Division Street in the South is the Mason-Dixon line of its communities, the historical barrier between the black and white parts of town.
It was precisely what the predominantly white population ordered, codified in municipal surveys and maps, and meant to state clearly – especially to blacks – on what side of the line they belonged.
Division streets are littered all over the south, including Florida. Orlando has a Division Avenue, while Oviedo, Mount Dora, Montverde, Clermont and Deland each have a Division Street.
Renaming any division street, as the Orlando City Council is proposing, is fraught with angst, as it should be, for the street represents an important historical marker that shouldn’t be erased. Such painful history shouldn’t be paved over to make way for gleaming condos or office towers just west of downtown Orlando, considered prime real estate.
So what if developers and city officials are uncomfortable? It is asking Orlando’s black community, which has just as large a claim on the city as non blacks, to sacrifice a part of their history for the continued makeover of Downtown Orlando into Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s vision of the city.
The Past Has Not Passed
If anything, there should be a greater effort to demonstrate how racially different Orlando is today. But is it?
West Orlando, represented by Regina Hill, is predominantly black, running south of Colonial Drive, west of Rosalind Street all the way to Hiawassee Road and south to Conroy Road. Orlando’s past has not passed at all. It is still very much with us.
Division Avenue begins at West Washington Street and flows south to Michigan Avenue, where more middle income and white households take over, raising the question, is renaming the entire Division Avenue on the table or just that portion west of Downtown Orlando?
The Division Avenue in District 5 ends at Callahan Drive. It lies just west of the Amway Center and the Geico garage, making it more strategically located to Downtown Orlando than Paramore Avenue, which is further west. A name change seems tantamount to an annexation of Division Avenue into nonblack Downtown Orlando.
This is the same vicinity where Orlando is attempting to construct Creative Village, which would include the University of Central Florida downtown campus is proposed as a major draw.
Roots of Division Street
The black population originally may have been concentrated near Orlando’s South Street and Bumby Avenue in the early 20th century, but they were quickly shuffled west of Orange Avenue, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
During segregation days, a black community thrived on Division Avenue, a history documented at the Wells Bilt Museum just a few blocks away.
Previous attempts to rename Division Avenue, in the 1990s and again in the 2000s, reached a dead end.
Renaming the street may begin to change what people know about the area. Florida, with its never-ending flow of newcomers, will little note nor long remember why there was a Division Avenue or what happened there. That’s one reason District 5 Commissioner Hill is hesitant. “I’d like to hear more,” she told the Sentinel.
Mayor Dyer, by the way, can initiate the name change without the consent of the city-required 51 percent of landowners, according to the newspaper. But consider the optics.
Change, however, is a constant. If there is to be a renaming, Hill should exact a price for rewriting southern history at the mayor’s behest.
Here are some suggestions:
• Do some horse trading. Exchange Division Avenue for a major downtown street to be renamed after a prominent African American. A Martin Luther King Drive currently exists east of John Young Parkway in District 5’s Clear Lake area – in other words, the black part of town.
• Ditch prosaic names. According to the National League of Cities, the most common street names in America are Second (10,866), Third (10,131), First (9,898), Fourth (9,190) and Park (8,926). Make sure these names don’t come in first, second, third or fourth.
• Think of the women. In Spain, streets named after fascists are being renamed after females, after whom only 27 percent of streets are named in seven world cities, according to a survey by Mapbox.
• Enlighten some folks. City officials ought to understand that a Stonewall Jackson street hurts as much as a Division Avenue. Is the city willing to re-evaluate all of its street names or just the Division Avenue downtown?
• Borrow a page from other places grappling with hurtful history. Germany places cobblestones where a Holocaust victim last lived, as part of the Stolperstein project. Thousands of cobblestones are spread throughout Berlin, for example.
Now there’s a project for Orlando.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor