Ericka Dunlap — the 2004 Miss America and first Black woman to be named Miss Florida — shows us a new side of Orlando, Florida in this episode of Cleverest. Dunlap reveals her favorite spots and some of the paramount Black history in Orlando. The pageant queen has traveled the world for her job, but she loves her hometown of Orlando, mostly because it is a vibrant melting pot of people.

Orlando has attracted many artists and creators with its electric energy. From mural curators to photographers, those with an eye for something extraordinary have discovered the endless hidden gems of Orlando and draw inspiration from this diverse city.


Black History In Orlando

Not many know that Orlando is the site of several important landmarks in Black history, including the Wells’ Built Museum. The museum used to be a hotel and was built by Dr. William Monroe Wells, one of the first Black doctors in Orlando. The hotel was listed in The Negro Motorist Greenbook as the only Orlando hotel during its time that welcomed Black travelers. Appropriately, today the building serves to preserve artifacts from Orlando’s Black history and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Moving over to Eatonville—the first self-governing all-black municipalities in the U.S.—you’ll find landmarks honoring renowned author and filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston was famous for her novels, short stories and films depicting the lives and struggles of African Americans in the early 1900s. She lived in Eatonville, Florida for part of her life. Now, every year the residents of Eatonville celebrate the ZORA! Festival — an event that honors the life of Hurston and continues to celebrate Black culture and the arts.


Nightlife In Orlando

Next, it’s onto night life and dining. Those looking for delicious craft cocktails and mouthwatering cuisine can visit one of Dunlap’s favorite watering holes and restaurants, the District GastroBar. Situated in what the locals say was once “The Black Wall Street of Orlando,” this eatery features New Orleans cuisine and vibes and is a must-visit if you go to Orlando. Within walking distance of the restaurant, you’ll find other soul food eateries, local breweries, famous Church Street Station and The Amway Center, home of the NBA Magic.


The Future Of Orlando

Now we know that Orlando has a history of Black innovators and trailblazers. And that’s a part of its future as well. Stepping away from the buzzing night life, you’ll find Orlando residents looking to create a brighter future for the Black community of the city. The farmers at Infinte Zion Farms are an incredible example. They’re growing fresh produce in shipping container, solar-powered environments, working to teach the community about sustainable practices and healthy eating. Infintine Zion Farms is just one of the many Black businesses making their mark on Orlando, and making it a better place for the next generation.

There’s a lot more to Orlando than first meets the eye. You’ll just have to go see for yourself. Who knows — maybe you’ll run into Miss America herself out at a pub.

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