TO THE EDITOR:
Your comments about Zora Neale Hurston in your Feb. 14 editorial are misguided. The Trustees never considered the possibility of renaming Saunders Hall in the spring of 2015 for Hurston for two obvious reasons. First, the students never proposed it to us. Second, the petition with hundreds of student signatures supporting the removal of Saunders’ name never mentioned naming the building for Hurston. When support for naming the building for Hurston surfaced after we had renamed the building Carolina Hall, I researched the issue and found no evidence to support Hurston ever having taken classes at UNC.
Of course, proving a secret is difficult, so I applied a reasonableness test and the case for Hurston came up short.
Perhaps some facts would illuminate my conclusion. Zora Neale Hurston came to North Carolina for the first time in 1939 at the age of 48 to teach at what is now NCCU in Durham. She had earned her undergraduate degree at Barnard College in 1928 and subsequently did graduate work at Columbia University with noted anthropologist Franz Boas.
When Hurston came to NCCU, she was already a well-known writer having completed her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), written and staged a Broadway play, The Great Day (1932) and collaborated with Langston Hughes on another play, Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts (1935). Hurston never mentioned ever secretly taking courses at UNC in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). Hurston resigned her position at NCCU in May of 1940.
The only connection to UNC I could find was her friendship with her fellow playwright and UNC professor, Paul Green. In his published letters, Green mentioned that Hurston was once a guest lecturer in one of his classes. It has been rumored that Hurston was a member of a writer’s workshop held at Green’s home, but I could not substantiate it. In an interview shortly after Hurston’s death in 1960, Green fondly remembered her as a collaborator and peer, not as a student at UNC.
I can only conclude from this body of evidence that it was unlikely Hurston was a secret student at UNC, and her time at UNC was not significant to her or UNC. Thus, I believe it would be inappropriate and overreaching for UNC to name a building for Ms. Hurston.
UNC Board of Trustees 2007-2015