The historically Black town famous for the Harlem Renaissance’s Zora Neale Hurston escapes threat from housing developer

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The historically Black town famous for the Harlem Renaissance’s Zora Neale Hurston escapes threat from housing developer

A developer on Friday ended plans to purchase a 100-acre (39-hectare) property from the local school system in a historically Black town in Florida following a public outcry that the deal threatened the cultural heritage of the community made famous by Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston.

Derek Bruce said in a letter to Orange County Public Schools in Orlando that he had terminated the deal to purchase the land where a former school for Black students stood in the town of Eatonville. The school system said in a statement that it wouldn’t consider any further bids for the land.

“This decision presents us with a new opportunity to collaborate with the Eatonville community to preserve and celebrate the Town’s historic and cultural significance as the oldest incorporated Black town in the U.S.,” the school system said in the statement.

An association dedicated to preserving Eatonville’s cultural history last week sued to stop the $14.6 million deal, claiming it threatened the cultural heritage of the town. The developer had plans to build 350 homes, as well as business spaces, raising fears the project would increase traffic and price out longtime residents of the town.

With a population of around 2,350 people, of whom almost three-quarters are Black, Eatonville is perhaps best known through the writings of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. The town was the setting for one of her best known works, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Founded in 1887, Eatonville was among the early all-Black incorporated municipalities established in the decades after the end of slavery in the U.S. Around 1,200 Black towns or settlements were established in the late 19th century and early 20th century, according to the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance.

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