Thursday, September 1, 2011

Perception of Winter Park

The divide between the white and African American communities within Winter Park has, I believe, not really shaped the perception of Winter Park in any significant way. At least that’s how an outsider like myself views the situation. When I think of Winter Park, I think of a luxurious town filled with restaurants and small retail stores, located in the tourist city of Orlando. The streets are made of brick, the community small, and the image elegant and modern.

It wasn’t until I took the guided tour from the museum of African American history in downtown Winter Park that I became aware of the segregated history that once existed. In the nineteenth century, African Americans were unable to cross the railroad tracks after dark. They were confined to their own section of town. This railroad was the divide between whites and blacks in Winter Park. On one side was a thriving, Gilded Age community, seeing modern advances and witnessing new social history. On the other side of the tracks was a struggling population of African Americans. Poverty, illiteracy, and a lack of opportunity represented this side of town.

As the decades passed, the African American side saw small advances and successes in Winter Park society. Some, although widely criticized by whites, gained places in the political system. Others found opportunities in education and were able to leave town. However, the division between race still strongly existed in the twentieth century. To the residents of Winter Park, especially the African Americans, the division was very large. It appears that the issue still existed well into the twentieth century. White entrepreneurs attempted to to buy property from the African Americans for commercial purposes. These properties had been in the families for many many years, and they were almost forced out of there houses for prices well below actual value. Although some held on to their land, and some are still living today, most African Americans were bought out. This led to the modernization of Winter Park, as poorer sections began to be eliminated.

Despite changes aimed at eliminating the racial barrier within Winter Park, many African American descendants still feel the need to make others aware of the African American history within the town. They seem to feel as though their stories were almost forgotten. This widens the racial gap still as tension is still felt. The town seems to hide this, although one can see by passing the through the African American historical section that segregation certainly did exist. Therefore, as a visitor to Winter Park, one has to really look into the historical aspect of the town to discover the division amongst races that used to be present. The perception within town is that the barrier once affected the lives of the residents, but the modernization and urban development of Winter Park has somewhat eliminated it. To African Americans living in the community, they feel the need to express their heritage. To outsiders, one might never know how segregated the town used to be.

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