Just over 2,000 people call Eatonville home and they have either relocated from other areas or they have been there their whole lives. The town is actually one of the earliest incorporated black towns in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. The town gets its name from Captain Josiah Eaton, a Union Army Captain.
Eaton wasn’t actually a founder of Eatonville, but he did own the land that the town would later spring up on. He sold the land to some African American men that wanted to move there and use the land to start their own city.
For years Eatonville thrived in the arts, music, and literature. The Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School opened in 1897. For many years, that school was the most important in the entire state for African Americans. In fact, the city became a cultural center of Florida for African Americans, much like Harlem did in New York City.
Parents would relocate to the city from all over the state simply so their children could attend the outstanding black school. But the school isn’t the town’s only claim to fame. The town is well known for being an arts, literature, and cultural center that gave us the likes of Zora Neale Hurston.
– Lance Grooms