Change Needed In Winter Park-The Orlando Times
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
WINTER PARK - The post-reconstruction era of America marked the migration of Blacks across the South to the North and back to the South. For those that moved North, they found opportunities, yet similar obstacles as those that had remained in the south.
This migration can be attributed to the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision which stipulated the “separate but equal” clause and the Atlanta Exposition address Booker T. Washington delivered the year prior. Two communities in Central Florida developed from this migration, Parramore and Hannibal Square.
Parramore was named after Confederate General James B. Parramore in 1881 and he allotted the land for those he’d enslaved. The latter community, Hannibal Square, was formed from the migration of Blacks post-reconstruction and remains a multi-generational and historical community.
In 1887 Gus C. Henderson, Black owner of a local print and publishing company rallied Black voters to support incorporation of Hannibal Square. Henderson and the votes of other registered Black voters were crucial. With only forty-seven registered white voters, the year round Black population outnumbered white residents. The newly incorporated town integrated Hannibal Square and the first town council included two Black aldermen.
The collaboration between the Black led portion of Winter Park and Winter Park was short lived. Hannibal Square was detached from the city in 1893. Then, City of Winter Park officials annexed Hannibal Square in 1925 when officials realized they needed a larger population to qualify for state funded municipal projects.
There has not been a Black elected official within the City of Winter Park since 1893. Martha Bryant-Hall has run for elective office prior, but continues to advocate that more residents become active and involved, both politically and grassroots.
Hall attends City council meetings and convenes her own community meetings to combat changes in their community. Hall, and the residents which join her to voice their discontent with community changes by developers, say they’ve been met with indifference by both the City’s Mayor Steve Leary and prime area developer Dan Bellows.
Today, the issues that confront the Hannibal Square community are as multitudinous as the history of Black involvement in the furnishing and founding of the city.
Like the Wells Built Museum in the Parramore section of Orlando, the Hannibal Square Heritage Center stands in the Hannibal Square community, while the surrounding properties face a changing community.
Gentrification battles are ongoing, residents of gentrified areas have little representation and single member districts are not yet a reality.
Upon initial glance, the community can appear hidden from motorists who commute daily through Winter Park, but off the road motorists will find not only a rich history, but a collective community which has contributed to the founding and development of the City of Winter Park.
Today, Hannibal Square residents are engaged in an ongoing battle to keep this history intact.
In 1969, the state of Florida enacted legislation that enabled local governments to create community redevelopment districts and community redevelopment agencies to work in those districts, titled the Community Redevelopment Agency.
The City of Winter Park Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is a public agency that was created by the City Council in June of 1991, as a sub-unit that operates within the Winter Park city government.
Carolina, Garfield and Symonds avenues are narrow residential streets mixed with 1930s style cottage homes and new, much more expensive two-story homes, courtesy of new development. This has created a variant value in homes much older, in comparison to newer properties. Older homes that are valued at $60,000 are situated next to newer homes with a valuation of three million dollars or more.
Winter Park is 16 years into its 30-year plan to renovate Hannibal Square, meant to improve housing, parking and economic blight. The city developed the plan designed to target tax dollars to the community. Residents hold a contrary perspective and instead view these plans as a method to push them out and bring a new hotel, duplexes, town homes and other developments in.
Martha Bryant-Hall, a lifelong resident, has owned her home in Winter Park for fifty-eight years. She and a handful of other decade’s long homeowners are the sole voices speaking against these changes.
“Let's wake up and save the homes that your grandparents and parents built. Remember the Pioneers who worked so hard by lanterns, flash lights, from dust to dawn for a place to live and call home.” Bryant-Hall said.
Bryant-Hall has watched for years the gentrification creep west across the train tracks into the historically Black neighborhood and is concerned their neighborhood will be lost if developments continue.
To combat this gentrification, Bryant-Hall encourages homeowners to list their homes as Historic Properties. “I'm looking forward to more people in the Hannibal Square Neighborhood placing their homes as a Historic Resource Property. By doing this, you can stop the Gentrification of what's left.”
“Remember the promises that the City has made, to the neighborhood, the working class, staff, teachers, first responders", that they would not out/over price them from homeownership or sensible rent.” Bryant-Hall mentioned at a meeting of concerned homeowners.
Bryant-Hall has worked with the Florida Humanities Council to ensure these homes, as well as churches, are designated as historic properties. She also attends monthly city council meetings and convenes her own meetings.
“Few are speaking up and speaking out.” She said. “This is our community.”
In addition to Hannibal Square, the centuries old Pineywood cemetery is one of many Black based landmarks on the city’s west side. The area is also home to many historically Black churches, such as Ward Chapel AME, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church.
Beverly Colson Neal, also a longtime Winter Park resident, also fights to reverse current and ongoing policy in Winter Park. Neal, President of the Orange County Branch NAACP, said however she can’t fight these battles alone.
“There are very few courageous enough to attend the meetings and to join the NAACP to help us fight this battle. Collectively, we can change this.” She said. Neal has announced among her plans to make Winter Park a city of single member districts.
At present, Winter Park has a nine percent Black population, while forty-one percent of residents in Hannibal Square are Black, according to Winter Park city numbers. This number is comparison with whites, who represent eighty-three percent of the populations’ total. 30,133 residents total live in Winter Park.
Seat Three covers Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, West Fairbanks Ave, Denning Drive, Palm Cemetery, Park Ave, Pennsylvania Ave and Winter Park Village. There are fourteen hundred residents of Winter Park’s Seat Three, and there are 2,306 Black residents of Winter Park in total. Seventy-five percent of Winter Park’s residents are white and nine percent are Hispanic.
The Hannibal Square Land Trust was created to combat the displacement of low- and middle-income families from Hannibal Square by taking a new approach to homeownership. The land Trust was developed in 2004.
So far, sixteen homes have been purchased as part of the program, off Comstock Avenue, Symonds Avenue and Canton Park.
The organization builds affordable, attractive new houses on plots of land donated to it by the city.
It sells the homes to qualified low- and middle-income buyers who meet certain criteria: they must be first-time homebuyers who are residents or former residents of Winter Park, they must live in the home as their primary residence and they must qualify for the home based on income and family size.
"This is when you get a full-on pushback from the African-American community," he says. "Residents thought the city was trying to push out the historically Black community, and efforts to improve communities created pressures against keeping Hannibal Square Black." Said Julian Chambliss, professor of African-American history at Rollins College.