“The Town that Freedom Built”: Preserving Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville

July 17, 2020

This plaque, and several others, are sprinkled throughout Eatonville, Florida to guide a walking tour of America’s first legally established self-governing all-African American municipality. Eatonville was established in 1887. The town gained popularity from its depiction in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), and her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942).

Sadly, 100 acres of Historic Eatonville has been lost due to expansion of the Greater Orlando area and Interstate 4. However, The Historic District of Eatonville was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 3, 1998. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community has been working to make Eatonville an internationally recognized tourism destination, to enhance the resources of the town, and to educate the public of its cultural significance and the community’s heritage.

I came to Eatonville because of my research and love for Zora Neale Hurston. Inspired by scholars such as Alice Walker, who worked to find and mark Hurston’s final resting place, I too am aspired to keep Hurston’s legacy from disappearing. The dilapidated plaques that are supposed to guide and educate the public about the importance of Eatonville are impossible to read.

The sight of these plaques awakened a call-to-action inside of me. Since this moment, I have been working to digitally preserve Zora Neale Huston’s Eatonville through geospatial technology and augmented and virtual reality technology. This technology has the capability to tell these stories in ways that are immersive and accessible. By digitally preserving these stories, future curious minds will be able to explore and share the experience.