Author: Senator Geraldine F. Thompson
January 1, 2018
Significant numbers of African Americans came to Orlando in 1843 when white settler Aaron Jernigan relocated to the area from Georgia. Jernigan traveled to Central Florida by covered wagon and brought his slaves and livestock with him. The slaves tended crops such as corn, cotton, rice, sugar cane, pumpkins and watermelons. They also took care of their masters’ children. Because of Aaron Jernigan’s influence in the area, Orlando was called Jernigan until 1857 after a post office was established and named Orlando for Orlando Reeves, a white soldier killed in 1835 in a battle between runaway slaves, whites and Seminole Indians during the Seminole Wars.
One of the earliest settlements for African Americans was located near South and Bumby. That community was called Burnette Town and later named for community leaders, Sam and Penny Jones. Homes in Jonestown were wooden structures that featured porches and large gardens.
Orlando’s fourteenth mayor, James B. Parramore was a former general in the army of the Confederate States of America. Mayor Parramore designated the area that bears his name as a segregated community for African Americans and included churches, schools, businesses and homes.
Dr. William Monroe Wells and his wife Clifford Irene Wells, came to Orlando in 1917 from Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. William Monroe Wells obtained a building permit in 1926 to begin construction of a two-story, 6800 square-foot hotel at 511 W. South Street in the Parramore community. When it opened, he called it the Wells’Built Hotel. From its beginning and operation through America’s era of racial segregation, the Wells’Built Hotel hosted some of the Nation’s most distinguished African Americans such as Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The Wells’Built Hotel featured three store fronts on the first floor which were dedicated to a lobby or reception area, a retail space, and an eatery. Twenty guest bedrooms were located on the second floor. Ray Charles frequently visited the hotel and knew that after he entered the hallway and walked straight ahead into the wall where the hallway ended, his room would be on his left. The Wells’Built is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.