Florida Town Established By Former Slaves Now Fights For ‘Sacred Land’ In Eatonville, Florida

Florida Town Established By Former Slaves Now Fights For ‘Sacred Land’ In Eatonville, Florida

Although Florida leaders are trying to erase Black history, residents of a small town are coming for what’s theirs.

Descendants of Eatonville, Florida, are fighting over what they call “sacred land.” CBS News reports the town was founded in 1887 by Joe Clark. Enslaved African Americans found themselves in Florida shortly after the Civil War looking for work. They were met by white landowners who refused to sell until Clark changed the minds of two from the North to make plots available for sale.

Those plots became Eatonville, one of the first Black incorporated towns.

History repeats itself. Landscape architect Everett Fly says there was lots of resistance to selling the land from neighboring communities. “There was a lot of resistance from the surrounding communities,” Fly said. “Because if they could incorporate, that meant that they could vote. They could have their own law enforcement. They could manage their own business.” The town wants to add prime real estate to the area to help it escape financial ruin. The land in question holds 100 acres near downtown Orlando and Disney, valued at over $20 million as of 2019.

Growth depends on who wins the fight over this land, which the town doesn’t own. The land was donated to a trust operated by the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, a private boarding school built to provide vocational education to Black students in the segregated South. The land, 300 acres, was later sold to the Orange County School System for about $16,000 with the land use restriction in place. Over the years, the school system sold parcels of the land for nearly $8 million while decreasing the acres required for educating Black children to zero.

The struggling town’s average income is around $27,000, and it is a food desert with no supermarket or gas station. According to WINK News, Family Dollar is the only store in town. The largest revenue generator is The Zora! Festival, in honor of writer Zora Neale Hurston, who was born in Eatonville. Created by N.Y. Nathiri, a third-generation resident, the festival brought in nearly 50,000 people pre-COVID. Nathiri says the land is “sacred.” “As a small community of 2,500, it’s sitting on the largest undeveloped parcel of land in Orange County,” Nathiri said. “It’s sitting in a very sweet position geographically.”

The remaining 100 acres are scheduled for sale on March 31 to a developer for $14 million. The only recourse for the defendants on what gets built is through its zoning and planning… and possibly a lawsuit.