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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Mildred Thelma Grant
INTERVIEWER: Asili Ya Nadhiri
February 20, 1983
N: I am Asili Ya Nadhiri and this is an interview with Mrs. Mildred
Thelma Grant. This is a biographical interview for a Zora Neale
Hurston Project being conducted under the auspices of the Oral
History Department at the University of Florida.
Mrs. Grant, how long have you lived here in Eatonville?
G: I was born in Eatonville, Florida.
N: And you have lived here all your life?
G: All my life.
N: Did you go to school at Hungerford? This was the high school for
Eatonville residents before it was changed into a vocational school
in the late 1970s.
G: Yes, I went to public school in Eatonville, and I went to Hungerford.
N: What was school like during this time? Was it grades one, two,
N: Did you complete the whole process?
G: No, I didn't.
N: How did you like school?
G: I liked it fine.
N: Was this the time that Captain Hall was there?
G: I was there before Captain Hall. I was out there when Jordon
[principal before Hall] was there.
N: I know Captain Hall was the famous one; everyone has heard a lot
about him. You lived during the time that Zora Neale lived here in
G: Yes. She was living here when I was born. So I have known her all
N: Tell me what Eatonville was like during that particular time.
G: During that time it was just a small little town. It had two
churches in it: Macedonia Baptist Church and St. Lawrence A.M.E.
Church--the Methodist church.
N: How many people do you think lived in Eatonville at that time?
G: About 300 people.
N: In the books that Zora wrote, it seemed that the city was a pretty
good size little city.
G: It was pretty good size but it didn't have much. We didn't have but
one grocery store, and that was Mr. Braswell; he had the grocery
store here. That was all and it was small. Another couple they had
a little store on the corner. Their name was Dash and they died and
so that was closed. And Mr. Braswell died and most the time when
people wanted groceries they would go to Maitland, and then they
started going to Winter Park. Then they put in all these new places
around here. They have got two little grocery stores here now. But
if I want some milk or something I just go there and get it. But if
I want groceries, I go to Pantry Pride in Winter Park.
N: Were there restaurants?
G: Well, they had some little restaurants, but they didn't stay open
long. There weren't that many people to attend the restaurant.
People ate at home; nobody went out to eat dinner. I don't go to no
restaurant to eat no dinner; I cook what I wants. It's just me and
my son here; my husband is dead.
N: What about the Rainbow? Now that's a famous club. Was it here at
G: Oh, no.
N: Well did they have something like that.
G: No. Well yes. Later years they had something called Tuxedo
Junction. The people all died out, then they built this Rainbow.
N: When I talked with Mrs. Dinkins, she mentioned something called
Shanty Clubs. Was that the name of the club or a shanty joint or
something like that?
G: I don't know nothing about that and I have been here all my life. I
never heard nothing even named like that before.
N: What kind of place was the Tuxedo Junction?
G: A bar where they sold whiskey and beer and stuff. It wasn't big
like the Rainbow. It was a medium size place, just about big as
this house and people go there and dance, that was all.
N: Was this the kind of place that everybody in Eatonville went or that
certain people? Was it rough?
G: It wasn't really rough. The people around here didn't go to places
N: They didn't?
G: No, people came from Orlando and around to these places.
N: Why wouldn't the people here go to these places?
G: Because they don't care nothing about it. A lot of these people
'round here don't even drink.
N: Is that right?
N: So this is like religious?
N: So you're saying that during the time that Zora was here it was...
G: Just like that, because Zora never did go around, she never did go
to those places.
N: She would mention them in her books?
G: Well she knew about it. She knew what people go there. For her
just to go there and sit in there, I never seen her in there. Now,
if she went there, I don't know anything about it. She would know
about the place and she had such a good imagination, she knew just
exactly what was going on at those places.
N: You mentioned her imagination. Is this something that you knew or
that you came to know from talking with her?
G: No, she would just write books. That's why I say that her imagina-
tion, because I know she didn't hang around these places. That's
why I say that her imagination would tell her. And she knew people
that would go to these places and she could talk to them and they
could tell her what was going on. She knew everybody around. She
lived two or three different places when she was with mother. One
place was where Anetta Jones used to live. Where Anetta Jones'
house was is now the fire department. On Kennedy Boulevard in
Eatonville. Right beside city hall, that's where Zora Neale used to
live with Miss Anetta Jones. After Miss Anetta Jones died they tore
this house down and they put the fire station there.
N: So Zora lived right there on Front Street?
G: Right there on Front Street. There was [a] lady she used to live
with. She didn't come here to live, she just come here on visits.
She lived in New York state. Another was my aunt Lula Mosely. She
used to stay up there sometimes and then she'd stay with Miss Anetta.
One time she had an apartment somewhere. It was way back over there
on the other side. I used to pass that place. I used to go out
there and stay with her at night, when I was a little girl.
N: What was she doing?
N: She was writing?
G: She didn't do no fancy going to different places, she never did.
She just come and sit round up there and write, or go somewhere and
take pictures and things like that. She didn't just go to these
hangouts, I know she didn't go. She knew about the Tuxedo Junction;
she knew about that because she could drive her car by there and see
the place. And then when they built the Rainbow Club, I never seen
her in there.
N: Was the Rainbow built while she was here?
G: It was there when she came here.
N: It's an old place then?
G: It is an old place. They have remodeled it, but it has been here
for quite some time.
N: You mentioned that you would go with Zora Neale out to a place some-
times. What would she talk with you about what she was doing?
G: I just knew what she was going there for; she just wanted me for
company. I was just a little girl then. So when we would eat, she
would go get her typewriter and start writing and I would go to bed,
and just leave her sitting there writing. When she'd get through
writing she would go to bed, too. But she didn't have any friends
come there; she'd just be out there writing. She would get tired of
this place. There were white friends that would let her have their
place, and then when she would come back over here, or she'd go to
Aunt Lula's house, or go to Miss Anetta's house. And then she'd pack
up and go back up north and live three or four years and she'd come
back. That's what she did.
N: How did the people react to Zora Neale? I know at one point in time
her whole family stayed here in Eatonville.
G: Well, I was too little then. But I knew she had a brother up in
Sanford, but I never did see him. I knew she did have a brother up
N: Did you ever hear about how the family fit in Eatonville? Was the
family an ordinary kind of family? How did the children get along?
G: When I came long nobody was here but Miss Zora.
N: Did your mother ever mention anything--
G: No, Momma Matilda Mosely went to school with Miss Zora. Back in
those years and when Miss Zora left here and went north, she come
back sometime and stay round and when she wasn't writing in a book,
they'd be out in the yard playing croquet. And Miss Zora would play
croquet with her. That's the kind of person she was.
N: Well, she sounds like a pretty nice person.
G: She was and everybody around here that knew her got along with her.
She never did have any fusses at anybody.
N: Well, that's sort of strange because a few years ago, when I first
got married I came through and I talked to some people just casually
that I had been reading through her books. I asked them about Zora
Neale and I got a real bad attitude.
N: People said they really hated her.
G: Now I'm going to tell you I know, because I was around her more than
ever. Miss Zora didn't hang around with nobody, and if she did, the
people she knew would go up there and play croquet. She didn't
never hang around nobody. They just gave you the wrong impression of
her because she wasn't that type of person. I'd put my hand on a
stack of Bibles on that. She was a nice person; she'd pass and speak
to you. My mother and Mrs. Matilda were her friend; she'd come to
Momma's house. Momma had children so she couldn't stay there, but
she stayed with my aunt right up the street from us. And my aunt was
a religious person and she didn't have any kind of mess going on in
her house, and Miss Zora never did do anything like that. That's the
truth. Now whoever told you anything about Miss Zora, they were
lying. Because Miss Zora didn't hang around these places down there,
so nobody could get anything on her to tell on her. I'm telling you
the truth because I knew her.
N: What I was referring to was some people claimed that after she wrote
her books that they didn't exactly like the way that she spoke about
G: Well, I don't she what she said; she didn't say anything wrong about
Eatonville. I had one of the books, but I put mine on the table and
somebody came in and took my book; I don't know who got my book. I
had a book that she wrote and she didn't say anything about the
people here; Miss Zora didn't stay here long enough to learn the
people of Eatonville. See she didn't know nobody around here, but
Aunt Lula, my grandmother, Miss Nixon up the street, Mr. Howard
Miller, and Ruth Miller were the kinds of people that she knew. She
didn't stay here long enough to just to know the people. She stayed
up north all the time and when she'd come by here, she'd just come by
here for a rest. And she'd go to Aunt Lula's house or Mr. Miller's
house and get out there, just like I'd say, and they'd play croquet
and that's all she did.
N: Was she a church goer?
G: No, she never did. That's one thing that she sure didn't do. No,
she sure didn't go to church.
N: Did you ever hear her say anything about her religion?
G: No, she never did say anything about it. But she never did say any-
thing about the churches or nothing. She didn't even say anything
about the churches.
N: Do you think she did believe that there was a creator of the heavens
G: I hope she did. [Laughter] I never heard her say anything about it.
If she ever said anything about it, it was something good. I won't
tell a lie. She'd dead, and I won't lie and I put my hand on a stack
of Bibles she was about the best person that I knew. I just tell you
like it is. And when she'd come around, she'd go to Winter Park or
something, she'd stop by our house and say, "You want to ride Mille?"
"Where are you going?" Well, I'd get in the car and ride with her.
She'd go in the store and get what she wanted and she'd say, "You
want some candy or something?" and bring it to me out to the car.
She was that sort of a person. And I never did see her drink nothing.
I never did see her do anything like that.
N: I agree. I never did see any reports about her, as far as that. How
old were you when Zora came through? She did a book around the time;
Mr. Sole must have gone around with her. She went to different
parts of Florida collecting stories that Afro-Americans told. Do you
G: Yes, I was small, but I remember when she first came. When she first
came I was about eight or nine years old. When she first came to
Eatonville I didn't know her because she'd go up there and see her
momma. I didn't know her then. But when I got old enough she'd come
down. She'd always want me to go with her and I'd ride with her when
she'd go. And she was always a nice person.
N: Were you old enough to remember her during the time she would travel
around in an old car?
G: She had an old green car.
N: Yes, she traveled around different parts of Florida collecting her
stories. Did you get a chance to talk with her during that time,
did you ever hear or see anything about what she was doing?
N: Would she discuss what she was doing with you?
G: No, I never did ask her about it, because I knew she was writing.
But being a child it didn't matter to me what, but I knew it. I
knew the places that she was going and I knew Rainbow and those
places. The Rainbow wasn't in existence when she first came here.
But that came after I was grown and married.
N: Was she a neat person?
G: Yes, always clean and neat.
N: What were any kind of the places that she used to write? Can you
describe it for me? What did it look like?
G: Well, rows of typewriting, that's all she'd have.
G: Yes, pictures up on the wall.
N: Pictures of what?
G: I don't know. Anyway, just a common room.
N: Was it colorful?
G: No. Just a plain room. Just like this porch would be here. She'd
have a couch over here and a something sitting here where she would
write. The next one would be where she'd sleep, her bedroom. She
always had a little couch in the front room. That's where I always
slept when we'd go out places, and she'd always find places like
that where I could have me a little piece of room for myself.
N: About how large would you say the room was?
G: A small room.
N: I would say the room that we are sitting in now is about thirty
feet lengthwise. Would it be larger than this room?
G: Just about as large as this room.
N: About thirty by thirty.
G: Yes, because she would just go to these places and rent a couple of
rooms or a house, but she wouldn't use the whole house. She would
use the kitchen, but that was all.
N: Could she cook?
G: Well, I thought she could cook. She didn't do a whole lot of cook-
ing; she was gone all the time. If she was here today, she may stay
here a week and then she may stay here two or three days, and then
she'd go. She never did stay in one place all the time.
N: Was she a large person or a small person?
G: Well, she wasn't a great big thing, but she was tall, slender.
N: Good looking or average looking or?
N: Did any of the fellows ever try to court her?
G: No, she didn't try to court nobody.
N: But did anyone ever try to court her?
G: Well, I don't know anything like that. I'd be lying if I did say I
did know, because I didn't. She didn't stay here long enough to
court anybody. She was here just two or three days and then she was
gone. She'd go and stay away two or three years, and then she'd come
back and pass Momma's house and toot the horn; Momma would say,
"There's Zora." She'd be going up there in the wood house. That was
the sort of person she was.
N: So they'd stay off for a long time and then all of the sudden, "Poof!"
G: Come back home, and she'd stay up there and get in her bed and she'd
say, "You know, I come home for a rest!" She stay in bed and then
she'd come down to Momma's house and they'd all get out in the back-
yard and play croquet.
N: What is croquet?
G: It's this thing you take the ball and...
N: Oh, that's with the hammer-like thing?
G: Yes, that's croquet.
N: Was she any good at it?
G: Yes, she was good.
N: Did she ever play any other kind of games, checker, chess, or any-
thing like that?
G: No. She just played croquet. I never did see her play anything else
and we'd have Momma's yard full of people. They'd just come up
there to play croquet.
N: Was that a big game in Eatonville at the time?
G: It was a good game. Everybody loved to play croquet. I had said I
would get me a set for the yard, but I never did do it.
N: That's unusual for me, because I grew up in a community pretty much
like Eatonville, and I never knew that Afro-Americans played croquet.
G: Yes, they did.
N: But that was a big thing in Eatonville.
G: That was a big thing in Eatonville. Nobody tries it now; all these
people who live out here are new people. They aren't the old people.
The old people are almost dead. Now my mother died, my father died,
Mr. Sewell died, and his two sisters are dead. In my family [one
brother, two sisters] there's just two of us left. All these people
are just about died out. All these people around here are new
people. When I married, my husband's father had a place back over
there, and when they put the expressway through, we sold. They took
that land and put a lake there and we bought this place. I married
in 1936. There are really no old people, none of the older Zora
people; just about everyone is about dead.
N: I've heard everyone tell me that the people that she grew up with
are dead. What about in Sanford? Any people left in Sanford that
you know of?
G: I don't know. I know that she had a brother, but I don't know
whether he is still there or not.
N: Was there some connection between the fellow who is the president of
Bethune Cookman College and Zora Neale?
G: I don't know. I know that she had a brother in Sanford, but I didn't
ever know him. She was a nice person; when you got to know you, you
N: Now I understand that your mother went around with her--she knew her.
G: Yeah, she did.
N: Did you ever hear her say anything about Zora? Did she give you an
impression about her?
G: No, I never heard anything. What they did, Momma kept to herself;
she didn't tell me anything. I cannot say nothing about Miss Zora
because I didn't know anything.
N: She never told you about any story? Usually if people go around to-
gether you always have something funny that might have happened.
N: Nothing you remember?
G: No, nothing I remember about her. I saw one time in the paper they
said they were going to bring her body up here and put it out here
in the cemetery. And we were just hoping that they'd hurry up and
do it. I did want her body up here because she was old Eatonville.
N: Do you think that really she did Eatonville a favor in a sense that
she didn't add anything bad to Eatonville?
G: No, she didn't because she didn't know anything bad about Eatonville.
When all her people died, I wasn't born. That was in Momma's time.
So I didn't know anything about it. I know she had a play over at
N: I heard about that.
G: We had to go hear. There were a lot of young people in Eatonville
then, and quite a few of them were in that thing.
N: What was the play about?
G: I can't remember.
N: A lot of people go?
G: There were a lot; it was a full place. I can't remember what they
did, but it was a lot of fun. I was younger then, but I remember we
went there. I know that we went there.
N: So you know that she had a lot of young people involved in it.
N: It sounds like that when Zora would do things, that would tend to
bring a lot of life to the community, like the play and people would
fill up the yard for croquet.
G: People liked her. She'd go and have a lot of fun. She knew them
all by first names. They're all dead now. The people that really
knew her are all dead. Now, my cousin, Willie, we call him Sadie,
could tell you more about it than Lawrence could. Lawrence left and
went on up north and he's come back here in these late years. But
Sadie was her all the time.
N: Did he grow up with her?
G: Yes, he grew up with me, but he's about the last to say anything
about Zora. And he couldn't tell you too much about her, because
all he'd remember is her coming and playing croquet and writing.
She didn't come here and sit around the streets or nothing.
N: She sounds like she made a good contribution to Eatonville.
G: She did. She never did tell people it wasn't her home. She always
bragged on Eatonville being her home. Just like my cousin, she's
dead now, but she was going to school in Tallahassee and she told me,
"Don't tell people that I came from around here." Why not? That was
my home. I wasn't ashamed of my home. [laughter]
N: I wonder if a part of the complaint that people had was that they
didn't think she should say the things she said about Eatonville. I
will assure you that when I first talked to some people here, they
said they just didn't like the way Zora told about the people in
G: Well, she didn't lie about Eatonville. She told the truth. Now if
a lot of people like that you've talked to didn't live around here,
they weren't the people born around here, they came later to Eaton-
ville. I bet they didn't know nothing about it; they just heard
what somebody else said to them. I read the book and I didn't see
nothing bad, and the things that she said, they did those things.
Tillie and Bee, that was my momma and my daddy, used to laugh about
it. There wasn't nothing disgraceful about it and Eatonville was an
old town, and there wasn't nothing here but black people. All these
new people at Catalina, but there wasn't even a Catalina.
N: Those are those new housing developments?
G: That's right. Catalina in Lake Lovely. All that's new to Eatonville.
I think Ella Johnson's is the last house that they put down on the
lake because there wasn't nothing back down there. But the
Montgomery's and Ella's all lived on the lake down there.
N: You know you mentioned Ella. I remember Zora mentioned the Johnson
girls in one of her books; she'd always mention a Johnson girl. I
assumed that she was talking about Ella and Jarvie and Mary. That's
what she meant when she said the Johnson girls.
G: Right, Ella, Jarvie, and Mary--they were the Johnson girls.
N: They must have been out and about during that time. Were they very
active a lot?
G: Well, they weren't so active either. Ella first used to live right
across from the church in the white house. Mary thought that she was
better than everybody. [laughter] She always did. She thought she
was better than everybody. Jarvie was nice and Ella was nice. They
didn't meet on the street or nothing, but she'd see them around the
houses or something. But they didn't go out much.
N: It must have been a certain reputation that they had because Zora
would always say, "the Johnson girls," as though she was talking
about a different kind of girls. I am planning to ask Ella 'bout
this, too. I know she will have something to say about it. How did
the community see the Johnson girls?
G: I can't say nothing bad about the Johnson girls. Mary didn't have
nothing to do with nobody. She thought she was better than everybody.
You'd see the Johnson girls going to school. That's all and they be-
longed to my church.
N: Well she must have been talking about them as a good example then.
G: Well, I don't know how she was talking about them. I've known them
ever since they've been here, and I knew Ella and Jarvie and Mary.
But just like I said, Mary just thought that she was better than any-
N: Why do you think people might have complained about the way Zora
wrote about Eatonville? Could she have been in the category of one
that sort of hides Eatonville, and didn't want anyone to know any-
thing about Eatonville?
G: Uh huh.
N: You know kind of ashamed of...
G: I don't know who could be ashamed; I wasn't ashamed of Eatonville.
I was born here, and I knew everybody in Eatonville and I didn't
see'm do nothing that was wrong. There was a family called the
Jones; well, those boys were just bad boys. But everybody liked them.
If somebody made Jack mad he was ready to fight. Richard was the
same way. Richard was a policeman here. He never did bother nobody.
But, you see, somebody on the outside wouldn't like that. But it
didn't bother me. Jack did what he wanted to do, but that was his
business, he has got a wife and children, but he's dead now. I
didn't find nothing wrong with him.
N: During this time, and I don't think it happens so much now, when you
were around eight, nine, ten, eleven, and the time that Zora Neale
was back and forth, did the black community used to take overall care
of the children? If I was to grow up next door to you, and if your
mother saw me doing something wrong, she might whip me just as quick
G: That's right, that's right.
N: Now is that the way it was in Eatonville?
G: That's right. Now if somebody whipped me out there because I did
something wrong, I had better keep it to myself and don't say nothing
wrong, because Momma would whip me again for doing it. Zora was
teaching me how to type, and I was doing good. She went away and
when she came back I was married so I didn't try to type no more.
But other children used to go around and she used to give them typing
G: Yes, she would teach them to type.
G: Yes. And this one little girl took typing lessons and then Zora
left and went north and then Zora died. But other than that, she
didn't have no enemies around here. The things that she said about
Eatonville was the truth. When we would go over to Braswell's store
and get one big...
N: What was it like in the store?
G: They had everything on the shelf, all the way around. Flowers were
on this side, and shoes; just an old common place like that. And he
had a long old thing behind the counter, and a big old cash register
up there and they had these old Johnny cookies, great...
N: Oh yes! Johnny cookies, too. Did they have cooking cheese?
G: Yes. And we would pay a penny for a Johnny cookie. She talked
about the Johnny cookies in the book.
N: Right. Did you eat that combination of Johnny cookies with the
cheese on it?
G: Yes, that's right. And she was telling the truth; she didn't tell
no lies about Eatonville, because Eatonville was a little bitty town
and it just had two churches.
N: Which churches were they?
G: The Macedonian Church and St. Lawrence, and these sanctified churches,
now they came on after.
N: I got the impression from Zora's book that Mr. Braswell's was sort of
like a hang-out. Every community has a place where all of its men,
especially, go and sit around and tell lies and stuff like that.
G: After Mr. Braswell had his place, they didn't do that. Then they
opened this place down the street where the men would sit down out-
side and talk, and they still do that right now. You can go out
there and you'll see a group sitting around the porch; nothing has
changed like that.
N: But you said Mr. Braswell's place was one of the places that...
G: Some of the people. He was an old man, so none of the boys would
hang around there.
N: Where would all the young folks congregate?
G: Well, they didn't have no place like that, until they opened the
Tuxedo Junction. They could go down there, but up here they'd have
a little grocery store and they didn't...
N: What in the world did young people do?
G: There wasn't nothing to do.
N: You mean you'd just sit home at night and look at the stars?
G: That's all that you could do.
N: Is that right?
G: Yes, until they put in Tuxedo Junction. That's the first place
where people could go and drink beer and stuff. That was the first
N: Now tell me this: people have courted ever since mankind began.
When people courted during that time, where did they go?
G: Well, there wasn't no place to go, there just wasn't no place to go.
Well, unless they wanted to go to Winter Park or Orlando and just
ride around or go to the movie pictures, but that's all.
N: We are talking about way before my time. But I know when I was
younger out in the country, people used to walk up and down the
street; Sunday was a big time. You'd get dressed up and you'd walk
up and down the street. What did you do in Eatonville? When people
court they like to show off to each other to everybody. What did you
G: But they didn't do it. There weren't any places to go to. They had
one little beer garden on the corner and they'd sit down there a
while and then they'd go home. There just wasn't no place to go
around here. When they put Tuxedo Junction down there it was a little
old place on this side of the street. They'd go sit around there.
And they'd buy the beer and stuff, but people just don't drink much
N: When did Club Eaton come along?
G: I think Club Eaton came along when Tuxedo came. The man that built
Rainbow had a little place. That place is still down there now. On
this side of the street, that little green building.
N: Is that near the motel?
G: Yes. But not right next...
N: Across the street?
G: But not right next...
N: Right, um huh.
G: The man's name was Bowding. He had a beer garden in there. Well,
people would go in there and drink beer and then come and and then
they built the Rainbow and then Kirby or Billy built Club Eaton.
All those came up all at once.
N: How did all those places stay in Eatonville? Did people start
getting out more?
G: Well, the people up here didn't think nothing about going to the
Rainbow. See most the people up here were old people. There wasn't
no real young people up here at all. They didn't think about going.
I go to the Rainbow when I want, but the people that went to the
Rainbow were from Winter Park. All of them would come up and most of
the fights and things that happened were people from out of town.
It wouldn't be Eatonville people.
N: Is that right?
G: That's right.
N: I get the impression from you that weren't too many young people in
G: That's right.
N: What did young people do, leave Eatonville?
G: Got grown and married and just settled down. And just didn't go no-
where. Right now I'm the youngest one, and Sonny Suell, and my
sister. There's another one but he's moved to Winter Park. His
name is Harm Lester; he moved to Winter Park.
GL The young people up the street moved in here. All the people you
see hanging around these buildings is people who moved into Eaton-
ville, and built homes in Eatonville.
N: Which do you like the best: the old Eatonville or this Eatonville?
G: Well, I'm satisfied just like I am. I know that things will grow.
They're supposed to grow. If I wanted to go down to the Rainbow,
I'd drive the car and sit in the car and just look at the people
coming. And then I come on back home. I've seen all I want to see.
N: Well, you sound like a person that would really like Zora Neale.
That sounds like something she would do.
G: I did like her! I did like her!
N: That sounds like something she would do. Like you know just watch
people, study people. That's just the kind of person she was.
G: She was that sort of a person; she wasn't a bad person. She'd say
something about it. She'd study them. And if she wanted to write
about them, she'd just go and write about that person. This boy, Jack
Jones, he's dead now. Zora used to sit and talk to him because she
knew the Jones family. And she would sit and talk to him. Zora was
a nice person; there's just nothing I can say than that she was a
G: There are apartment houses there. Right down the street there's an-
other sanctified church. And go on around and there's another sanc-
tified church and I remember when there weren't more than two
churches in Eatonville.
N: So you said that Eatonville looks like it's grown about three times
[from what] it was when you were growing up at that time.
G: Yes, that's right.
N: It's a nice little city though.
G: It is.
N: Was there high crime in Eatonville during the time?
N: Did you have a police force during this time?
G: Yes, we had police. My father used to be a policeman. Rich Jones
he was a policeman, and there was another boy names James Montgomery,
he was a policeman, but they're all dead now. Even the head one,
Dave Riley, is dead. So, we got some new policemen up there now,
but I don't know 'em because I don't have to go up to Eatonville.
N: But what did the police do?
G: They were there when they needed them. Of course they didn't do
anything; there was no rottenness in this town. They had more
fusses and things down in the Rainbow than they have any place, and
the police would go down there. And sometimes they would have to
call the police from Maitland to come help them.
N: So you are saying that most of the fights would be brought in by
people from other places.
G: From other places, not Eatonville.
N: What about house robberies. I know like my mother-in-law has had
her house broken into about five or six times in about a year.
N: Did you have much of that during that time?
G: Well, nobody has ever broken in around here. So I didn't hear
about breaking in here.
N: What about during the time we are talking about?
G: We used to go out and not lock our houses.
N: I remember that time. Did you have the kind of locks? When I was
coming up, they had what they called a skeleton key.
N: You would know that you'd have a key to open every house in the city.
G: [laughter] Yes, that's right; they had those kind. Now I wouldn't
dare go out and leave my house unlocked.
N: Me neither.
G: I remember the time you could go to town and leave your house un-
locked. And nobody would go in it. But all these strange people
moved here; you know you better not leave nothing open.
N: Matter of fact, you aren't even safe locking it, are you?
G: That's right.
N: You said that Zora rented the house that she used for writing; you
said white people owned it. What was Zora's attitude towards white
G: Well, she got along good with white people, because sometimes, when
she was down, people would come down in their cars and see her. She
got along good with them. She never did have a bit of trouble. I
never did see her mad with anybody.'
N: Did knowing about slavery and what had happened, bother Zora? By
that I mean, did she ever seem to be angry because of what had hap-
pened with slavery?
G: No, she never talk about nothing like that. She did not mention
nothing like that. I didn't even think about that now myself. I
read about what slavery was, and I know about that thing, but it
doesn't bother me.
N: What about the attitude in Eatonville at that time? I know that as
the Winter Park built up around the railroad, a lot of people worked
in the railroad. So, there must have been a lot of bad racial exper-
iences that many people who worked on the railroad had. I would
imagine that Eatonville might have been some.
G: Well Eatonville didn't come in contact with that kind of stuff, be-
cause this is an all black town. That's one thing; they didn't let
no white people come and move in here.
N: Is that right?
G: That's right, this is an all black town. A white man had a place
here; he could rent it but he couldn't stay in it.
N: Is that right?
G: That's right.
N: Was this a town law?
G: Town law. And it is still like that right on.
N: So if you're white you can rent.
G: I don't know of white places around here now.
N: This is something all the people wanted?
G: They wanted to keep it black. And you know, Eatonville was even in
the geography. I was so glad to see Eatonville in the geography.
All black town.
N: Yes, I think it's about the last one left in the United States.
G: Um huh.
N: There used to be about three?
G: Eatonville has its own charter.
N: Yes, mayor and what have you.
G: That's right. The last chief of police they had here, some people
said that he resigned. My son told me, he said, "Mother, they told
me they fired him." I don't know if they did. But anyway, this
chief from Orlando wanted to come out here and put some white police-
men here, and they said no. So, they are doing alright. I don't
know if they got a new chief yet or not, but anyway it [is] still
N: Eatonville, trying to stay Eatonville.
G: Trying to stay Eatonville.
N: There is some talk now about making Eatonville a part of Orlando.
G: They couldn't do it. There is some talk they they want to turn it
over to Orange County, but they said no, Orange County does not
have a thing to do with it.
N: So the citizens out here know they have a good thing.
G: That's right and they are going to keep it.
N: Yes, that makes sense.
G: Everything was normal.
N: What about newspapers? Did they ever come around during that time?
N: How famous as she when you knew her? Had her name got big, like
now everybody knows Zora Neale?
G: Well, every now and then you'd see her name, or something written
about her in the paper, but other than that I didn't see or hear any-
thing about her.
N: During that time did the city of Eatonville ever give her an award?
N: How about a parade or something to say we appreciate you, Zora?
G: No. They did get to that. I know they just didn't think about it.
N: Didn't think about it.
G: But I imagine if they bring her body back, I'll bet they'll have a
big to-do about it. She sure loved Eatonville. And it was her
home; she was born here.
N: Were any of her other family members here during that time?
G: No, they were all dead. Just one brother that she had.
N: No, I'm talking about during the time that you were eight or nine.
G: No, they weren't here. She was the only one that I knew anything
N: What about fishing? Did Zora go for that?
G: Well, she did have a pole. She said she liked to fish.
N: Did you ever fish in that lake behind my mother-in-law's place?
G: I don't know if she did or not. I couldn't tell you that because
I don't know whether she did or not. But I know she said she liked
to fish. But I never did see her go fishing.
N: Sounds like Zora didn't have time to do too much.
G: No, she was going all the time. If she wasn't up there in that
little bed resting, she would be going someplace and sitting by her-
self somewhere typing. That's what she did all the time. She'd do
it by herself. But she was a nice person now.
N: What about in terms of giving advice?
G: Yes, she would have to because Momma's been gone now since '80.
N: Did you ever meet any of the people who would come to her for advice?
N: Now you were with her a lot. Most of the time old people always have
words of advice for younger people. Did Zora ever give you advice
about how to do this or...?
G: No, and she's known me all of my life.
N: How did you take it when you heard she was dead?
G: It hurt me. All my family around here knew it was a grave day. I
read in the paper and I just wished I could have had the money to go
down there. They were talking about bringing her body up here and I
hope they do. The other day, we were over by the cemetery. I said
I wish they would bring her back here and put her out here. That's
where she belongs. Then I said I wonder where her brother was; he
could have brought her body over here. But I didn't know him so I
didn't know where to go look for him.
N: Stories have it that she died in pretty bad circumstances down there.
G: Yes. That's what the paper said.
N: Yes, she died in pretty bad circumstances.
G: Yes, but see, I didn't know that.
N: Well, I imagine when you learned about it, that sort of hurt you
too, didn't it?
G: Yes, it did, but she was down here with white people.
G: That's just what I tell you. She was real friendly with the white
people. And everybody treated her nice. But I didn't know about
N: I wonder if she ever thought about coming back to Eatonville or
would it be a disappointment. A lot of times at the end of a per-
son's life, they sometimes start moving back towards where they were
born and raised. I wonder if she ever gave thought to that?
G: I don't know.
N: Do you think she would have gotten a warm welcome if she'd have
come back during that time?
G: Yes, she would have found one. I know she would have. But just like
I said, there wasn't nobody to hate her; all that knew her, loved
her. And I don't know nobody that didn't like her. But whoever was
talking to you, I wish I knew so I could go tell them about their
lying. I would sure do it. [laughter] I know that Miss Zora
didn't hurt nobody, she never did. And I know that for a fact.
N: Did she ever send you copies of her books?
G: No. No, I had one of her books, and she gave that to me. But some-
body stole it, I don't know who stole my book.
N: Did she autograph it or just gave it to you?
G: Just put her name on it.
N: That would have been a collector's item; I wish you would had kept
G: And somebody told me that there are some in the library in Winter
Park, but I never did take time to go see.
N: I know there's lot of concern about Zora Neale. People want to
organize programs around her, and her books are becoming famous in
the University. They have a display of her.
G: Well, I would like to see some of it. I know it would make me
proud of her, because she was a nice person.
N: You've seen the building they've named in Orlando after her.
G: Yes. Named it after her. Everybody around here was pretty pleased
N: Have you had a chance to go to it?
G: No, I haven't had a chance to go to it.
N: But you've seen it.
G: Yes. I have seen it. But see my son has been sick and I don't
like to go too far from him.
N: Can you remember any funny situations that occurred while you knew
G: No. I've never seen her do anything.
N: What about jokes? Did she have a sense of humor?
G: Well, she did have a sense of humor. She'd tell jokes; it's been so
long I forget those things.
N: Did she tell you any stories?
G: No, she never did. The only thing I knew about what she would like
to do is get up and come down to our house in a pair of old pants
and play croquet. She'd do that. She [would] say all right children
let's go. And they'd go out there and play. And they'd stay out
there all day long and then she'd come to our house and say, "Hey,
you all make a little lemonade; we've got to have something to
drink because it's hot out here." And we'd make lemonade and carry
it out and we'd play croquet. That was a day when she was here.
N: Was she a big eater?
G: No. She didn't eat much.
N: What were some of her favorite foods?
G: Well, she'd cook ham and things like that. Baked beans, that was a
N: How about corn bread?
G: Corn bread and collard greens. She'd like that. Sometimes when
she'd come down to Momma's, Momma would cook for her. "Tell me what
you got for dinner." Momma would say, "I got some beans and so and
so and so." Zora would say, "Fix me a plate." Then she'd eat some
and go on back and play croquet. She'd take that collard vegetable.
I can remember her just like it was just yesterday. She had that
little old green car. [laughter]
N: What kind was it? Was it in good shape?
G: Little Chevrolet.
N: Was it in good shape?
G: Neat and clean. She kept it clean.
N: Runs good?
N: Was she a good driver?
G: Yes, she really could drive.
N: Safe driver?
N: You surely paint a pretty good picture of her.
G: Well, she was that sort of person. If anybody else tells you any-
thing different, they'd be lying. She didn't go nowhere around
these people. We all lived back up that end of town. And these east
N: Are they...
G: Yes, and all these her are new people in here. All new, all the way
N: It looks like we are going to get a little cool weather again.
G: It might. But, you know, this is the funniest February I've seen.
It wasn't cold in December to me.
N: No, it wasn't.
G: It wasn't really.
N: What time did Miss Zora usually come down? Did she have a particular
time she would drop in?
G: No. She'd just come around anytime.
N: [Did] she ever show any preference to weather? Did it seem like
she liked cold weather better?
G: No, she didn't. She just didn't worry about nothing.
N: What ever came was good...
G: That was good by her.
N: If they moved her body here, and reburied her, and if they asked you
to give them some words to write on her tombstone, what do you think
you would put on her tombstone?
G: Well, let's see. It'd say, "Zora Neale Hurston, a good friend."
Now she was a good friend, I have known her all my life. Since I
was big enough to know who she was, she was always a good person to
me. I don't think I could say anything about her, I couldn't say
nothing because I'd be lying if I'd say something mean about her.
N: Well, Mrs. Grant, I certainly have enjoyed the conversation.
G: Well, I haven't had nobody to talk to about her, but she was a nice
person. And you can remember that she was a nice person. Just like
I say my cousin, Sadie Sewell, now he couldn't tell you nothing but
that she was a nice person because he don't know nothing bad about
her. She had two nieces that came here and they married to two
brothers. Well, one sister, her name was Wilhemina and she married
a John T. Hamilton. Well, Willa's dead and he's dead. The other
girl, her name was Winfred and she married Homer Hamilton, and Homer
was so mean to her that she left and went back to Tennessee. She
divorced him. So, she used to write me, but I haven't heard from
her for quite some time now.
N: Well, Zora got married too once, didn't she?
G: If she did I didn't know nothing about it.
N: I remember hearing that she got married, and that she and her hus-
band didn't quite make it. I think that her husband said that
because of Zora's career, they didn't make it. I think he was a
doctor or something.
G: Well, I didn't know about it. She might have married, but I didn't
know anything about it.
N: It might have been.
G: Every time I saw her she was by herself.
N: What about girlfriends? She never traveled with girlfriends or any-
thing like that, just by herself.
G: Yes, she was by herself. She never did bring anybody with her.
N: When she was ready to come over, did she just pack herself up and go?
G: Just pack up and go.
N: Just like she came.
N: Sounds like quite a person.
G: She was.
N: It's amazing how a person that has some fame, a lot of times people
will just try to make bad talk about. Everything you told me is
G: Well, because I knew her. If people tell you something they are
lying, because it couldn't be true, because I knew her.
N: Well Mrs. Grant I'm going to leave. I thank you very much.
G: Well, you are certainly welcome.