The Rise and Fall of an African American Inner City

March 31, 2017

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

The Consequences for Parramore

A new vision for Parramore

The transformations presented in this article were plainly reflected in data collected since 1980. Until the 1950s, Parramore’s population increased. After 1960, the neighborhood’s population aggressively declined. In a planning report from 1987, the city’s department affirmed that, in 1960, Parramore’s population reached 10,630 residents; in 1970, this number reduced to 7,273 and in 1980, decreased to a number of 5,262 residents.[41] Comparing the economic development between the city of Orlando and Parramore, the Orlando Sentinel reporter Sherri Owens wrote that in 1960, Parramore’s median household income reached $2,700 and Orlando’s median household income was around $3,200.[42] In 1980, economic disparity had dramatically increased. According to Owens, while Parramore’s average household income was around $6,000, Orlando’s number reached the value of $14,000.[43] Hence, income inequality between Orlando and Parramore increased from $500 in 1960 to $8,000 in 1980. Other important data presented a great disparity between unemployment rates of Parramore and Orlando. In 1960, the unemployment rate in Parramore reached around 7 percent, and Orlando unemployment rate reached 4 percent.[44] Twenty years later, Parramore’s unemployment rate cleared 10 percent, and Orlando’s rate surpassed 5 percent.[45] Hence, the uneven development after World War II between African American neighborhoods and white suburbs contributed to the economic decline of Parramore.

The Parramore Community Vision Plan, 2015

For much of twentieth century Orlando’s black society strove to establish itself as a thriving community. By 1940, although segregated from the rest of the developing areas, Parramore experienced relatively good economic development with a number of African Americans finding success in local business.

The construction of I-4 physically disrupted Parramore, as houses and commerce were destroyed and people were displaced. As a gigantic, elevated construction, I-4 established a concrete division between Parramore and Downtown, a class and racial barrier that marginalized the West from the East with sharply divergent incomes and rates of unemployment. Thus, I-4 appeared to reinforce borders already established by places like the Division Street and the railroad.

To honor Parramore, the Orlando City Soccer Club installed a permanent, six panel historical display that illustrates the rich history of the neighborhood at their new soccer stadium built in the Parramore neighborhood. Image Credit: Orlando City.

Until 1980, Parramore’s history appeared as one blatant case in which the process of suburbanization contributed to the reinforcement of racial segregation and the impoverishment of black neighborhoods reproduced in many other communities throughout the United States. The main factors that led to Parramore’s decay were the historic disenfranchisement of African Americans, the use of physical violence through lynchings, massacres and bombings, and the community’s powerlessness in fighting the disruption and social segregation imposed by the construction of the I-4 and public housing since the 1950s.

Infill multifamily residential along West Church Street in Parramore

Article written by Yuri Gama, a recently admitted Ph.D. student at University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  A Brazilian urban researcher, he is interested in the history of cities, social movements, public transportation, and the intersection of racial oppression and social inequality.

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Schulman Assistant Professor of History University of California at Los Angeles, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt?: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980 (Oxford University Press, 1991), 220.  [25] Myron Orfield, “Atlanta Metropatterns: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability,” ed. David C. Soule, Urban Sprawl: A Comprehensive Reference Guide (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006), 175.  [26] Raymond A. Mohl and Mark H. Rose, Interstate: Highway Politics and Policy since 1939, (University of Tennessee Press, 2012), 95.  [27] Raymond Mohl, “Race and Housing in the Postwar City: An Explosive History,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94, no. 01, (Chicago, 2001): 13.  [28] Mohl and Rose, Interstate: Highway Politics and Policy since 1939, 152.  [29] Ruth L. Steiner; Scott A. 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