Eatonville, Florida, the first town organized, governed and incorporated by African Americans, will mark its 130th anniversary with a celebration on Saturday and Sunday that will include a town cleanup and a ceremony to honor its citizen’s longest-lasting marriages.
Mayor Eddie Cole said during a television interview the town also will unveil a statue honoring Eatonville. He declined to provide details about the statue.
The town of 2300 was incorporated on August 15, 1887, after Lewis Lawrence, a northern philanthropist, and Josiah Eaton, a local landowner, and Joe Clarks and an unknown number of others purchased 112 acres land for the town, which is in central Florida’s Orange County.
Clarks first came up with the idea to buy land to build an all-black town but he had been unsuccessful in purchasing the needed property. It was Lawrence’s idea to name the town after Eaton, according to the “Town of Eaton: Beginning History.”
On August 15, 1887, 27 electors met at the town hall to elect Columbus H. Boger, mayor, and Joe Clarks, Matthew Brazell, David Yelder and E.J. Shines aldermen.
In its early days, Eatonville boasted a church, school and family homes. Eatonville’s first institution was the Methodist Church, which is known today as the St. Lawrence African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The second institution was the Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, founded in 1889 by Russell C. and Mary Clinton Calhoun. The two moved to Eatonville and founded the school after attending Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University.
The school is named after Robert Hungerford, a white physician from nearby Maitland, Florida, who taught black men how to read and write.
It became the destination for African Americans seeking an education beyond primary school. Students lived on campus to take classes in cooking, housekeeping, blacksmithing, farming and other subjects.
Two of Eatonville’s most famous former residents are David “Deacon” Jones, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive
end who played for several teams, including the Los Angeles Rams. During his NFL career, Jones was called the “Secretary of Defense.”
Novelist Zora Neale Hurston, author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” is Eatonville’s most-famous resident. The novel is set in Eatonville.
Each January, Eatonville hosts The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of Arts and Humanities. In 1990, the town founded The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts.