Zora Neale Hurston was famously a "conservative" in the logic of the time when it came to race relations. In a recent piece for the Zora! Festival magazine, I try to contextualize the roots of the black conservative tradition that informed Hurston's reaction to the Brown decision ending school segregation in 1954. This reaction continued a pattern of opposition to an elite black opinion that she began during her time in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. It would be too easy to think of Hurston endorsing segregation. What is more accurate is those like generations of African-Americans before her, she rejected white racism and demanded an equality of process so that blacks could move through society free from white hostility.
For many blacks, white racism was their problem as long as they were free to pursue their life untouched by violence and disruption.The all-black world in Eatonville was such a world. What Hurston wanted was to ensure that the resources due her as an Americans were not blocked. Ultimately, the argument made by black conservative must always content with the reality of anti-black violence and systemic deficits that prevent a black property from being valued in the same way or lack of access to institutions that act as arbiters of affirmation. Separation can ensure that black professionals and institutions exist serving black communities, but racism always makes that existence subject to the whims of abuse coming from a white power structure that curtails the levels of success they can achieve.
That position will ring hollow to some, but black success generated violence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and arguably that logic still impacts how us today. Indeed, we struggle, as black and white citizens of the United States, with the implication of the history of racial trauma. While I do not expect white mobs to rampage through black business districts as they did in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, I recognize that the nexus of quality of life policing, poverty, and oppressive fees that triggered violence in Ferguson has linked to our complicated racial past. In this atmosphere, revisiting the history and ideology of black township such as Eatonville offers some important opportunities. The solution they offered is not perfect, the structures they nurtured can be evolved to address current circumstances.