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Eatonville Town Council votes to preserve site of historic Black school

Danielle Prieur
The meeting room was packed on Tuesday night for a vote on the future of the Hungerford School site.

After more than two hours of public comment, the Eatonville Town Council voted against rezoning the site of the former Hungerford School on Tuesday night effectively blocking a developer’s plans to turn it into a mixed housing community.

John Beacham, an Eatonville resident who runs the Land Back Campaign, said the council’s actions are a win for the town of Eatonville and for its history.

Danielle Prieur
John Beacham says he feels like an angel was in the room during the vote.

“I'm feeling really great we put a lot of work in," said Beacham. "I think teamwork made the dream work. You know it's not just one person it’s everybody. People showed up. We've added two more people to our group and they did a lot of work. So I'm just, I just feel blessed. I feel like tonight an angel showed up right?”

N.Y. Natheri, who runs the ZORA! Festival and the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, was one of a dozen residents who spoke out against the developer’s plans.

She said this is just the beginning of what needs to be a widespread economic justice movement for the people of Eatonville, one of America’s oldest Black towns.

“This is a first step because this is about economic justice," said Natheri. "Orange County Public Schools needs to send back that 117 acres of land to the town of Eatonville in a community based trust.”

UCF professor and Eatonville historian Scot French said he is energized by what he saw, a packed house, standing room only at a town council meeting.

Danielle Prieur
UCF professor Scot French says the meeting was an example of democracy in action.

“Oh I think this is exciting," said French. "I mean it's democracy in action. I like the idea that it now creates an opportunity to talk to the school board to bring to the Orange County Public Schools this citizens statement.”

The Hungerford School is the site of the oldest Black school in Central Florida. The land was donated to the town of Eatonville by a white Northern philanthropist to be used to educate Black children in the mid-1800s when schools were not open to them.

It was purchased by Orange County Schools in the 1950s, shuttered in the mid 2000s and bulldozed during the pandemic.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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