African American History & Culture in Orlando
Orlando is home to world-famous theme parks and attractions, but we have many other wonders for you to explore — including captivating African American history and culture. Pair them with special events centered around Zora Neale Hurston, Black History Month and Juneteenth, as well as Black-owned attractions, restaurants and other businesses, and you can easily devote an entire visit to experiencing everything Orlando’s influential African American community has to offer. Start here to discover it all.
Learn more: Diversity & Inclusion in Orlando
Orlando’s history can be traced back to the prehistoric era, with a melting pot of peoples and cultures making their marks along the way. One of the most important — not just to Central Florida, but to the American Civil Rights movement — is our African American community, whose influence can be felt throughout the area.
Learn more: Orlando History
Historic Eatonville & Zora Neale Hurston
Just 25 minutes north of Orlando’s main tourism districts, the historic town of Eatonville was incorporated in 1887, making it one of the first self-governing, all-Black municipalities in the U.S. — and the oldest still in existence today. The township’s core, the Eatonville Historic District, was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1998, drawing countless history and culture aficionados in the decades since.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Eatonville attracted a family whose daughter would go on to great acclaim as an author: Zora Neale Hurston. Her best-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is set in Eatonville and nearby communities.
Today, Eatonville honors their most famous resident with the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, aka The Hurston, as well as the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, aka ZORA!® Festival, and the ZORA! Festival Season.
Learn more: ZORA! Festival
The Hurston is an intimate space that serves as the perfect entry point to Eatonville’s history. Here, you can pick up resources to help you make the most of your visit, including details about historic markers throughout the city limits. Guided walking tours are also available by appointment; call (407) 960-1361 for details. Admission to the museum is always free, but donations are encouraged.
Other points of interest in Eatonville include the St. Lawrence AME Church, a historic African American house of worship that features famous murals by Andre Smith, the founder of the nearby Maitland Research Center and an artistic colleague of Hurston. Right across the street is the Mosley House, which was built by Eatonville’s founder and first mayor, Joseph Clark, and was one of Hurston’s favorite Eatonville landmarks.
The ZORA! Festival Season is a multifaceted, multicultural celebration of Hurston and the arts, culture and education. It offers of a series of engaging events that take place in Eatonville and other locations in the Orlando area, including many that are free to attend. The season starts with the month-long ZORA! Festival in January, followed by Traditions Weekend in June and HATitude Cultural Flair in October.
Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture
Eatonville isn’t the only place to explore African American culture in Orlando. Downtown Orlando features the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture, based inside the historic Wells’Built Hotel.
Learn more: Wells’Built Museum
Constructed in 1921 by Dr. William M. Wells, a prominent African American physician, the hotel exclusively catered to African American guests who were barred from Florida’s then-segregated hotels — including famous musicians such as Count Basie, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and others. As a result, it earned a spot on The Negro Travelers' Green Book, an annual publication that began in the 1930s and served as the basis for the Oscar-winning 2018 film, Green Book. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Wells’Built houses memorabilia of Orlando’s African American community, displays of the Civil Rights movement, and African art and artifacts.
Learn more: Downtown Orlando
Hannibal Square is part of Winter Park, a charming community about 25 minutes north of Orlando’s tourism districts and close to Eatonville. It’s also home to the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, where you can explore the district’s origins as an African American community.
Learn more: Hannibal Square Heritage Center
Officially founded in 1881, Hannibal Square originally consisted of African Americans who worked for the South Florida Railroad and Winter Park’s wealthy families. On Oct. 12, 1887, it became the site of one of the country’s earliest Civil Rights marches when a group of Black residents crossed the town’s dividing railroad tracks to vote in the election that officially incorporated Winter Park, including Hannibal Square. What’s more, two Black residents were elected aldermen, serving from 1887 to 1893.
Learn more: Winter Park
Today, members of the community work to preserve the area’s history and landmarks. The Hannibal Square Heritage Center is an excellent place to learn more about their efforts and the district’s past.
Head to downtown Orlando to visit historic Tinker Field, a space next to Camping World Stadium that served as a baseball stadium from 1923 through 2015 and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2004. It was also the site of a moving Civil Rights speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964.
Though the baseball stadium no longer exists, the field itself has been preserved and now hosts large-scale events such as November’s Electric Daisy Carnival.
Between festivals, concerts, live theater, sports and other happenings, there’s always something to do when you visit Orlando. Here are some of our top events focusing on African American history and culture. Discover more on our Events Calendar.
ZORA!® Festival Season (January, June & October)
Celebrating its namesake author and her influence, ZORA! Festival is a multifaceted celebration of the arts, culture and education. It encompasses a wide variety of events throughout the year, including art exhibits, educational forums, concerts, food and more. The season starts with the month-long ZORA! Festival in January, followed by Traditions Weekend in June and HATitude Cultural Flair in October.
Black History Month (February)
Every February, the city of Orlando celebrates Black History Month with a robust lineup of events and exhibitions spotlighting African American contributions and positive impact on the Central Florida region.
Learn more: Black History Month in Orlando
You can join Juneteenth (June 19) celebrations throughout Orlando, particularly in Eatonville and Hannibal Square. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States.
Learn more: Juneteenth in Orlando
Orlando is home to numerous Black-owned businesses, many of which are affiliated with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida. Show your support the next time you’re in town.
Black-Owned Attractions in Orlando
Explore a fascinating side of Orlando at these Black-owned cultural attractions throughout the area.
Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture
This historic building in downtown Orlando features Civil Rights artifacts and other displays. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts
This intimate venue serves as a gateway to exploring historic Eatonville. Pick up a printed guide to the town’s historic markers, or call (407) 960-1361 for a guided tour. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.
Black-Owned Restaurants in Orlando
Hungry? Take a bite out of these Black-owned restaurants the next time you’re in Orlando!
Big Lou’s Single Wing Express: This eatery is billed as the “Home of the Original Buffalo Style Chicken Wings.”
The District GastroBar: Part of downtown’s Church Street district, this restaurant was born out of a desire to positively impact the community.
Nikki’s Place: This unassuming soul-food spot dishes up hearty classics such as fried chicken and barbecue.
Oley’s Kitchen & Smokehouse: Enjoy Jamaican dishes, chicken wings and pulled pork sandwiches at this casual eatery.
Orlando Famous Pete’s BBQ: Pete’s promises that their barbecue is so good, it will make you come back for more.
P&D Soul Food Kitchen: This eatery serves a wide array of traditional cuisine, including pork chops, oxtails, mac and cheese, collard greens, baked chicken, and more.
Stonington’s Fried Shrimp: With locations in Orlando and nearby Altamonte Springs, this venue boasts “ridiculously good” fried shrimp.
Vitality Bowls: This national chain of health-focused eateries has a Black-owned location in Orlando’s Dr. Phillips area.
Island Thyme Caribbean Grille: Inspired by the food and culture of the U.S. Virgin Islands, this restaurant serves jerk chicken, braised oxtail, coconut shrimp and more.
Streetwise Urban Food: Dig into delicious urban favorites in a family-friendly, casual atmosphere.
Brick & Spoon: Maitland’s outpost of this family of restaurants serves a complete, high-quality southern experience for breakfast, brunch and lunch.
Mad Crab Seafood & Wings: This fast-casual Eatonville venue offers straightforward steamed and fried seafood, shellfish and wings.
Soul Food Fantasy: Enjoy authentic soul food at this Eatonville restaurant, including seafood platters, pasta and more.
Bezerk Nutrition: More than a nutritious place to eat, this location provides insights, education, events and activities for healthy living.