A Florida town, once settled by former slaves, fights over “sacred land” (CBS News)

“This is sacred land,” said N.Y. Nathiri, a third-generation resident of Eatonville, Fla. “It’s special for us. It’s who we are. And we’re not going to let them take it away from us, no.”

Nathiri heads the association to preserve the Eatonville community, a town founded in 1887 by Joe Clark. That it even happened was remarkable. After the end of the Civil War, formerly enslaved African Americans flocked to central Florida to work. White property owners refused to sell them land, until Clark convinced two White Northerners with homes in the area, Lewis Lawrence and Josiah Eaton, to make available plots they could buy in what became Eatonville, one of the first Black towns to incorporate.

Martha Teichner, A Florida town, once settled by former slaves, now fights over “sacred land,” CBS News, March 31, 2023.

Residents of Eatonville, Florida, had their voices heard when the private developer that was seeking to build on the site of a historic school for Black children elected to terminate the sales contract on the property.

The notice terminating the sales contract, sent by the developer on March 31 to Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), which owns the Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School property, was the latest and largest win in efforts to preserve Black history threatened by commercial development on the site.

“[The developer’s] decision clears the way for this historic land to be preserved and used to benefit the citizens of Eatonville today and in the future,” said N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.), a local preservation organization. “As Eatonville residents, we are best positioned to determine future development of the land to ensure generations-long economic prosperity, and we urge Orange County Public Schools to return the property to a community trust.”

Earlier last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a suit on behalf of P.E.C. against the school board of OCPS over its planned sale of most of the last 100 acres of the property.

In February, Eatonville residents had won another key victory when the town council voted 4-1 against rezoning the property, which would have cleared the way for the massive redevelopment to move forward. The proposal called for building more than 300 residential housing units, both multi-family and single-family, along with extensive commercial, office and retail space, on a tract that makes up close to 15% of the 1.6-square-mile town that is 6 miles north of Orlando.

Southern Poverty Law Center, Historic Action: Developer of Black Heritage Site in Florida Back Out of Sales Contract, April 3, 2023.
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Nadia Ahmad

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