Zora Neale Hurston was an African American author and anthropologist from Central Florida. She grew up just a few miles away from Rollins College, in the historic town of Eatonville. Zora dedicated her life to showcasing and celebrating the disenfranchised lives of people of color in her creative arts and writing. During her lifetime Hurston watched numerous people, both white and black, try to portray black folk tales but ultimately fail to present them accurately or authentically. She was determined to create “a series of concerts untampered with Negro folk material so that people can see what [black people] are really like.” (1) During the early years of her career, Zora Neale Hurston utilized Rollins College and her relationship with professorial mentors there, as an outlet and opportunity for featuring authentic African American culture and folklore to a predominantly elite, white audience.
In 1932 Zora was in Winter Park looking to publish her research into a manuscript called Mules and Men, when she was connected with Edwin Osgood Grover, the “Professor of Books” at Rollins. (2) Grover then introduced Zora to William Robert Wunsch, another Rollins professor. These professors would go on to foster Zoras writing and literacy career for many years, and soon after meeting her they campaigned to allow Hurston’s performance of From Sun to Sun to be shown in the Annie Russell Theater. Wunch wrote to Rollins College President Hamilton Holt to appeal to his progressive views, “There is no reason why we cannot develop in Winter Park a native theatre that will a challenge the attention of the whole country . . . I can think of no better way to introduce the students to the honest-to-the-soil material at their own doorsteps than to present to them in a program of folk songs and dancers a group of Eatonville negroes, headed by Zora Hurston.” (3) From Sun to Sun was eventually shown at Rollins in 1933 in the campus Recreation Hall with an all-black cast and a white-only audience. The play was very well received by both the faculty and students in attendance. (4)
- “Review and History of ‘From Sun to Sun: A Day in a Railroad Camp.’” Sandspur Articles and Press Releases. Hurston, Zora Neale Collection, Folder 6. Rollins College Archives & Special Collections.
- Maurice O’Sullivan and Jack C. Lane, “Zora Neale Hurston at Rollins College,” in Zora in Florida, (Orlando : Gainesville, FL: University of Central Florida Press, 1991), 130.
- Letter from Robert Wunsch to Hamilton Holt October 29th, 1932. 1930s Correspondence. Hurston, Zora Neale Collection, Folder 2. Rollins College Archives & Special Collections.
- “Enthusiastic Response is Given ‘From Sun to Sun,’” Sandspur Articles and Press Releases, Hurston, Zora Neale Collection, Folder 6, Rollins College Archives & Special Collections.
— Devorah Burgess