home to Zora Neale Hurston

By: Florida Division of Historic Resources Staff

ADD TO FAVORITES
Hurston's home, gravesite and the Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail can be visited in St. Lucie County.

Florida has a rich and diverse history.  African American landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in St. Lucie County.  While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.


Fort Pierce
A.E. “Bean” Backus Museum

500 North Indian River Drive
This museum was established in 1960 by A.E. Backus, a preeminent Florida landscape painter and local art enthusiast. Backus was recognized for his friendship and encouragement in the 1950s of a number of African Americans who became known as “The Highwaymen”. This museum and gallery features the work of Backus as well as that of a number of other artists. (772) 465-0630.

More about
The Highwaymen

A. E. Backus, a white Southerner during a time when racial equality was not yet taken seriously, cultivated friendships with Highwaymen artists Harold Newton and R. A. McLendon. In the mid and late 1950s other self-taught African American artists started painting with Backus, or making frames in his studio. The only Highwayman artist believed to have ever taken formal lessons from Backus was Alfred Hair. Hair organized the other (nearly 26) Highwaymen artists and was instrumental in directing the “mass production” of Florida landscape paintings. They painted landscapes with available paints and materials, framing them with molding from doors, ceilings, and baseboards. Sometimes with the paint still wet, the artists would travel the state selling their paintings out of the trunks of their cars (hence the name, “The Highwaymen”). By selling directly to the public, they set the standard for other self-taught African American artists who started painting Florida landscapes using the highwaymen-like art motif.


The Zora Neale Hurston Home
1734 Avenue L
In 1957 Zora Neale Hurston moved to Fort Pierce, and was offered a small two-bedroom house, rent free, by Dr. C.C. Benton, a family friend from her Eatonville childhood. Dr. Benton, a respected physician, had worked to establish the School Court community. He sold land for a new black high school, built duplexes on the south side in 1950, and individual houses in 1957. School Court was the first attempt by a private enterprise to provide affordable, safe housing for the community. This house was Hurston’s home from 1957 until her death in 1960. During this period she wrote for the Fort Pierce Chronicle, a black weekly, and worked on her manuscript, Herod the Great. Contemporaries recall her dog Sport, a back bedroom full of papers, books and a typewriter, a garden with beans, peas, onions, and collards and a flower yard with roses, zinnias and hibiscus.


Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail
Zora Neale Hurston Branch Library

3008 Avenue D
The Zora Neale Hurston Branch Library is named for the African American author, storyteller, folklorist and anthropologist who grew up in Eatonville, and spent the last years of her life in Fort Pierce where she is buried. The library serves as the starting point of the Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks Heritage Trail. (772) 462-1618 www.stlucieco.gov/zora.


Zora Neale Hurston’s Grave
Avenue S and North 17th Street
Zora Neale Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave until African American novelist Alice Walker (best known perhaps as the author of The Color Purple) and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found and marked the grave in 1973. Located in the Garden of the Heavenly Rest Cemetery, Hurston’s grave marker is flanked by two plants and inscribed, “Zora Neale Hurston, A genius of the South.”

Adapted from Florida Black Heritage Trail, published by the Florida Department of State, in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA, copyright 2007. For more information on African American sites, please visit flheritage.com.  Additional information can also be found at: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/milesmedia/floridablackheritage/

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