Thursday, September 1, 2011

Winter Park Divided

The racial divide within Winter Park lies deep beneath the surface. Superficially, much of Winter Park has been updated to accommodate the expensive lifestyles of the town’s residents, who happen to be predominantly white. Scattered throughout the swanky restaurants and boutiques, though, are remnants of a rich African-American past. Through decades of construction and technological advancements, the perception of Winter Park has transformed from one of an African-American cultural center to a white vacation get-away.

A division between the African-American and white communities of Winter Park has existed since the towns founding in the early 1800s. As the story was told to us at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, African-Americans were meant to occupy the west side of the train tracks, only crossing to the east for occupational purposes. As this was the case, the west side of the tracks, and Hannibal Square specifically, became a cultural center for the area’s surrounding residents. Unwelcome on the east side after working hours ended, African-Americans of Winter Park’s west side turned Hannibal Square into a place of relaxation and community gathering. This concentration of the African-American community to the west side played a pivotal role in community interactions as Winter Park’s east side continued to develop.

Moving into the late 19th century, the east side of Winter Park was transforming into an upscale, predominantly white, resort community. Traffic through the east side increased and the need for expansion became obvious. It was only logical for residents of the east to begin considering expanding into the west. Over time, builders forced the residents of Winter Park’s west side to find homes elsewhere. After buying up most of the land and renovating the buildings, the west side of Winter Park was assimilated with the east, attracting members of the white community. The division between the African-American and White communities grew deeper following the renovation of Winter Park’s west side.

Today Winter Park is commonly perceived as a white vacation destination. Though there are remnants of an historically African-American past, this history of Winter Park is often overlooked. The division between the African-American community and the white community is too significant to go unnoticed, though. By examining how the white and African-American communities have interacted in the past, we can understand why they are perceived as separate today.

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