black and white photo of Zora Neale Hurston wearing a fedora with her head turned to the side but looking at the camera

Zora Neale Hurston’s St. Augustine

Casey Wooster, curator

Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler, exhibit designer

black and white photo of Zora Neale Hurston wearing a fedora with her head turned to the side but looking at the camera

Zora Neale Hurston’s

St. Augustine

Casey Wooster, curator

Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler, exhibit designer

Described as having the “map of Florida on her tongue,” author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) spent a great part of her life on the dusty roads of Florida collecting folklore and telling stories. The pull of her adopted home-state brought her back again and again – including to the historic streets of St. Augustine.

“Flowers are gorgeous now, crackers not troubling me at all – hope they dont begin as I go farther down state.”

– Zora Neale Hurston to Lawrence Jordan, March 24, 1927


Zora Neale Hurston visited St. Augustine several times, most memorably in 1927 and 1942. The city provided Hurston a wedding venue, a research setting, and “a quiet place to sit down and write.” Yet segregation and white supremacy loomed over her time in St. Augustine.

She knew the dangers of traveling alone in the Jim Crow South as a Black woman. For this reason, Hurston packed a chrome-plated pistol, displayed self-confidence, and used humor. The latter she exemplified in a 1927 postcard to Carl Van Vechten. She mailed him an image of the whites-only pool at the then-Alcazar Casino (now Lightner Museum) with the message “In which I did not take a dip.”

back of postcards addressed to Carl Van Vechten, signed Zora. Cursive handwriting reads In which I did not take a dip. Postmark March 23, 1927
Zora Neale Hurston to Carl Van Vechten, March 29, 1927 [Folder 408] [Postcard]. Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters. James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


Fictional and historical versions of St. Augustine appear on the pages of Hurston’s work. Despite her brief time in the city, it left an impact throughout her career.

Color Struck (1925)

In 1925, while living in Harlem, Hurston entered Opportunity magazine’s literary contest. Langston Hughes won first place. Hurston won second place for several stories and the play Color Struck, which takes place in Florida. In the story, the main characters travel by train from Jacksonville to a cakewalk competition in St. Augustine. Hurston based her theatrical tale in reality. In the early 1900s, a commuter train connected the two cities and cakewalks organized by Black hotel staff served as a popular form of entertainment.

Although Hurston didn’t live to see Color Struck on the stage, the award ceremony connected her to literary icons that helped her publish the play in Fire!! magazine in 1926.

Fire!! Magazine, page 7, ‘Color Struck A Play in Four Scenes.’ Wallace Thurman Collection. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Journal of Negro History (1927)

After helping launch New York’s celebrated Harlem Renaissance and studying anthropology at Barnard University as the only Black scholar, Hurston said farewell to New York City in February 1927. With a small ($1,400) grant from Carter G. Woodson’s Association of Negro Life and History and the American Folklore Society as well as the academic support of Columbia University’s renowned anthropologist Franz Boas, she headed to Florida to start her first in-depth study of rural southern, Black folklore.

Woodson encouraged Hurston to visit St. Augustine to transcribe documents about the “old Negro fort called Fort Moosa [Mose].” In October 1927, Hurston published an account of the 1738 military fort and free Black settlement in the Journal of Negro History. Hurston recognized the existence of Fort Mose decades before archaeologists located the site – which is now Fort Mose Historic State Park. 

black and white typed transcript of letter
Zora Neale Hurston and John R. Lynch. 1927. Communications. The Journal of Negro History.

Federal Writers’ Project (1938-1939)

Thousands of writers, including Hurston, found financial relief during the Great Depression working for the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the creative literary unit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). As a FWP employee, Hurston continued to collect Florida folklore. In May 1939, she proposed a recording expedition to “observe the wombs of folk culture still heavy with life” in the Sunshine State. She wrote a seven-page proposal describing a rich soundscape, which included sea shanties in Northeast Florida:

“From Fernandina, Mayport and St. Augustine there is the lusty material of the sea folk . . .”

Hurston drafted the proposal in preparation for the visit of folklorist Herbert Halpert on a southern recording expedition for the Joint Committee on Folk Art and Library of Congress. From May until June 1939, Hurston contributed to the project, which resulted in over 50 recordings. Unfortunately, St. Augustine did not make the final itinerary.

Zora Neale Hurston at FWP Exhibit. 1938. Zora Neale Hurston Papers, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)

I am down here trying to polish up my book, write three plays and keep eating.” – Zora Neale Hurston to Henry Allen Moe, June 25, 1942

Hurston moved to St. Augustine in the Spring of 1942 with a need for “a quiet place to sit down and write.” To earn money, she became a part-time literature teacher at Florida Memorial University while editing her memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road. The book loosely follows Hurston’s life story, and mentions St. Augustine several times. The final version published in November 1942, received mixed reviews from readers and critics.

inside of open book, drawn portrait of young woman on the left and typed title page on the right. Below the title is handwritten in large red cursive, Sincerely, Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston. Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography. 1942. J.B. Lippincott. P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries.

Friendship is a mysterious and ocean-bottom thing. Who can know the outer ranges of it? Perhaps no human being has ever explored its limits.

Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)


Hurston’s connections with St. Augustine continued after her final departure in 1943. She left behind friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and an impression on the city. Her memory lingered on in the correspondence and work of many, who also spent time in the Ancient City.

Paul Green (1894-1981)

Interested in the dramatization of Black American folklore, Paul Green became one of the first white playwrights in the United States to write for Black actors. While working in North Carolina, Hurston attended Green’s weekly playwriting seminar at Chapel Hill in 1939. The two shared an interest in folklore and spoke of a theatre collaboration. Hurston noted working on several plays, some possibly for Green, while living in St. Augustine in 1942. However, nothing came to fruition for the duo. Green went on to write the symphonic-drama Cross and Sword in honor of the 400th anniversary of the settlement of St. Augustine in 1965.

2 pages typescript of letter signed in red cursive
Zora Neale Hurston to E. O. Grover. October 12, 1939. Zora Neale Hurston Papers, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.
black and white photo of man and woman standing outside with large trees and house in background. Man wears shirt, tie, and pants. Woman wears a striped top and long skirt. Man is looking to the side while woman looks at him.
Norton and Marjorie Baskin (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Her Husband) at Union Springs. 1940. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings split her time between Cross Creek and St. Johns County from 1939 to 1953. In St. Augustine, she  completed several books and built a literary relationship with Hurston. The two met in 1942 at Florida Normal and Technical Institute, where Hurston taught and Rawlings guest lectured.  

After Hurston’s departure from St. Augustine, the two continued to exchange letters for several years. Rawlings also wrote about Hurston in her correspondence with her husband Norton Baskin and friend Edith Pope.

Edith Pope (1905-1961)

In a letter to Edith Pope, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings described her new friend Hurston as having “a most ingratiating personality, a brilliant mind, and a fundamental wisdom that shames most whites.” Pope, a friend of Rawlings and a fellow author, lived in St. Augustine, but in 1942 found herself out of town during Hurston’s visit.

“It is really sad that the one winter Zorah [sic] Neal[sic] Hurston is in St. Augustine I am not. I’ve wanted to meet that woman for years on end, and have even hunted for her name in the Washington phone book with the intention of going to see her. I do think she is remarkable, an impression confirmed by your letter. Gee, I wish I thought I’d get home while she is there.”

black and white group photograph of dinner party guests in the north end of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' living room. The chairs are from the porch. Marjorie's back is to the camera. Guests names are handwritten around border of photo. Idella Parker, Elmer Shell, Rebecca Camp, Verle Pope, Edith Pope, Cecil Clarke, Aunt Ida Tarrant, Norton Baskin
Group Photograph of Dinner Party Guests in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Living Room. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.
typescript letter on light blue paper
Zora Neale Hurston to Jean Waterbury. June 4, 1951. Zora Neale Hurston Papers, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Jean Parker Waterbury (1915-2007)

In 1951, Hurston designated Jean Parker Waterbury as her exclusive literary agent, first at Ann Watkins Agency and then at the McIntosh, McKee Agency. Hurston shared a common passion for Florida history and culture with Waterbury, who originally came from St. Augustine. Over the next several years, the two corresponded between New York City and Eau Gallie (now part of Melbourne, FL). “It was much more personal relationship than the usual many author-editor-agent things are because she was so warm hearted,” recounted Waterbury to Robert E. Hemenway in an undated interview.   

Hurston’s literary agent returned to St. Augustine in the 1970s, where she authored a number of books on the city’s past and served as the first woman president of the St. Augustine Historical Society.

Hurston’s fame faded in the 1950s, leaving her in near obscurity by the time of her death in 1960. A rediscovery of her writing during the 1980s and 1990s led to a renewed appreciation of her works, which are now often required reading in high school and college literature courses. In St. Augustine, the City Commission chose to memorialize Hurston by naming a park in her honor in 2016, at the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and King Street.  

Learn more about the Zora Neale Hurston Papers at the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries


  • Boyd, V. (2003). Wrapped In Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. Scribner.
  • Hurston, Z. N. (1942). Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (1st ed.) J.B. Lippincott.
  • Hurston, Z. N. & Bordelon, P. (1999). Go Gator and Muddy the Water: Writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers’ Project. (1st ed.) W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Hurston, Z. N. & Kaplan, C. (2002). Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday.
  • Hurston, Z. N., & Lynch, J. (1927). Communications. The Journal of Negro History, 12(4), 664-669.
  • Lillios, A. (2010). Crossing The Creek: The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. University Press of Florida.
  • Patterson, G. (1995). Hurston Goes to War: The Army Signal Corps in Saint Augustine. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 74(2), 166-183.

Special thanks for their assistance to Darien Andreu, David Nolan, and Flo Turcotte

Casey Wooster, curator
Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler, exhibit designer

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