Our Legacies

Zora Neale Hurston

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Zora Neale Hurston was an influential author of African-American literature and an anthropologist, who portrayed racial struggles in the early-20th-century American South and published research on Haitian voodoo and African American folklore. The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, and moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, in 1894. She later used Eatonville as the setting for many of her stories, but her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1933) draws upon her parents’ lives in Macon County, Alabama, where Tuskegee University is located. Hurston’s works concerned both the African-American experience and her struggles as an African-American woman. Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades; however, after Alice Walker heralded her as “A Genuis of the South” in an epitaph she chose for the tombstone she placed upon her originally unmarked grave, Hurston was re-discovered by America.  Now she is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most important writers who chronicled of African American life and culture.  Her book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” based on interviews with Cudjo Lewis (Kossala), who survived being brought to Alabama on the Clothilda in 1860 and later helped found Africatown, near Mobile, Alabama, was published in 2018 to acclaim. 

Albert Murray

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Albert Murray was born in Nokomis, Alabama, on May 12, 1916, but his adoptive parents moved with him soon after to Magazine Point, just north of Mobile, in Mobile County, Alabama. He attended the Tuskegee Institute on scholarship, completed R.O.T.C. training, and received a B.S. in education in 1939. He briefly enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Michigan before returning to Tuskegee in 1940 to teach literature and composition. He married Mozelle Menefee, a native of Tuskegee, who had also attended Tuskegee Institute. While based at Tuskegee, he completed additional graduate work at the University of Chicago and  Northwestern University in 1941 and the University of Paris in 1951. During World War II, he joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1943. In 1946, he transferred to the United States Air Force Reserve and enrolled at New York University on the GI Bill, where he received an M.A. in English in 1948. During this period, he became acquainted with Duke Ellington and solidified his close friendship with Ralph Ellison. Murray taught at Tuskegee from 1948-1950 until recalled to active duty; in 1951, he was reassigned to teach military courses in the U.S. Air Force R.O.T.C. program at Tuskegee Institute until he was transferred to Morocco in 1955 and then to Long Beach, California, in 1958. His last posting was to Hanscom, Bedford, Massachusetts, retiring in 1962 in Harlem, New York, where he lived for the rest of his life.  His first story, “The Luzana Cholly Kick,” part of a novel in progress, came out in 1953, but not until 1971 was the story, now titled “Train Whistle Guitar,” reprinted and favorably reviewed by Toni Morrison. The story grew into his first novel in 1974, bearing the same title. He also began publishing cultural criticism, with The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture in 1970 and South to a Very Old Place in 1971. For the next three decades, Murray continued to write books of criticism as well as novels, developing a Blues-based aesthetic complimented by a breadth of knowledge of the literary classics, jazz, and art. Romare Bearden became a close friend, and Stanley Couch, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Wynton Marsalis, among others, protégés.  The two-volume Library of America edition of Murray’s works was published in 2016, three years after his death on August 18, 2013. Murray, christened by Gates “The King of Cats” for his fearless cultural critiques, envisioned African American vernacular culture, epitomized by Blues music, as what makes American civilization great.

Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar. Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times, the best of these essays in addition to the novel put him “among the gods of America’s literary Parnassus.” He attended Tuskegee Institute in 1933 by the arrival of freight trains. He enrolled at Tuskegee Institute as a music major, playing the trumpet. Although drawn to jazz and jazz musicians, Ellison studied classical music and the symphonic form because he was looking forward to a career as a composer and performer of classical music. Writing essays about both the black experience and his love for jazz music, Ellison continued to receive major awards for his work.