Eatonville and Zora Neale Hurston

By Rachel Gonzalez, Sarah Clark, and Krista Rodden

Eatonville Town Hall

History of Eatonville

• On August 15, 1887, 27 registered voters—all black men—met in a building they called Town Hall and voted unanimously to incorporate the town. Eatonville was born and history was made.
• Founded in 1886 by John Clarke.
• First all-black community in the United States.
• Blacks could hold offices and positions of authority.
• Founded by ex-slaves and their families.
• John Hurston helped to form the laws in Eatonville and also held the position of mayor three times.
• Eatonville was one of many established race colonies.
• It was centered on education and religion.
• Many of the people in Eatonville really enjoyed storytelling, which ended up influencing Hurston.

History of Eatonville Schools

• Hungerford was the first school for negroes in Eatonville founded in 1889.
• Students were taught set goals and to and to work toward achievement.
• Russel C. Calhoun and his wife, Mary, founded the school. They attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and arrived in Eatonville in 1888. They wanted to start a school just for negro boys and girls. At first, there was only one student, whom they taught basic academic subjects and home economics. They funded the school by farming on the land that was later used to build the school.
• In addition to academics, the students also tended to the crops, maintained the buildings, prepared their meals, and began learning a trade. Vocational training was a large part of the education.
• Edward C. Hungerford, Mary Brown, Booker T. Washington, and George B. Cleutt all donated to help support the Hungerford school.
• In 1905, the campus was made up of 300 acres and ten buildings.
• There were dormitories on campus for girls, boys, and teachers since people would come from all over Florida to attend the school.
• In 1931, the school was almost shut down; however, thanks to Captain L. E. Hall it was saved and restored.
• John and Lillian Hall ran the school starting 1940. They both attended Rust College in Mississippi
• Many of the buildings had issues and were falling apart, which cost the school a lot of money to repair.
• Around 1945, college prep classes were added to the curriculum.
• In 1950, the school was turned over to the Orange County Public School System.
• In 1951, there were many new additions, including an elementary school.
• The school was named one of the top schools in Florida—Hungerford excelled academically, vocationally, and athletically.
• The majority of students went on to college and graduated with degrees for high-paying jobs.
• The students were encouraged to “go forth and serve.” They did countless community service and outreach activities.
• In 1967, the school was changed into an alternative school to provide vocational training and career education for non-college-bound students. Local citizens began to send their children outside the community to traditional high schools. The local residents no longer had ties because the student body was now made up of students from other communities who returned home at the end of the school day.

Zora Neale Hurston

• Born on January 7, 1891
• Moved to Eatonville when she was 3, from Alabama
• In 1904, 13-year-old Zora was devastated by the death of her mother.
• She attended Howard, Bernard, and Columbia Universities
• She studied anthropology
• Most of her stories were derived from events and people in Eatonville, Florida

Their Eyes Were Watching GodHurston in Eatonville

• As Hurston described it, Eatonville is “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.”
• Hurston was never indoctrinated with inferiority.
• She was considered the native daughter of Eatonville.
• She came back to Eatonville after graduating from college to study the townspeople she had grown up with.
• She included painted images of Eatonville in her famous books Mules of Men (1935) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Hurston's grave

Eatonville After Zora

• Hurston brought light and pride to Eatonville and African-Americans all over the country and Eatonville has a lot of cultural importance today.
• She has inspired African-Americans today and other writers such as Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winning author.
• Hurston’s works were forgotten after her death, but, in 1980, Robert E. Hemenway wrote a literary biography about her that made her popular again.
• In 1988, Orange County officials tried to put a five-lane highway through Eatonville.
• The community planned a Hurston festival to show what the highway would ruin in Eatonville. Thousands of people attended the festival each year and the highway project was eventually cancelled
• History and culture was revived in Eatonville and Hurston was a local hero.

Zora Neale Hurston Festival

Dedications to Zora in Eatonville

• In 2006, a library was named after Hurston and is located on Kennedy Boulevard.
• In 1990, the Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts was established. The mission of the museum is “to educate the public about Eatonville’s historic and cultural significance” and “to use the community’s heritage and cultural vibrancy for its economic development”
• The Zora Neale Hurston Festival is held each year in January in Eatonville. Thousands of local residents and tourists attend each year for the multi-day event. The festival holds museum exhibitions, public discussions, concerts, and more to celebrate Hurston’s works.


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Zaidman, L. M. (1989). Dictionary of Literary Biography. American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945: First Series. Ed. Bobby Ellen Kimbel. (Vol. 86) Detroit: Gale Research. From Literature Resource Center.

2010 Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. (January 12, 2010). The Daily City. Retrieved from

Kilson, M. (1972). The Transformation of Eatonville’s Ethnographer. Phylon, 55, 112-119.

Sharman, G. K. Florida’s Black History. Retrieved from

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Otey, F. M. (1989). Eatonville, Florida. A brief history of one of America’s first freedmen’s towns. Winter Park, Florida: Four-G Publishers, Inc.|H1420002507&&docId=GALE|H1420002507&docType=GALE&role=LitRC