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A timeline of events in Eatonville, Florida

1887

Eatonville is established during Reconstruction by newly emancipated African Americans with the motto, “The Town That Freedom Built.”

1897

The Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School is established on donated land after Black leaders of the town petition Booker T. Washington to assist them in starting a school. The school becomes a backbone of the community.

1937

Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel by Zora Neale Hurston, who grew up in Eatonville, is published.

1940s

State officials in Florida begin providing public education to Black children across the state.

Historic map of Eatonville Florida
The Hungerford property in Eatonville, Florida, in the 1940s. In 1951, the school district of Orange County, Florida, where Eatonville is located, bought the school property from the Black-run trust that owned it, under the condition that the school would be used to educate Black children. (Courtesy of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community)

1951

The school district of Orange County, Florida, where Eatonville is located, buys the school property from the trust that owned it under the condition that the school would be used to educate Black children. The sale goes forward despite the objection of an heir of one of the original donors of the Hungerford property, who contests the sale all the way to the Florida Supreme Court as a violation of the original purpose of the trust. The school district later demolishes the historic buildings of the original school and builds a public school on the land.

1974

After a new interstate highway bisects the Hungerford property, the school district opts to sell off the section on one side of the highway. To do so, the school district wins permission from the courts to dissolve the restriction on that section mandating the use of the property as a school for Black children. The remaining part of the property, where Hungerford High School continued to operate, retained the restriction.

1975

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, pens an essay about her search for Zora Neale Hurston, whose stories had gone out of print following her death in 1960. Walker discovers Hurston’s unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1973 and purchases a headstone inscribed with the words “A Genius of the South.”

1990

The first Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, also known as ZORA! Festival, is held in January to celebrate African American history and culture. The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts is established by the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. The museum holds its first exhibit in July of this year.

2009

The school district closes Hungerford High School (there is still a Hungerford Elementary School) and district officials begin eyeing the land for possible sale.

2011

Eatonville sues the school district and successor trustees of the Hungerford trust to release the deed restriction.

In the complaint, Eatonville argues that the balance of the property is best suited for commercial development and that it is seeking to purchase the land from the school district for development. But according to the complaint, the deed restriction prohibits such a sale, and Eatonville needs the restriction released to increase its “ad valorem tax base and provide health and safety services to its citizens.”

2016

The trustees, the Town of Eatonville and the Orange County Public Schools enter into a settlement agreement, amended in this year, in which the school district agrees to pay $1 million to the Robert Hungerford Chapel Trust for the release of the deed restriction, with payment required no later than Monday, Jan. 16, 2017.

2019

The school district and Eatonville enter into various sales contracts, most recently from this year, in which the school district, upon selecting a developer, would sell the land to Eatonville in exchange for $10 million plus reimbursement of other costs. Notably, under the agreement, Eatonville would owe the school district the $1 million that the school district agreed to pay the Hungerford Chapel trustees in exchange for releasing the deed restriction.

2020

The school district demolishes the high school with little notice to the community.

2021

The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts is awarded a $50,000 grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

2022

June 8: The deed release is executed, removing the restriction from the Hungerford property that provided it was only to be used for the education of Black children. A purchase and sale agreement is in place, with a proposed sale on Oct. 26 to a group of developers. The school district votes to extend the closing date for an additional 90 days to allow time to secure required land use entitlements from the Town of Eatonville.

September: The town votes on zoning and comprehensive plan changes to facilitate the sale at a first hearing in this month. Two hearings are required under Florida law. The mayor of the town, along with the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, partner to host a series of community meetings about the proposed sale and development of the Hungerford property, including the requested zoning and comprehensive plan changes.

November 29: The last community meeting on the project is held.

2023

February 7: The Town Council of Eatonville holds the second hearing on the zoning and comprehensive plan changes for the Hungerford property, with more than a dozen community members offering comments. Reversing course from its September vote, the council votes to reject the proposed zoning and comprehensive plan changes.

March 24: The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community Inc. sues the school board of Orange County Public Schools in Florida state court to ensure that the Hungerford property continues to be used for educational and related purposes that benefit the community. The Southern Poverty Law Center represents the association in its suit.

March 31: The private developer seeking to build on the historic Hungerford property elects to terminate the sales contract on the property. While the contract between Orange County Public Schools and the developer has been terminated, the school district still owns the land. The action by the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community Inc. remains pending in court.

Picture at Top: The Hungerford property in Eatonville, Florida, in the 1940s. (Courtesy of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community)


Read more about the effort to preserve Black history in Eatonville, Florida: