ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Hungerford property once held the first school for African Americans in Central Florida in the town of Eatonville.
It was donated by the Hungerford family back in the late 1800s for educational purposes.
Advocates for the town state a judge took the land from Eatonville and awarded it to the school district in the 1950s during segregation.
The school board planned on selling the property to a private developer this past spring, to build housing, restaurants, and businesses.
However, that deal fell through after a lawsuit was filed. Some residents have argued its sale may erase history.
Thursday the group that filed the lawsuit and the board were in court for the first time.
At the center of today’s court case is the Hungerford property. It was a school established in 1897 with Booker T. Washington and leaders of Eatonville. The Orange County School Board obtained the property in 1951.
On one side of the room the school board and its attorney on the other the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.), represented by its attorney Kirsten Ander with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The P.E.C. is suing to have the original intentions of the land honored.
“We’re asking the court to allow this case to move forward to allow us to fully investigate the claims and present our arguments to the court,” Anderson said. “And they’re [the school board] arguing to get the case dismissed.”
The school board argued the P.E.C should have brought up its issues in prior proceedings and claimed the P.E.C. has no rights with the land or the deed. N.Y. Nathiri is the executive director or the pec.
“No one, no one has more right [than us],” said P.E.C. executive director N.Y. Nathiri.
When the school board got the Hungerford property in 1951 there was a deed restriction stating property was to solely be used for education. The P.E.C. argued that the deed should take precedence in current and future actions.
“This is not any ordinary piece of land,” Anderson said. “This is sacred land.”
Attorneys representing the school board did not want to comment after the hearing, but the judge asked both sides to submit a proposed order of what they want the court to do. A decision is expected around late October.
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