Thursday, December 6, 2012

Journey to Work: Being African American Outside of Hannibal Square

While Winter Park welcomes everyone to its slow paced streets lined with boutiques and French café inspired restaurants, this city was not always as welcoming to minorities. Winter Park's Black neighborhood, Hannibal Square, was not incorporated into the city limits until 1887 and even then African Americans were not particularly embraced or liked among the Whites of the richer area of the (then) town. However this was pretty customary for any small town in the South and Central Florida was no exception. While the west side (Hannibal Square) was newly incorporated due to an election that also brought in two new city aldermen, Frank Israel and Walter B. Simpson, both African American, these stepping stones towards acceptance from Whites probably did not stop segregation or racial tension. In fact, both the election and incorporation probably only infuriated some people even more. That being said it is highly likely that Walter B. Simpson's journey to work as not only an African American but as a politician among White fellow political leaders must have been tense at best. What would walking to Ergood's Hall and Store (where Winter Park's Town Hall was located on the White side of town) as a Black city official feel like and at what areas or parts of his journey would the racial divide become obvious?

One of Walter B. Simpson's possible routes to work to Winter Park's Town Hall (located within Ergood's Hall and Store) as a city aldermen. While there are several ways he could have traveled to get to Ergood's on the corner of Morse Boulevard and Park Avenue, this is one of the easier and more straightforward paths.

Today these tracks are just that, railroad tracks. But like many old towns and cities, Winter Park holds railroad tracks that also set up a racial division between Whites and Blacks or other minorities. The west side of Winter Park (also known as Hannibal Square) is located on the west side of the tracks and where African Americans, including Walter B. Simpson, lived during the construction and early years of Winter Park. To this day, this neighborhood is predominantly Black.

If Walter B. Simpson did in fact take this route from New England Avenue to Park Avenue and then Morse Boulevard then his venture into the White part of the neighborhood shortly after New York Avenue after crossing the railroad tracks. Park Avenue would have "officially" belonged to the White, richer area of Winter Park where Blacks worked but never lived on or spent much recreational time if any. Even during the election in which Simpson won and where the polls were located on the White side of town, it was dangerous for Blacks to venture alone to cast their votes for obvious political and racial reasons. These reasons included the fact that elections were held after the city's curfew, which did not allow African Americans to venture into the White side of town after dark.

At the corner of Morse Boulevard and Park Avenue stood Ergood's Hall and Store where Simpson's journey to work would end and where other city officials conducted town meetings and other official business.

If Ergood's were to be standing today, this would be its location. What is located there today is a Penzey's Spices. Walter B. Simpson's journey from his neighborhood to this business, which held many functions and purposes at once, located in the White part of town would have taken him approximately less than a mile from his home. However, as short of a distance as Ergood's was from his neighborhood, it must have felt like a place where he was unwanted and truly a minority.

Due to the city's location of Hannibal Square and what exactly divided the city in half, showing which part belonged to which race, it is obvious where Walter B. Simpson's journey into a different part of town began. Once Simpson walked past the railroad tracks and onto Park Avenue, his racial identity suddenly made him very different from those who owned businesses there and who vacationed there as well. While he might have been in charge of solving several political issues that affected the entire town, nonetheless the fact that he was a Black man did not help solve the racial segregation that existed in his time.


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