In the first of a two-part series exploring Orlando’s influential African American presence, Instagram influencer Katrina Dandridge visits the Hannibal Square Heritage Center (pictured) in Winter Park.
Part one of a series. Read part two of “A Day of Historical Vibes & Black Pride” by Katrina Dandridge.
It’s a beautiful “winter” morning in Orlando. The sun has risen, and the rays are just bright enough to warm the crisp chill to the air. It’s the time of year I look forward to the most. Just in time for Black History Month, it is also the perfect day to step out and explore some of the engaging African American culture and history present throughout Orlando — starting with the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park. Read on to see why you’ll want to make it part of your adventures the next time you’re in Orlando.
Discover: Black History Month in Orlando
African American History at Hannibal Square Heritage Center
When first arriving at Winter Park’s Hannibal Square Heritage Center, one can’t help but gaze at the beautiful and eclectic community of Hannibal Square itself. Boutiques, salons, eateries and businesses are the glitter that will first catch your eye — but the true gems are the houses, churches and original descendants who continue to make this district their permanent home. Much of the area has transformed into commercial property; however, the spirit of the past is very much alive. (Editor’s note: Hannibal Square Heritage Center is operated by the adjacent Crealdé School of Art.)
Discover: Winter Park
Before making my way to the center, I couldn’t help but wander off to the tranquil Shady Park nestled among large trees, colorful plants and quirky artwork. The park has a sculpture called The Molecular Dog, which at first glance looks like a blow-up balloon animal. I later discovered the sculpture was created by Miami artist Robert Chambers.
There is a lot to see as you stroll through the sidewalk pathways, but what caught my eye was a mosaic mural. “Strength,” “History,” “Unity,” “Vote” and “Memory” are a few of the uplifting words seen. Titled Community Pride in Hannibal Square, the mural sets the scene by exhibiting the phrase, “In 1887 the citizens of Hannibal Square joined together and crossed the tracks to vote, electing two African American Aldermen.”
The mosaic was produced in partnership with The Golden Rule Foundation and with major funding from The Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, The City of Winter Park and Walt Disney World® Resort’s “Helping Kids Shine” program.
With an abundance of rich presence felt throughout the community, I couldn’t wait to step inside the center to learn more about the history and role of Black Americans in affluent Winter Park. Breathtaking, I thought. The atmosphere is both rewarding and refreshing!
I was completely overwhelmed by the beautiful permanent collection of framed, archival pieces that capture the lives of Winter Park’s beginnings. The simplicity of the space filled with black-and-white photography and oral histories is inviting. It is an intimate setting that begs you to take a closer look and escape into the legacy that makes this community proud.
I was welcomed by Hannibal Square Heritage Center Operations Manager Barbara Chandler, aka Miss Barbara. Complemented by an extensive wealth of knowledge, her passion was evident as she spoke from the heart. Referencing a photograph of a young girl, Miss Barbara noted: “She was raised just a couple of doors down. I just spoke to her this morning.” Her personal anecdotes were the perfect accompaniment to my tour. “A lot of great people came from Hannibal Square, and these are their stories,” said Miss Barbara.
An excellent pairing to the gallery is a timeline that acts as a time machine of sorts. Starting from 1880, the Hannibal Square timeline includes local events such as the 1911 founding of Winter Park’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Welbourne Avenue. It also includes significant national events in African American history such as the election of President Barack Obama.
The center has two floors to explore. Be sure to clear most of your day to take your time and soak in all the culture this venue has to offer. Did I mention there is free parking available and no charge to spend hours looking around?
Along with artwork by various artists, the second floor hosts traveling exhibitions that change three to four times a year. At the time of my visit, “The Sage Project” was on display. Portraits and living histories of the community’s most senior residents, now in their 80s and 90s, grace the walls of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center Gallery. These historical accounts, albeit personal, gave me a strong sense of familiarity. What an amazing opportunity, I thought, to get a glimpse of the unique history and contributions of the residents.
Not only does the center act as a preservation museum, but it also offers a plethora of free cultural events and educational programs for all ages that explore the African American experience. A few worth mentioning include visual arts classes and workshops, an art sampler for children and seniors, and story quilting classes.
Phew! One day was certainly not enough. Consider me a frequent flyer, as I will continue to visit time and again. I’m excited to learn more and attend some of the events at Hannibal Square Heritage Center. I encourage everyone to plan a trip. It is such a vital part of our American and African history! It was exactly the Black history vibe I’ve been looking for in Orlando.
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