The first all-black town to incorporate in the US is now a place of pilgrimage

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EATONVILLE, Fla. — Hidden in the theme-park sprawl of greater Orlando, a few miles from the shiny, the loud and the gargantuan, lies a quiet town where the pride and complications of the African-American experience come to life.

Eatonville, the first all-black town to incorporate in the country and the childhood home of Zora Neale Hurston, is no longer as simple as she described it in 1935: “the city of five lakes, three croquet courts, 300 brown skins, 300 good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools and no jailhouse.” It is now a place of pilgrimage. Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ruby Dee have come to the annual Zora! Festival in Eatonville to pay their respects to Hurston, the most famous female writer of the Harlem Renaissance.

And yet in many ways, the town she described — and made a tourist stop by including it in the Florida travel guide produced by the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project — remains a place apart. It is as independent, dignified and private as it was in the 1930s, when Hurston wrote that rural blacks in Florida often resisted sharing their true thoughts with the white man, who “knowing so little about us, he doesn’t know what he is missing.”

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