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Guide to Orlando’s Afro American Heritage

Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage

The Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage was formed in 1986 to preserve the heritage of the African American community in Orlando. The Florida Division of Corporations lists Deborah Murphy as president, and Price Pinkie Francis Alyce, Charlisa Barker, John Kemper and Rodney Marshall as directors of the organization. The Society was dissolved in 1991, but their “Guide to Orlando’s Afro American Heritage” lives on. To honor, preserve and celebrate the work they did to preserve Orlando’s African American history and heritage, we present some of the images and text from the Guide.

The directors of the Society hoped to publish additional guides with photographs submitted or recommended by members of the community. To further their original plan, if you have a special photo of an individual person or place of importance in  Orlando’s African American heritage and history that you feel should be added, share your memories in the Comment section.

SETTLEMENTS

Jonestown
Jonestown is credited with being the first Black settlement in Orlando. Today [1990], Reeves Terrace, a public housing project sits on the site of Jonestown. The Blacks were forced to move in 1941 to make way for the projects. Jonestown was settled in the late 19th century by Mr. and Mrs. Sam Jones. The homes had two or three bedrooms with porches and tin roofs. Many had gardens for vegetables, a yard for chickens and maybe hogs and a cow.

Pepperhill – Callahan
The Callahan neighborhood started in 1886 when the first homes in the area were constructed by Rev. Andrew Hooper, a white builder. No one seems certain why the area was later called Pepperhill. Orlando city officials renamed the neighborhood Callahan in honor of Dr. J. B. Callahan, who was a leading citizen in Orlando.

Washington Shores
Washington Shores became one of the main Black communities in Orlando. The neighborhood was planned in 1940 specifically as a community for Blacks by James Graham after one of his Black workers complained there was nowhere in the city where Blacks could buy an affordable home. Graham and other area businessmen, including Dr. I. S. Hankins, formed a corporation to purchase land and provide loans for the subdivision. Washington Shores became a thriving community by the 1950s with several additions to accommodate rapid growth in the area.

SCHOOLS

Johnson Academy / Jones High School
In 1895, on the South West corner of Garland and Church Streets, the First School for Blacks was established in Orlando. It was called Orlando Black. It later was moved to Parramore and Jefferson Streets and was renamed Johnson Academy. Because of increased enrollment, a new facility was built on the corner of Parramore and Washington and, at this time, was renamed Jones High School. Its first commencement was held in 1922.


Jones High School was relocated again because of increased enrollment in the early 1950s to Rio Grande where it has continued. The facility on Washington Street has been used as an elementary school and now, with a joint renovation project with the city, the new facility has been renamed the Callahan Neighborhood Center, serving the community needs for meeting facilities, cultural festivals and after school and art programs.


ABOVE: 1923 4th Grade class – Johnson Academy (Cosby Collection)

St. John’s Academy
At the turn of the century a school for Black children was established by the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church of Saint John the Baptist grew out of this school. The school also represented the first private school for Blacks in Orlando. The building has since been demolished.


ABOVE: Teachers at Johnson Academy. Back: Mr. Gruggie, Mrs. Douglas, Mrs. Crooms, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Hopkins.
Front: Mrs. Proctor, Mrs. Henderson, Prof. Jones, Mrs. Murrell, Mrs. Thomas.

CHURCHES


Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church – 535 W. Washington Street
Mount Zion is the oldest known Black church in Orlando. It was started in 1880 by the Rev. C. J. Scott who moved from Gainesville to Orlando. It was established in a “bush arbor,” a shelter built with small logs and covered with shrubbery to protect the congregation from the elements. The church’s first formal sanctuary was built on the corner of Robinson and Chatham Street. The current sanctuary, which is opposite the site of the old wooden church, was completed in 1962. (Search Orlando Memory for additional stories about Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.)

Rev. H. K. Hill served as pastor at Mt. Zion from 1910-1929. His wife, Viola T. Hill was president of the State Women’s Convention. Members of the Crooms family gave faithful service as ministers to the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church – Rev. Moses Crooms, Jr. from January –April 1941 and Rev. A. C. Crooms from 1945-1946.

The Old Ebenezer United Methodist Church – 594 West Church Street
In 1872, a wooden structure was built on the corner of Church and Terry Streets to house the congregation of the Ebenezer United Methodist Church. By the 1920s, members of the church dedicated themselves to building its first brick structure. Services were held in this building until the congregation outgrew this facility and a new building was built on the corner of Goldwyn Avenue and Monte Carlo Trail in 1971. The Terry Street building is still in use by the congregation of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.

The Old Mount Pleasant Church – 314 South Paramore Avenue
This is the old site of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, the first Black church in Orlando to be built from stone. The congregation was started in 1919 by the Rev. J. H. Armstead. The church originally met in a rough shed. This building was constructed in the early 1920s. The congregation remained at that location until it moved to its present quarters on Bruton and Prince Hall Boulevards.

Shiloh Baptist Church – 649 West Jackson Street
The Shiloh Baptist Church was organized in 1899 with Rev. A. Arnett. He continued to pastor the church until 1922. The first pews in Shiloh came from Ocoee, where Black churches had been burned out during the race riot. Prominent members of this church are Arthur “Pappy” Kennedy, who was Orlando’s first Black city commissioner, and the second Black to serve on the city commission – Napoleon Ford. Rev. Collier, who served as pastor from 1922-1959, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., were devoted friends. The Rev. Collier conducted a week revival for Rev. King, Sr. and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (slain civil rights leader), joined the church during the revival. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune spoke at Shiloh Baptist Church on several occasions.

Homes

The Crooms House – 504 West Washington Street
This is the home of the Crooms family – Black pioneers in Orlando. The home was built in 1905 by Moses Crooms, Sr. and his wife Daphane, who moved to Orlando from north Florida. Their offspring became Orlando leaders in the fields of business, education and music.

The Cosby House – 30 North Parramore Avenue
This was the home of Wesley and Amanda Cosby who were former slaves from Georgia. Mr. Cosby owned a saloon on Church Street and an ice delivery business which he operated well into the 1920s. The house is now [1990] owned by their granddaughter Thelma Wilkins.

The Dr. Eccleston House – 747 West Jackson Street
This was the home of Dr. Cecil Eccleston, built in 1925. Dr. Eccelston donated the land for the Eccleston Callahan Hospital, a medical facility for Black people. The hospital was used for children recuperating from long-term illnesses. In 1958 it became Eccleston Elementary School.

Dr. Eccleston was a native of Kingston, Jamaica. He was a dentist and a graduate of Meharry Medical School of Dentistry in Memphis, Tennessee. He came to Orlando in 1925 from Fort Pierce. Dr. Eccleston, respected church clinic leader, was an active member of St. John’s Episcopal Church and served in a leadership capacity with the Colored Service Men’s Organization.

The Gabriel Jones House – 50 North Terry Street
Gabriel Jones owned a grocery store as early as 1887. He was a businessman and community leader. The house he built on Terry Street in 1907 was for his wife Clara. It was considerably larger than others built during this period, but Gabe wanted to be assured that his family would have income if something happened to him. The house has always served as a rooming house with tenants from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.

The Dr. Hankins House – 219 Lime Street
This is the home of Dr. I. S. Hankins, Orlando’s pioneer Black physician. The home was built in 1935. Dr. Hankins was a civic leader who served on the race relations advisory board for two mayors. He was one of the first to advocate the development of Washington Shores as a subdivision where Black people could own their homes.

The Dr. Wells House
This is the home of Dr. William Monroe Wells, a general practitioner who was one of the early black doctors in Orlando. Dr. Wells, a native of Fort Gaines, Florida, received his medical training at Meharry Medical College and came to Orlando in the 1920s. He is credited with delivering nearly 6,000 babies during his career. He was active in a number of community activities and also established the South Street Casino, which was a major social club in the Black community.

The Maxey House – 638 West Anderson Street
This is the home of Woodford James Maxey who became Orlando’s first Black letter carrier in 1904. The home was built in 1936. Mr. Maxey was a teacher before he became a letter carrier. He was a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church, a 33rd degree Prince Hall mason and a member of the Knights of Pythias.

The Hill/Tillinghast House – 626 West Washington
This house was built by Mr. James Murrell, a Black building contractor, for Mrs. Viola Tillinghast Hill, after the death of her husband Rev. H.K. Hill, Pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Mrs. Hill was an active church woman and community leader. The has has also been used as a meeting place for such famous visitors as Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and aviatrix, Bessie Coleman. In the 1940s it was used by young women to learn sewing under a program instituted by President Roosevelt.

BUSINESSES

Offices of Dr. J. B. Callahan – Corner West Church and Hughey
This building was erected by the late Dr. J. B. Callahan in 1922, where he maintained his office until his passing February 28, 1947. He is still missed by many for his medical ability, his civic pride and generosity. The building is still owned and occupied by his widow [1990]. Mrs. Callahan is a conscientious Christian, a good citizen, and a worthy friend. Her charitable acts are a credit to her as well as to the memory of her late husband. She possesses many friends of both races and is a staunch member of the Orlando Negro Chamber of Commerce.

The Hankins Building – 647 West South Street
The Hankins building has always been the business home for black doctors and lawyers. It was built in 1947 by Dr. I. S. Hankins, who still owns it [1990]. Today the building is home to the local NAACP chapter, a dentist’s office, a tailor shop, beauty salon and a florist shop.

The Riley Building – 596 West Church Street
The Riley Building was constructed in 1947 by businessman Zellie L. Riley. The building contained a tailor shop and men’s ready-to-wear store that Mr. Riley operated. The Negro Chamber of Commerce was located on the second floor. Mr. Riley served as executive secretary of the Chamber for many years. He died in 1974.

Washington Shores Savings Bank – 715 Goldwyn Avenue
Washington Shores Federal Savings and Loan Association was the first Black-owned financial institution in Florida. When it opened in April 1963, it had $400,000 in assets and 362 shareholders. Many of the homes in the Washington Shores community were built with loans provided by this institution.

Wells’Built Hotel  – 22 West South Street
Built by Dr. William Monroe Wells, the hotel served to board entertainers that were performing in the area. Notables who boarded there included Pegleg Bates, Ella Fitzgerald, sports legends Joe Black and Roy Campanella.

SOCIAL LIFE

South Street Casino – 549 West South Street
Built by Dr. William M. Wells, the site of the South Street Casino was a place for young people to hold meetings and for recreation or sports. Later it became a major spot for adult dances. The building also housed the Quarterback Club at one time – a private club that sponsored social activities. It was demolished in 1987.


ABOVE: Interior view of the new South Street Casino, under management of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Long, Jr. [in 1990].

John H. Jackson Recreation Center – 1002 West Carter Street
The building was the home of the Colored Servicemen’s Club and served as a USO Club for Black soldiers during World War II. After the war, it was a meeting place for Black veterans. Years after the war, it was turned over to the city of Orlando and has since been used as a recreation center. In the mid-1980ss it was rededicated in honor of John H. Jackson, a longtime city recreation worker and husband of the first Black librarian in Orlando, Eddie T. Jackson who served as librarian at the Booker T. Washington Branch from 1924 to 1946.

The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons – Corner of Columbia and Bruton
Records show that the fraternal organization Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Masons existed as early as 1886, making it one of the oldest social organizations in the city. Many of the most prominent Black people in Orlando were members of this lodge.

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ATTACHMENTS

Cover - Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

School

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Jones High School

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Teachers at Johnson Academy

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Mt. Zion Missionaer

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Old Ebenezer United Methodist Church

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Shiloh Baptist Church

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

The Maxey Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Cosby Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Crooms Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Dr. Eccleston Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Gabriel Jones Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Dr. Hankins Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Dr. Wells Home

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Hill Tillinghast House

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Dr. Callahan's office

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990. Located at West Church...

The Hankins Building

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

The Riley Building

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Wells'Built Hotel

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

Washington Shores Savings Bank

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

The new South Street Casino

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990. Located at 517-119...

Interior of the new South Street Casino

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

1929 4th Grade Class Johnson Academy

"Guide to Orlando's Afro American Heritage," published by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage circa 1990.

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Guide to Afro American Heritage

Booklet created by the Central Florida Society of Afro American Heritage, Inc., between 1986 and 1991. Many of the structures featured are gone.


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