Take a tour of historic Eatonville, Florida, one of the country’s oldest Black communities, with Instagram influencer and guest blogger Brianna Watson.

The Orlando area may be a tourism hot spot, but it’s also engulfed in a rich history. For example, Eatonville — aka The Town That Freedom Built — was established in 1887!

Discover: African American History & Culture in Orlando

Lying between Maitland and Winter Park and north of downtown Orlando, this neighborhood is buzzing with history, and one name in particular rings a big bell here: Zora Neale Hurston. See why you will want to visit this historic community the next time you’re in the area.

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Eatonville’s History and Zora Neale Hurston

Eatonville is home to 2,000 residents and is what we call a descendant community — meaning, a community founded by a group of people brought to an area through slavery, forced relocation or other inorganic means. It was also one of the first all-Black incorporated towns in the United States. Today, it attracts thousands of visitors each year.

The town’s most famous daughter, Zora Neale Hurston, is one of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century. Hurston spent a significant portion of her childhood in Eatonville, with the town and her experiences there becoming the inspiration for many of her works.

Did you know that Eatonville is the setting for much of Hurston’s most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God? Hurston’s portrayal of the town is a celebration of Black culture, language and traditions, and it is seen as a significant contribution to the Harlem Renaissance.

In addition to Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston wrote many other works, including Mules and Men and Tell My Horse, which were based on her anthropological research on Black folklore and culture. Talk about a starting foundation!

Who would have thought a town so close to The City Beautiful was the premise to so many amazing works of art.

What’s Happening in Eatonville

Here are some of the top things to do when visiting Eatonville.

Eatonville Walking Tour

Experience Eatonville on your own with a self-guided walking tour of the historic area. The Town of Eatonville has come together to guide you through their heritage, starting at The Hungerford School and ending at Mack’s Garage. Along the way, you will encounter The Hurston homesite plus the Old Cemetery on your trek. Give yourself about two hours to complete the tour and take in all the sights. Hours for this Walking Tour is Sunrise to Sunset and it is sponsored by The Florida Department of State.

Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts

Take a step inside this beautiful exhibit, located on East Kennedy Boulevard in the heart of Eatonville. This can be a stop on your walking tour or just an easy visit to the area. Inside, you will find beautiful art pieces of artists of African Descent, plus books and merchandise for purchase. Visitors can also provide donations which help keep the museum funded.

ZORA!® Outdoor Festival of the Arts

Held every January, the ZORA! Outdoor Festival of the Arts pays tribute to the life and legacy of Zora Neale Hurston herself and the arts. In 2024, the festival celebrated 35 years. It’s the crown jewel of the ZORA! Festival Season, which offers cultural programming and events from Hurston’s birthday (Jan. 7) through October each year.

The Outdoor Festival of the Arts features a variety of events, including live music, arts and crafts, food, and educational seminars. It is typically held the last weekend in January and spans three days. The festival is a great opportunity to learn about the rich cultural history of Eatonville and the contributions that African Americans have made to American literature and art.

With the help of visitors and residents, Eatonville is a place where you can learn, explore and appreciate its history. Be sure to take time to explore historic Eatonville and add the ZORA! Festival to your annual must-do list here in the Orlando area.

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