I received a couple of kind emails from readers who reached out to say that they appreciated my post about the false child molestation charges leveled against Zora Neale Hurston in the 1940s. One person asked if I could share the letter (written to her friends Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff) referenced in my original post. It’s taken a couple of weeks for me to get to this because the letter is fairly long and I couldn’t find the time to re-type it. Well today, I present the letter transcribed as it appears in Carla Kaplan’s book “Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters.” If you didn’t read the original post, it’s a good idea to read it before the letter for some context.
[October 30, 1948 — library dated]
974 Ca[u]ldwell Ave
New York City.
Dear Carl and Fania:
No, you by no means invaded my privacy. A dozen times since this horror struck me, I have crept to the phone to talk about it with you, but the horror and the loathing of the filth that had been spewed upon me was so great and so unbelievable, that I could not bring myself to take it in my mouth.
The thing is too fantastic, too evil, too far from reality for me to conceive of it. I am charged with meeting this boy at 4:30 every Saturday afternoon in the basement of a house where I have never been and in company with two other adults whom I have never seen. This was said to be going on for more than a year, the very time when I was in Honduras. In spite of the fact that the woman who is doing this lying knows that I was not in the U.S. because I went from her apartment to Honduras. I laughed when Alexander Miller, [of] the SPCC (Children’s Society) told me that. Then he said, with a look of disappointment on his face, “Oh, but I understood differently.” I urged him to make an investigation of the matter, even give me a lie-detector test, but he brushed it aside. Then he went out into the room where the boy was, and came back to me and said, “but the boys say that it has been going on since then. You say that you returned in the Spring. William says that you have been meeting him early in August.” I laughed at that too, and said that I was not in New York City early in August. I was upstate, and could not have returned earlier than the middle of the month. “Oh maybe he could be off a week in his dates,” Miller countered. When [t]he hearing came, I found that he had fixed the date, the ONLY positive one as August 15th of this year. Then the horror took me, for I saw that he was not seeking truth, but to make his charges stick. Horror of disbelief took me. I could not believe that a thing like that could be happening in the United States and least of all to me. It just could not be true! I must be having a nightmare.
One inconceivable horror after another swept over me. I went out of myself, I am sure, though no one seemed to notice. It seemed that every hour some other terror assailed me, the last being the AFRO AMERICAN sluice of filth. You should know that a Negro who works down in the courts secured the matter and went around peddling it to papers. That is the blow that knocked me loose from all that I have ever looked to and cherished. Louis Waldman, my lawyer, assures me that the thing is so patently false, that I will have an excellent chance to sue both the Children’s Society and the paper.
But listen, Carl and Fania; I care nothing for anything anymore. My country has failed me utterly. My race has seen fit to destroy me without reason, and with the vilest tools conceived of by man so far. A Society, eminently Christian, and supposedly devoted to super-decency has gone so far from it’s announced purpose, not to protect children, but to exploit the gruesome fancies of a pathological case and do this thing to human decency. Please do not forget that this thing was not done in the South, but in the so-called liberal North. Where shall I look in this country for justice?
This has happened to me, who has always believed in the essential and eventual rightness of my country. I have been on my own since I was fourteen, scuffling my way through high school and college, and as you know, I have never lived an easy life, but struggled on and on to achieve my ideals. I have believed in America; I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith. They talk of Russia and Madam Kasenkina, but even Russia has never done a thing so foul.
124th St. is in a state of horror over the thing because they know tha it is not true. I find that various simple people have been running around trying to make themselves heard by officialdom, but they have no force, being ordinary colored people. The officials have stuck their necks out, Waldman says, and must try to make good on it, knowing the consequences, that is, if they fail, which they must. Two women of that 400 block hunted me up to express their indignation, and to tell me that this Mayme Allen, was in love with a man, (married) whom she has been living with, and that he did not want the boy around, and that she had been trying for months to get him in some boarding school. He could not be placed because he is a mental defective. Then she began to seek some way to put him in an institution. She is quoted by Mrs. David and Mrs. Ryan as saying that she saw her chance when one boy named Robert yelled across the street and called her william a fairy. She began to watch and a few days la[t]er, caught her son and a boy named Jerry [Whaley – co-complainant] in the act. She runs to the Children’s Society, but then, she does not wish to portray her son as a bad boy. He has been sinned against, not sinned himself, so she manufactures this horrible tale involving me, a man in the block named Rufus Cursair, a Puerto Rican woman who is married and keeps a candy store on La Salle St, and is the mother of four children [Aracelia Irazarry — not indicted in the case], saying that we all met this son of hers at 445 W 124th St. at 4:30 every Sat P.M. and all of us went with the boy. AND IN THE COAL BIN! And all being present and participating at the same time. I have never seen any of these people, and they do not know me even by sight. It seems to me that if the Society really wanted to protect children, they would have made some sort of investigation of the home and background of the boy. They did not know until I told them that I had urged the mother to take the boy to Bellevue back in the winter of 1946-47 for observation and treatment. The mother is herself a defective, and would not take the boy but a few times, stopping the observation, and trying to deceive me by telling me the doctors there said that William was of extraordinary intelligence, a prodigy, no less. So faced with the result of her foolishness, and wanting to be rid of William, this has come about. The Society now hates to admit that it has been victimized by a mental defective, and is passing the buck by saying that it is up to the D.A. They have committed the foulest crime of the century. For leaving the havoc that they have wrought upon me as a public figure, think of what happens to that mother of four children, that poor building Supt. who is lying in jail because he cannot make bail and his job gone and his name ruined. What real estate agent will hire this poor man after this? AND I SWEAR TO YOU BY ALL I HOLD SACRED THAT NOT ONE WORD OF THIS VILE CHARGE IS TRUE. I INVITE YOU, BECAUSE I VALUE YOUR TRUST, TO ASK QUESTIONS AND INVESTIGATE TO TEST MY INNOCENCE. DO THIS FOR THE SAKE OF MY MEMORY.
All that I have ever tried to [do, all — x ed out] do has proved useless. All that I believed in has failed me. I have resolved to die. It will take a few days for me to set my affairs in order, and then I will go.
I thank you and Fania for your kindness. I had a word with Fanny Hurst too, and both touched me deeply. A similar note from Mary Margaret McBride, though she did not mention it. Such tokens have held back this resolution for five days. But no acquital will persuade some people that I am innocent. I feel hurled down a filthy privy hole.
Most devotedly yours,
Zora Neale Hurston