Circuit Court Judge Vincent Falcone declined to throw out complaint from the P.E.C. that would uphold deed restriction requiring Orange County Public Schools to use Hungerford property for educational purposes
ORLANDO, Fla. — Judge Vincent Falcone III issued a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in the case of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community v. The School Board of Orange County, Florida. The litigation by the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community Inc. (P.E.C.) was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to protect the community of Eatonville when it was being threatened by a massive commercial redevelopment of the historic Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School property.
Eatonville is one of the first American towns incorporated by newly emancipated Black people. Once home to renowned Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston, the state court lawsuit seeks to ensure that the land continues to be used for educational and related purposes that benefit the community.
“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling that our lawsuit is allowed to proceed,” said N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. “This decision ensures that we will have our day in court. Eatonville is a precious part of our country’s history. We believe that residents, not the Orange County Public School Board, are best able to determine how our land should be used.”
In July 2023, the SPLC filed an amended complaint to include an additional plaintiff, Bea Hatler, a direct descendent of Robert Hungerford whose family donated the initial 160 acres for the establishment of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, the first school in Central Florida for the education of Black children.
“The court’s decision today allows the case to move forward,” said Kirsten Anderson, SPLC Deputy Legal Director and counsel for the P.E.C. “We are seeking to ensure that the School Board meets its obligations to safeguard the land for educational purposes.”
The historic Robert Hungerford Preparatory School property is the former site of a school for Black children established by leaders of Eatonville with the assistance of Booker T. Washington in 1897 on about 300 acres. Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), the property's current owner, had planned to sell most of the remaining 100 acres of the land to a private developer for the purpose of building a mixed-use residential/commercial development. After sustained and vigorous community opposition, the developer terminated the agreement to purchase the land in March of this year. OCPS has not yet made a decision about the future use of the property.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.