Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford's "ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny." Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel was initially poorly received for its rejection of racial uplift literary prescriptions. Today, it has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women's literature. TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
African Americans like Hurston grew up in a hostile economic, political, and social climate. White Democrats had regained power in the South in the late 19th century through violence and intimidation around elections; once in power, they passed Jim Crow laws and, from 1890 to 1910, passed new constitutions and laws that disfranchised most blacks. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized blacks, leading to the steady decline of African-American political representation. In 1900, African-American Congressman George Henry White introduced an anti-lynching bill to the Judiciary Committee. It was defeated by a large majority, led by southern Democrats. Congressman White was the last African-American congressman to serve for more than a quarter of a century.