EATONVILLE, Fla. — Eatonville in Orange County is the first town established by freed African American slaves.
- Community leader says she's proud to live in Eatonville
- Push for town to be included in National Register of Historic Places
- Check out more Black History Month coverage
Ms. Maye St. Julien lives in the Eatonville home her father built and is a proud resident of the historic town. Technically she's not a native, but she's about as close as you can get to one.
“I have been here since I was 9 months old, and I grew up here right over there on Kennedy Boulevard, which at that time was a clay road and unpaved," she said.
Kennedy is the "Main Street" downtown, and St. Julien worked to get it included on the National Register of Historic Places. That success reflects her passion to preserve the history of America's oldest black municipality and its story.
“The church, religion played a very significant role," she explained.
Macedonia Missionary sits on Kennedy Boulevard. St. Lawrence A.M.E is the first African American church in the area. Both were established in the early 1880s, even before the town of Eatonville was incorporated in 1887.
The houses of worship have maintained a strong presence through time.
"But the strength of Eatonville is that … it was identified as a refuge for black people," said St. Julien.
She believes that history is often overlooked, as are many people who've made contributions.
“We've had Mary McLeoud Bethune who has contributed to Eatonville, and of course there is Booker T. Washington and many others that in my opinion do not get the appropriate attention. We have Matilda Mosely,” St. Julien said.
St. Julien told us before integration, Eatonville’s Rainbow Club was the place to be in the 1950s. She says it drew African Americans from around Florida and surrounding states, because it was one of the few places they were allowed to relax after a hard day’s work, let loose, and enjoy happy hour.
As a respected community leader, St. Julien is still active with the historic preservation society to help move Eatonville forward.
“My goal is that Eatonville will continue to flourish,” she said.