Can twenty-first-century scholars of gentrification find historical precedents for "social preservationist" ideology in the gentry-assisted black town-building movement of the late- nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries? Might the strategies employed by African-American town-builders and their wealthy white patrons/allies hold relevant lessons for current-day struggles toward social justice through historic preservation? New research into the founding era of Eatonville, Florida—a black township made famous in the Harlem Renaissance–era writings of Zora Neale Hurston and marketed today as the "Oldest Incorporated African American Municipality in America" (est. 1887)—suggests the benefits of viewing social preservationist ideology as part of the African-American community's "long-memory" DNA. Far from exclusionary or isolationist in origin, Eatonville's founding resulted from a deliberate, collaborative effort by ex-slaves and wealthy white Northern "snowbirds" to mitigate/reverse the impact of rural and suburban gentrification and create a permanent social, political, and economic space for black citizens. Through their well-publicized, ideologically explicit acts of place-making, Eatonville's founders ensured that the benefits of neighborhood development would not be reserved for wealthy white investors alone, and that the black laboring classes—as property owners and voters—would play a critical role in regional politics and democratic self-governance.
French, Scot. “Social Preservation and Moral Capitalism in the Historic Black Township of Eatonville, Florida: A Case Study of ‘Reverse Gentrification.’” Change Over Time 8, no. 1 (2018): 54–72. https://doi.org/10.1353/cot.2018.0003.