Eatonville, Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, a unique Orlando alternative

Here is a place I wish I had known about earlier. December before last my family and I were in Orlando, Florida doing the Disney World thing. If I would have known about Eatonville, writer Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, I would have felt compelled to go and see the murals at the town’s oldest church. They tell a bit of the story of the United States’ racial fabric.

Eatonville, the first black-town to have incorporated in the United States, is six miles north of Orlando. For the most part, driving through Eatonville sounds like it would be similar to driving through many small towns in the United States–towns without any particular markings that make them unique except to the people who live there.

Eatonville’s history is what sets it apart, and the fact that it has kept its identity through the changes for the last decades. The fact that it’s so close to the mega commercial build up of this part of Florida fascinates me.

It reminds me of the hidden stories all around the world. Tourists head to tourist destinations often unaware about the depth of the surrounding areas. When I read about Eatonville in the New York Times, its story compelled me to want to know more about this town. Lately the town is becoming more used to outsiders wandering in. The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts in January bring visitors in by the thousands.

The descriptions of the apprehension of the people in Eatonville towards people not from there visiting reminds me a bit of what my mother’s hometown in southeastern Kentucky is like. Because of the stereotypes of Appalachian culture there has been a bit of an unease at times when visitors, particularly from the north, have shown up in town for a look-see. Over the years, the suspicion has waned, but when I was a child I heard about the wariness from the people who felt wary.