The Rise and Fall of an African American Inner City

The Case of Parramore, an African American community in Orlando that has been almost erased from history.

Affordable housing in Orlando’s Parramore

As Central Florida’s population grew after World War II, downtown Orlando suffered the same decay as other downtowns across the United States. Service providers and residents moved to growing suburbs.[29] Similar to what happened in other inner cities around the country, Parramore suffered drastic changes in the 1940s. Sponsored by the Reorganization Act of 1939 and located in Parramore, Griffin Park became the first affordable housing project in town.[30] The public housing project contained 174 units and received numerous families who lived in Jonestown.[31] The slum clearance program demolished Jonestown on the east side of the railroad and relocated black families to Parramore on the west side of “the tracks.”[32]

Present-day market rate housing in Parramore

Still in 1940, in the same place where Jonestown once existed, the government began the construction of a “white housing project” with 176 units called Reeves Terrace.[33] Ready in 1943, the project became home for low-income whites, most military and civilian war workers. Thus, as part of the federal policy of slum clearance, Reeves Terrace and Griffin Park emerged as examples of the racialization of the space in Orlando. The construction of Griffin Park together with the destruction of Jonestown and the building of Reeves Terrace symbolized the rearrangement of the city as African Americans were forced moving to the west, and whites moved to the east.

Interstate-4 and National Highway System

The construction of I-4 in 1957 as a wall between Parramore and Downtown Orlando

In addition to affordable housing, the construction of the Interstate Highway System reshaped the United States after World War II. President Eisenhower signed the Highway Act in 1956, and one year later Florida started the construction of Interstate 4 (I-4) from Tampa to Daytona Beach. Unintended consequences of I-4 construction affected African American communities in and around downtown Orlando. Black neighborhoods such as Parramore suffered devastating effects due to the discriminatory way expressway routes were chosen.[34] In this way, the United States quickly enhanced its technology and infrastructure while reinforcing the roots of persistent racial segregation.

Developed as an African-Americans community during the 1880s, Parramore was seamlessly connected with downtown Orlando in 1947. By the late 1960s, Interstate 4 was constructed in a location that severed the neighborhood from the city’s downtown core. Adobe Photoshop aerial overlays by Ennis Davis, AICP. 2016 aerials courtesy of Google Earth. 1943 historic aerials courtesy of the University of Florida George A. Smathers libraries Digital Collection.

In Central Florida, residents and authorities of Winter Park, a suburb of Orlando, organized a successful campaign against I-4, worried about possible problems brought by the building of an expressway through the middle of the city. In the 1950s, most Winter Park residents came from a white middle-to upper-class backgrounds, with many having migrated from northern cities where they had seen the destructive effects of highway construction through downtown areas. In 1961, Winter Park citizens pressured the State Road Department and the Bureau of Public Roads in Washington D.C. to push the expressway trajectory to the outskirts of the city.[35] Residents sent letters to newspapers and the city’s civic groups joined the protest.[36] In the end, the city of Winter Park avoided its downtown’s destruction.

Unlike Winter Park, Parramore could not avoid the construction of I-4 through its land. As Orlando’s main newspaper, The Sentinel, approved of I-4 construction, some city residents questioned authorities about funding, environmental destruction, and the expressway route.[37] The public debate divided residents between those who wanted the highway passing through downtown Orlando, and those who wanted the highway to bypass the downtown area.[38] However, Parramore’s voice did not appear anywhere during the debate.

Hence, in 1957, after only few months of discussions the construction of I-4 began. The construction displaced 551 properties in Parramore and reinforced the separation that already existed between the neighborhood and downtown Orlando.[39] The elevated structure of I-4 ran along Division Street, and separated Amelia Avenue, Livingston Avenue, Robinson Avenue, Washington Street, Central Avenue and Church Street into east and west sides.[40] Before I-4, all of these streets directly connected Parramore to downtown Orlando. As a result, from the 1970s to the 1980s, Parramore suffered visible impoverishment while downtown improved. Thus, the highway served to create a modern-day class barrier that enhanced the existing racial boundary. I-4 reinforced the racial segregation that already existed when a white businessman plotted Parramore’s land in 1881.