BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
EATONVILLE - Eatonville has a birthday. All of Central Florida is invited to celebrate the birthday of this historic Black town, which is listed as the oldest Black township in the United States. With a strong population of two thousand residents and three historic churches, the town is filled with artifacts and monuments.
Among its matriarchs are author Zora Neale Hurston, who used the town as the setting for many of her stories on late nineteenth to early twentieth century Black life. Her father, John Hurston, served as Eatonville’s Mayor in 1897.
Acclaimed NFL great David “Deacon” Jones hailed from Eatonville. Often coupled with Rosewood, Eatonville has a storied history.
The town was founded by two Union officers, Captain Josiah Eaton and Captain Lewis Lawrence.
At the period in time, there many indigenous Blacks which populated Central Florida, in particular, members of the Seminole and Cherokee nation.
The two Union officers developed land around Lake Maitland, founding the City of Maitland in the process, which was too populated by indigenous Blacks of the Tsimshia nation.
As Maitland expanded, many Blacks were included in the town’s political process. Tony Taylor, a Black man, was elected as the town’s first mayor. Another Black man, Joe Clarke, was elected town marshall.
The latter envisioned an all-Black town and made it happen. He discussed the idea with Captain Eaton and Captain Lawrence, both of which supported the idea. After a year of planning, Eaton and Lawrence bought a parcel of land adjacent to Maitland and built a church and hall, for general assembly. Shortly thereafter, in August of 1887, the town of Eatonville received its charter of incorporation from Tallahassee.
Earlier this year the town of Eatonville convened with its fortieth Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade celebration on Feb.18, 2017.Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and wife, Congresswoman Val Demings were parade Grand Marshalls, in the festivities which also honored fallen officers, Master Sergeant Deborah Clayton and officer Norman Hutchins.
“Our goal is to make Eatonville a household name nationwide by honoring our history and promoting our legacy.” Said Mayor Eddie Cole. Cole, a longtime Eatonville resident, has served as Mayor since 2016, and prior served as town councilman for the town’s Seat 3, a position he held since 1990.
During his time as an elected official in the all Black town, Cole has witnessed the following changes:
•Funding for senior-activities with a weekly gathering space for Eatonville's senior citizens
•Citizen involvement initiative whereby citizens can offer comments, suggestions and report community observations need to be considered and addressed
•New Town Charter Adopted
•Continued Improvement to Town's Infrastructure systems (i.e. water/sewer, improved streets, lighting, traffic signs/regulations)
•Safer streets due to the installation of speed bumps and "Children at Play" signs
•Established the Mayor's Community Advisory Committee
•Established Code Enforcement Board
•Secured future community developments with Host Dime and UP Development
•Re-established the monthly Community Newsletter, "Eatonville Speaks"
•Awarded several grant resources to assist Eatonville Police Department, Grant Writing and Project Coordinating services, improvement of local parks within Eatonville, and conduct water and sewer infrastructure research
•Secured through Duke Energy the pending installation of LED lighting throughout the Town
•Eatonville being recognized as 2017 Healthy Weight Community Champion
•The establishment of the Healthy Eatonville Place through Winter Health Foundation and Healthy Central Florida
Eatonville also has a significant recent history, such a new gateway to the Town, WESH channel 2’s production office move to Eatonville, the opening of Eatonville's Library, the closing of Hungerford Prep High School and the closing of Alcohol establishments/sells at 2: 00 a.m. (versus 4:00 a.m.)
For as long as the residents will have him as Mayor, Cole plans to promote newer corporate partnerships with Eatonville and establish a new Hungeford Prep which will allocate STEM opportunities for students.
Recognized as one of the oldest African American municipalities in America, The Historic Town of Eatonville is kicking off its 130th Anniversary Founder’s Day Celebration. The anniversary theme, Eatonville Renaissance: The Rebirth, is a movement to celebrate Eatonville’s past, present, and promising future.
The Anniversary weekend will commence on August 18 with a legacy reception with local dignitaries, a Unity in the Community Celebration on August 19th featuring a crafts market, food, music, free giveaways, bounce house, video game trucks and much more. In celebration of arts and culture, the Town will launch a Town Hall Arts Exhibit: Eatonville Proud featuring artwork of local African-American artists and Eatonville residents. Included in the exhibit will be an iconic sculpture from Bronze Kingdom that will be placed at Eatonville’s Town Hall. Bronze Kingdom holds the largest collection of rare African bronze sculptures in the world. The sculpture will be unveiled at the legacy reception on August 18th.
The 130th Anniversary kickoff weekend is only the beginning of Eatonville’s strategic re-branding initiative ignited by a new leadership team to ensure the Town provides a wonderful experience for all who live, visit, and work within Historic Eatonville. The Town will celebrate the entire anniversary year with monthly community events. The town’s new efforts will focus around four key pillars for strategic growth including arts and culture, economic development, technology, and community engagement.
130th Anniversary Kickoff Legacy Reception on Friday, August 18, 2017 at 7:00pm - 9:30pm
Orlando Mini Car Dealership, 350 S Lake Destiny Road, Orlando, FL 32810
• Dignitary Cocktail reception with prominent elected officials, community leaders, and corporate sponsors with brief programming to honor (4) four local residents. Eatonville will also unveil an iconic sculpture that will be placed on Town Hall. The reception is closed to the public and INVITE ONLY.
130th Anniversary Kickoff Legacy Reception on Saturday August, 19 at 10:00am - 12:00pm
Eatonville Town Hall, 307 E. Kennedy Blvd, Eatonville, FL 32751
• Volunteers will spend time beautifying the front of Town Hall by planting new flowers, mulching, and painting.
130th Anniversary Community Celebration on August 19, 2017 at 12:00pm - 3:00pm
Hungerford Field, 100 E Kennedy Blvd, Eatonville, FL 32751
• Saturday’s Eatonville Community Celebration will feature community-wide beautification projects touching up Kennedy Blvd. Following the service projects, the community celebration will be begin at 12 pm on Hungerford Field. The public is welcome to enjoy a crafts and culture market featuring artisan vendors, live dance performances, music, food trucks including 4Rivers, and free health screenings. The event will also feature free youth activities including an exciting video game truck, bounce house, backpack giveaways, and free fish dinners to the first 200 families.
“I am so excited to celebrate such a wonderful occasion,” said Mayor Eddie Cole. “During the time of post slavery, many small Black settlements were burned down to the ground. Eatonville survived and that is something to be thankful for.”