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Spotlight: Maitland’s Attic takes you on a journey through the town’s history

Danielle Thomas, Executive Direc
Talia Blake
90.7 WMFE News
Danielle Thomas, Executive Director at the Art and History Museums of Maitland, gestures toward a framed newspaper, the 'Eatonville Speaker.'

Maitland’s Black History is on display at the Art and History Museums of Maitland.

A new permanent exhibition called Maitland’s Attic tells the story of the city’s past through five pivotal time periods in the town’s history.

From a newspaper clipping to a picture of a drawing gifted to Zora Neal Hurston, Danielle Thomas, Executive Director, says everyday items can hold future importance.

“We really wanted people to understand that these items that you grew up with your grandmother's items, they're their memories. They're their pieces that have time and place and story attached to them.”

While walking through Maitland’s Attic, visitors can learn about Joseph Clark, the creation of Eatonville, and more.

The Maroons of Florida

Upon entering Maitland’s Attic, past the lobby area is the first part of the journey through the city’s Black History, explaining the role of Florida’s native history.

“We have a wonderful exhibition that actually was co curated with Dr. Neil Vaz with Seminole State University. He's an expert in Florida's Maroon community. The Maroons were originally African slaves who escaped their captors and came down south into Florida,” said Thomas.

The Maroons fought alongside the Florida Seminoles during the Seminole Wars, according to Thomas.

The Florida Department of State reports the First Seminole War took place between 1817-1818, the Second Seminole War between 1835-1842, and the Third Seminole War between 1855-1858.

However, Thomas said, “the Seminole people don't consider it three separate wars. They consider it one long war that was an assault on their culture. It was as much about taking native land, as well as reclaiming the slaves who had been escaped.”

Joseph Clark

Through an entryway to the left of the Maroons is a small room that explores Maitland’s history post civil war, and in it sits an area dedicated to Joseph Clark.

Thomas said Clark is the founding father of both Maitland and Eatonville, said Thomas.

“Him and some of the other black residents around Lake Lily came together and they wanted to establish a self-governed black township where they would have the freedom to live as they wanted.”

The area around Lake Lily Thomas is referring to would eventually become Eatonville.

Displayed on the wall enclosed in a picture frame is a copy of an old newspaper called the Eatonville Speaker, which was a product of Joseph Clark.

Thomas points to the front article titled, ‘Colored People of the United States: Solve the Great Race Problem by securing a home in Eatonville, Florida.”

“In this particular article, he talks about why he founded the town because he wanted the black population to have a town where they could be safe and self govern. Then he talks about how people could purchase a home there and join the community.”

Joseph Clark was also involved in founding the Hungerford School in Eatonville.

The school was based on the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which was founded by Booker T. Washington.

“Joseph Clark reached out to Booker T. Washington in the hopes of establishing a similar school in Eatonville. So Booker T Washington sent Russell Calhoun and his wife, Mary Calhoun, down to serve as the school's first President. They began teaching out of their barn. It was when the parents of Robert Hungerford donated a substantial amount of land in his honor that they were able to build the school.”

Zora Neal Hurston

Outside of the room featuring Joseph Clark, near the end of the room, features a corner of the wall highlighting Zora Neal Hurston.

Thomas said as cars became more prevalent on the road, artist Andre Smith began to travel to Maitland.

“He settled here. He built the artists compound, today known as the Maitland Art Center. One of his dear friends was Zora Neale Hurston, who also at that same time had returned to her hometown of Eatonville.”

Thomas said there are not many remnants of the two’s friendship, expect for a drawing gifted to the Museum from Smith’s family.

“The drawing - A Sketch For Folklore Village. We don't know where the original is. Andre Smith's family had provided us a copy of the image, but this is a drawing that they told us he made for Zora Neale Hurston, which would have been a village to collect African American folklore and to be built in Eatonville, Florida.”

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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