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SPLC and P.E.C. Support Historic Eatonville as Proposed Location for African American History Museum

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC); N.Y. Nathiri, director of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.); and Bea Leach Hatler, descendent of Robert F. Hungerford, announced support for the Town of Eatonville, Florida, to be considered for the proposed Florida Museum of African American History. If selected, Eatonville would lease a ten-acre parcel of the Robert F. Hungerford Property from the Orange County School Board. 
“SPLC and plaintiffs, the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, and Hungerford descendent Bea Hatler, support the application to the State of Florida’s Museum of Black History Task Force from the Town of Eatonville,” said Kirsten Anderson, SPLC deputy legal director for Economic Justice. “The P.E.C. and Mrs. Hatler are in agreement with the proposed use of 10 acres of the Robert Hungerford Property for the purposes of the Museum, which they believe is consistent with the 1951 deed restriction requiring that the land be used for educational purposes. Although there is current litigation, and the suit is ongoing, it does not and will not stand in the way of a proposed museum.”  

In March 2023, SPLC filed a lawsuit against the Orange County School Board, related to the intended sale of the Hungerford property. 
“It is our position that Eatonville’s African American History Museum proposal would be consistent with the original intent of the donors of the land,” said Anderson. “Those donors included Edward C. and Anna D. Hungerford—Ms. Hatler’s ancestors—who intended the land be used for the benefit of the Town and the education of its children.” 

The lawsuit asks the Court to answer two important questions about the Hungerford property. One, is the 1951 deed restriction requiring the Hungerford property to be used for educational purposes still in effect? Two, has the school board followed the required procedures under state law to allow it to dispose of the Hungerford property?  

In November 2023, Judge Vincent Falcone III issued a preliminary 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 ongoing litigation by the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community Inc. was filed by the SPLC to protect the community due to a massive commercial redevelopment of the historic Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School property.  

“We are similarly committed to a satisfactory resolution as to the remaining acreage of the Hungerford Property owned by the Orange County School Board,” continued Anderson. “Our objective is to find a way forward for the remaining acreage of the Hungerford Property to be returned to the control of the community of Eatonville so that it can be used in a way that honors its history and safeguards the future of this community of national importance. Our mutual support of this museum is a meaningful step forward.”