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1908--Young African American Girl on Daytona Street

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/140709  (Young African American Girl Standing on a Daytona Street in 1908)

When I was a youngster, schools were segregated except for the seventh grade school I attended on the Navy base in Newport, Rhode Island, where we children of sailors from all over the U.S. were “quilted” together, including at least one African American; and as the night spun to the final song of the end-of-the-year dance I was still too shy to ask Cindy, a dark-eyed Italian girl, to dance, and then I felt a tap on the back of my shoulder, and I heard, “May I have this dance?”; and I turned my eyes from Cindy and took into my arms the ebony girl who must have also stood as I had through every other song of that night.

Similarly, in my senior year at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, there was only one brave African American girl in our class of 511 students, and whites and blacks were so segregated that one evening in the lobby of the Daytona Theater I mentioned with interest to my date, “Look, there’s a ‘colored’ couple.” It was either late 1964 or spring of ’65, and only then was the invisible wall separating our races finally being slowly dismantled; and it was a few more years before Mainland and Campbell High Schools combined, more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court had directed integration with “all deliberate speed.”

Early Daytona’s African American Communities

Sixty-five years earlier Howard Thurman was born in sleepy Daytona which had just 1,690 residents in 1900 when the town was only thirty years old, and by 1910 fifty-two percent were African Americans. (To read the blog post about Howard Thurman, click here.) Many new residents had recently arrived, hoping for jobs with the new railroad that had come into Daytona, and even more African Americans had moved to the town after the 1894-95 freezes that killed most of the rural orange groves, putting many men out of work. By 1913, Daytona had three distinct African American communities–Waycross, Newtown, and Midway (Flemming, 23; Lempel, Apr. 2009).

Long-time Daytona resident and local historian Samuel Rogers has noted that after the freezes of ’94-’95 many African Americans from the Port Orange Mt. Zion Methodist Church moved to Newtown; and Daytona State College professor and historian Dr. Leonard Lempel’s research has shown that Newtown and Waycross were larger than Midtown, and that as late as 1926, about half of Daytona’s population was African American (Lempel, Apr. 2009).

“Black People Surrounded by a White World”

Thurman, in his autobiography With Head and Heart, writes that during the first decade of 1900 “black people [were] surrounded by a white world.” On the beachside the new towns named Sea Breeze and Daytona Beach were “exclusive tourist areas,” and African Americans were “not allowed to spend the night there, nor could I be seen there after dark without being threatened.” They could swim on the beaches then, but “these areas were absolutely off limits after dark” (Thurman 10).

Lempel notes that African Americans were banned by city charter from living on Daytona’s beach side (Lempel, Oct. 2009).

Thurman recalled, “Thus, white and black worlds were separated by a wall of quiet hostility and overt suspicion,” and he explained in his autobiography that “The white community in Daytona itself was ‘downtown,’ no place for loitering. Our freedom of movement was carefully circumscribed, a fact so accepted that it was taken for granted. But in Waycross, Midway, and Newtown we were secure and at home, free to move and go about our business as we pleased” (Thurman 10).

In 1903, Daytona hired two African American policemen for Midway and Waycross (Lempel, 2013; Lempel, Apr. 2009).

Waycross

Waycross was where Thurman was born in 1899 in a house that still stands at 614 Whitehall Street in Daytona Beach, and Lempel notes that Waycross, the most southern of Daytona’s African American communities, was situated around current-day Bellevue Avenue, and according to the Daytona City Directory of 1900 (which used a “C” to indicate “colored”), Waycross had a population of 300. Thurman remembered that “Waycross was made up mostly of homeowners. There was one restaurant, one rooming house, and the Odd Fellows Hall. The two churches, Mount Bethel Baptist Church [Thurman’s church] and Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, were on opposite sides of the main track of the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks which bisected the community” (Lempel, Apr. 2009; Thurman 9-10).

Thurman remembers that the boardinghouse owned by a Mrs. Singleton was near his church. He also recalls Mary McLeod Bethune from those early years, saying “Very often she would come to our church, usually on the fifth Sunday night, and she would talk of her dreams for Negro youth. Often she would sing a solo. Always, the congregation gave her a collection for her work; and sometimes we attended her Sunday afternoon temperance meetings. The most memorable aspect of those Sunday afternoons was the lack of segregation in the seating arrangements. Many tourists attended, sitting wherever there were empty seats. There was no special section for white people” (Thurman 22-23).

With great respect Thurman writes, “When Mrs. Bethune died [in 1955], it was my privilege to deliver her eulogy” (Thurman 23).

Midway

Thurman recalled, “Negroes lived in three population pockets. One was called Midway, the section in which Mary McLeod Bethune’s school was founded and established.” [Midway encompassed the area from today’s U.S. 1 on the east to several blocks west of the railroad tracks. From the north, the area included today’s Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard (named Second Avenue for most of the twentieth century). Midway extended south at least to today’s International Speedway Boulevard (named Volusia Avenue for most of the twentieth century)]. Thurman explained, “Midway was more progressive and more secular than either of the other communities. There were two pool halls there, as well as the single movie house open to us. The owners knew that if it were located in any other section, there would not be many customers. When I went from my neighborhood to Midway, I felt like a country boy going to the city.” Bethune came to Daytona in 1904 (Thurman 9; Lempel, 2013).

Local historian Samuel Rogers has said Midway was a newly developing neighborhood in Daytona where educated African Americans were establishing a business community, and Lempel has noted that by the 1920’s, Second Avenue (now called Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard) had seven African American-owned restaurants, two movie theaters, and a separate bus line, and Lempel’s research has confirmed that by the 1930’s and 1940’s Daytona was known for being among the first Florida cities to have African American bus drivers and policemen, as well as public parks in African American neighborhoods. He has also pointed out that the Midway and Newtown communities each had public swimming pools. Of course, continuing segregation was a major factor.

Newtown

Newtown was in the area around Orange Avenue in Daytona Beach, as Thurman’s autobiography notes: “Next to Midway was Newtown, where one public school for black children was located. The main street connecting Midway and Newtown continued [south] into Waycross, the community where I lived. On the edge of Newtown and Waycross was the one source of recreation for all, the baseball park. The fact that it was so close to Waycross gave us children a certain pride of possession” (Thurman 9).

Segregation

Segregation in Daytona extended also to the ill. As Thurman recalled, “The sick [African Americans] were cared for at home, for no hospitals were open to us other than the ‘pesthouse’ on the outskirts of town, where smallpox victims were isolated” (Thurman 11). Lempel has noted that Halifax Hospital remained segregated until the 1950’s. Schools, likewise, received limited public funding, as Lempel notes: “In the 1940’s something like two-thirds of all Black schools in Florida still had outhouses and no indoor plumbing” (Lempel, Oct. 2009).

Silver Hill and Angola

In addition to Waycross, Newtown, and Midway, there were other African American areas within Daytona, some known by distinct names. Local historian Don Gaby has noted that in the 1920’s from South Street to Live Oak along U.S. 1 there was an African American neighborhood, which local historian Harold Cardwell said may have been the African American neighborhood known as Silver Hill. Lempel has also noted that Angola may be the name of yet another African American community of those early years of Daytona (Lempel, Apr 2009).

Midtown

Today, the name Midtown is used to encompass historic African American communities deserving funding and preservation. Daytona’s historical African American heritage is also being preserved through the Black Heritage Trail. To see it, click here.

Please let others know about this blog: volusiahistory.wordpress.com.

To write this I used these sources:

Harold Cardwell. Comments following Leonard Lempel. “Black History Time Line of East Volusia County, Part 1,” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 11 Apr. 2009.

Sheila Y. Flemming. The Answered Prayer to a Dream: Bethune-Cookman College, 1904-1994. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Donning Company Publishers, 1995.

Don Gaby. Comments following Leonard Lempel. “Black History Time Line of East Volusia County, Part 1,” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 11 Apr. 2009.

Leonard Lempel. “Black History Time Line of East Volusia County, Part 1.” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 11 Apr. 2009.

Lempel. “Black History in Volusia County, Part 2 (Civil Rights).” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 10 Oct. 2009.

Lempel. “Connecting 1910 to Jackie Robinson in 1946.” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 27 Sept. 2013.

Samuel Rogers. Comments following Leonard Lempel. “Black History Time Line of East Volusia County, Part 1,” Lecture at Halifax Historical Museum, 11 Apr. 2009.

Howard Thurman. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

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