By Contributor on January 07, 2014

By Rebecca Watson

If you saw today's Google Doodle or read this morning's Quickies, you know that it's Zora Neale Hurston's birthday. Hurston is probably best known as a writer during the famed Harlem Renaissance, with her most famous novel being Their Eyes Were Watching God.

What's a bit less known (despite this great African Americans for Humanism billboard campaign) is that Hurston was a New Atheist before New Atheism was a thing, despite the fact that she was born the daughter of a Baptist preacher. She expressed skepticism of religion even as a child, and in Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (from which I took this post's title), she penned a beautiful summary of what it's like to be a well-adjusted atheist contemplating her own death:

The springing of the yellow line of morning out of the misty deep of dawn, is glory enough for me. I know that nothing is destructible; things merely change forms. When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know that I shall still be part and parcel of the world. I was a part before the sun rolled into shape and burst forth in the glory of change. I was, when the earth was hurled out from its fiery rim. I shall return with the earth to Father Sun, and still exist in substance when the sun has lost its fire, and disintegrated into infinity to perhaps become a part of the whirling rubble of space. Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.

Additionally, Hurston was an anthropologist who worked alongside Margaret Mead while attending Barnard College (Columbia University's women's liberal arts school), where she was the only black student in attendance. She did anthropological fieldwork all over the American South, as well as in Jamaica, Haiti, and Honduras.

Hurston was an amazing woman who deserves mention whenever we talk about the great freethinkers in our history. Celebrate her birthday today by getting to know her a little better: here's a bio from Freedom From Religion Foundation and here's a collection of recordings Hurston made while conducting folkloric fieldwork in the South.

Illustration: Google's 'doodle' for Jan. 7, 2014.

Cross-posted from Skepchick. Republished with permission.

Section: 

Topics: 

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Capitalism is the enemy, and the ideology of growth and dominion over the Earth.

 

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently joined many of his Republican colleagues, declaring that...

John Kerry used two weak arguments to justify President Obama’s war-making.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter

Get Breaking News and Alerts!