Gentrification: Another Word for Black Removal
Central Florida, specifically the Orlando metropolitan area, talks about gentrification in glowing terms of urban development, economic growth, income and racial diversity. However, the trend in our region illustrates a policy of racial displacement, negative economic growth for the underclass, and the destruction of community association and historical traditions.
In the early 1980s as a graduate student at Purdue University, I read a very interesting book entitled, The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America. In 1971 the Newsweek journalist, Samuel Yette, argued in the manuscript that there was a war against the Black community that centered on them as an obsolete people. The war, issued by the American government, called for the breakup of Black communities and the removal of its residents. Thus, according to the author, the breakup or deterioration of African-American neighborhoods would result in the negation of ethnic pride and synergy. Yette’s thesis, well supported, cost him his job. President Richard Nixon openly stated, that he would not grant Newsweek any interviews while Yette was employed by the magazine. Years later we found that Yette was telling the truth. Black communities have been broken down by two major industrial efforts: 1. Highway development–constructing major interstates and state thruways through Black communities that essentially destroyed the cultural heritage of traditions and institutions. 2. Black population displacement in the name of urban development. There are two distinct examples of ethnic removal and the destruction of Black synergy in Central Florida; Hannibal Square in Winter Park and the Parramore district in Orlando.
In the late 19th century African-Americans carved out a separate ethnic enclave in Winter Park that housed top lined businesses, such as hotels, cafes, and a variety of stores that serviced the needs of the Jim Crowed community. The neighborhood, named after one of the world’s greatest generals, the African–Hannibal. The great Hannibal, (a story that all should know) led his elephant riding army over the Alps to engage the Roman Empire; the African Carthage leader was one of very few to defeat the Romans in several battles. Like the legend of Hannibal, the Winter Park Hannibal Square neighborhood created a Black Mecca in the heart of white Winter Park. However, like ancient Rome that dedicated itself to the destruction of Carthage, white Winter Park decided to claim the Black Hannibal Square area for itself. Today, the area’s Black businesses have been closed, residents were forced to sell their homes, and even some of the Black churches relocated. The replacements are white owned yuppie cafes, bars, stores, and apartments. The walking and gathering traditions of Black residents are now lost. Sadly, the only thing that reminds us of a Black tradition and an ethnic affluent neighborhood is the newly built Winter Park Black Heritage Museum. In essence, “Black” Hannibal Square is now relegated to photo exhibits and memories of the community’s elders.
The story of gentrification and Black urban development extends 15 miles southwest of Hannibal Square to Orlando’s Parramore. Parramore, like Hannibal Square was a rich Black cultural area that was lined with Black historical traditions and culture. It was a clean, self-engaging set that illustrated the strength, courage, and dedication of African-American society. Following the lead of Harlem, New York; Southside Chicago; and “Black” Jacksonville; Parramore showcased Black-owned hotels, eateries, clothing shops, along with traditional and cultural parades.
Parramore, like many African-American districts throughout the United States was a scene of community activity. Walking down Church Street in the 1950s was electric. One could have stopped to chat with Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers; jive with Rock n Roller–Little Richard; and talked politics with Civil Rights legend Thurgood Marshall—these are the type of people the district attracted. However, in the 1950s White America was not interested in Black urban America as living centers for their families; rather, this was the beginning of white flight to the suburbs. But, things started to change thirty years later.
In the late 1980s and 1990s White America began to change their views on the inner city. Young Urban Professionals, called Yuppies, viewed the urban ambience as fitting places for residential living, employment, and political and social excitement. However, the question became—“How can we occupy urban space that is dominated by working class community folk? The answer was the European term—gentrification, remove the underclass and working poor in the disguise of creating economic development and affordable housing.
In the 1990s the gentrification bug hit Orlando’s city government and industrial front organizations, like a person who just won the mega-million jackpot. The city’s political and economic leaders eyed Parramore as a new center for population redistricting. That is, replace the poor, working class, and the Black caste with young white professionals who could afford to live in the new Parramore community. However, the story that was told to the residents focused on gentrification – a program that would create a better neighborhood for the area’s population. Rather, it was a policy that eroded the unique rich culture and placement of Parramore. Black establishments were destroyed and replaced with non-community or alien establishments.
Throughout the late 1990s and the first 10 years of the 21st century the look of Church Street and the entire community changed. For instance, decent affordable housing is non-existent, Black business development has ceased, and the employment of residents by encroached businesses is invisible. Now, comes, the sham or better yet, “The Final Solution.”
Approximately five years ago the Orlando City Commission outlined a plan that eventually became known as the Creative Village Development blueprint. The scheme connected to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created avenues through Grants to revitalize economically challenged neighborhoods. HUD offered unique programs such as Historical and Tourist Grants that residents could use to turn their communities into historical tourist zones, such as the Wright Brothers-Paul Dunbar neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio—a place that was occupied by crime, poor housing, and filth that was changed by a grant through the Ohio Historical Society that empowered the residents to use their heritage as a center for tourism. As the historian and researcher for the project and grant, the district transformed to become one of the leading tourist destinations of Ohio. However, unlike the Dayton City Council that focused on transforming the community into an economic historical tourist zone powered by pride, and ethnicity–Orlando’s City Council set a course for the removal and the evaporation of Black Parramore.
The line of attack on the community was the creating of a Board of Commissions for the Orlando Housing Authority that supported the philosophical belief of the City Commission that gentrification was needed; a relationship that forged an agreement with Creative Village Development, the [Bank] Banc of America Development Corporation and Creative Village Orlando—a private entity. Secondly, create an image and mental picture that “new/better people” must be brought into the district to develop new modes of morality and decency. That is, make the District the poster child of crime, vice and decadence of Orlando. In biblical terms associate Parramore with ancient day Babylon. Thirdly, convince the residents that gentrification is the only way for their survival.
To assist in the coordination that Parramore is a piranha state, the Orlando Police Department stepped up its surveillance and arrest of residents. Indeed, there are serious crimes in the area, but, a review of the arrest record by the Orlando Police Department in the last six years indicates the overzealous approach by officers to arrest individuals for minor violations that are overlooked in other parts of the city. In addition, drivers in the district are more apt to be stopped, questioned and arrested than in other regions of the Orlando metropolitan area. Now with the argument and plan in motion comes the Final Solution.
The City and its appointed subsidiary organizations, i.e., the Creative Village, maps a strategy that aligns various institutions such as the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, UCF School of Film and Digital Media, Full Sail Real World Education University and the Digital Animation and Effects School, to lay the educational framework for the gentrification scheme to recruit high end employees to the area. That is, individuals who earn over $75,000 annually. While there is a recruitment of the “new/better people, there is the target of the attraction of high tech businesses to the area. The City’s plan is to have 4-6 companies that will hire “200 local employees; 8-12 companies that will hire between 50-200 local residents; 15-30 companies that will hire less than 50 people; and 20-40 companies that are classified as complimentary.” Now here’s the problem and the contradictions.
The average yearly income in the district is less than $14,000; the new residents or newcomers income will exceed $75,000. The housing that is scheduled for the Creative Village community is going to be a high end development, that is, living quarters to jive with the comforts, style, ambience of the young urban professional. Thus, housing that will be in the $200,000 bracket or $1500 a month rent segment. The point, except for walking around the grounds and admiring the beauty of the Village the average Parramorean will not be able to take advantage of the new housing.
Now, there is also a problem with the businesses that are targeted to be pillars of the Village. By the size and scope of the City’s argument the community will house well established and primarily non-Black entrepreneurs. The few Black businesses that are now in the District will be locked out of the process and isolated in areas that generate little real economic growth and development. If the City was serious about Black business growth there would be a plan within the structure in the creation of incubator programs for African-American business development. To make the point nationally, over 80% of African-American business growth in the past 20 years has come through city and state incubator or mentoring programs. The issue again, the “real” residents will be omitted from real economic growth and wealth. To make matters worse is the job problem. The coordinators of the Village envision highly educated techs for employment. Well, the District is a low income blue collar community that is not educationally fit to work in these new industrial jobs. Therefore, the majority of the “Black jobs” will be underpinning and menial occupations; simply put—21st century sharecropping.
What does this mean? Parramore will cease to be a working class district that harbored a rich heritage of self-sufficiency and Black pride. The gentrification movement will replace the original community with a palatable group that connects to the overall objectives of our city leaders and planners. Do not say it can’t or will not happen. Today, the great district of Harlem, New York, whom Alain Locke entitled, “the Black Cultural Center of the World” has changed from a Black majority controlled community to one in which African-Americans are in the minority, a district that is now a shell of its greatness and productivity. Wake up! Parramore is next.
Dr. Vibert White
The Truth Teller