Black History in Oviedo
Black History of Oviedo mural, photo by Hayden Turner, Hagerty High School Student Journalist 2021
Celebrate Black history
To Celebrate Black History Month 2023, the City is highlighting the 20 elements of the mural Black History of Oviedo located at Round Lake Park. Painted by local artist Xavier Moss in 2020, the mural showcases just some of the many impactful people and icons of the local Black community.
The mural key is displayed on a plaque in front of the mural (pictured right). Click here to open the mural key in a new tab.
Check back each weekday as more elements are profiled, culminating February 28, 2023.
Element #1: Prince Butler Boston
Prince Butler Boston was the son of a Georgia slave owner named Dr. Alexander Atkinson and moved to Central Florida in 1885 when he was 14 years old.
After a hard freeze in the 1890s destroyed much of the local citrus crop, Butler Boston graphed the heartier Temple orange that helped the Oviedo economy bounce back from devastation. Moss painted citrus (element #18, the Temple Orange) around Butler Boston to showcase his contribution to the area and citrus industry.
A longtime member of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Butler Boston was a deacon, superintendent of the Sunday School, and a patron. He gave the church five acres of land establishing a cemetery known today as the Boston Hill Cemetery.
Element #2: Harry "Big Newt" Boston Sr.
Harry "Big Newt" Boston Sr. is part of the other prominent Oviedo Boston families and originally from Georgia. He served in the Army as a medic during WWII then moved to Oviedo.
After moving to the area, Boston Sr. discovered there wasn't an opportunity for local Black youth to participate in sports, so he built a baseball diamond where Black children could play. He founded the Black Hawks and Lady Black Hawks sports teams, driving the teams across the state and southeast to compete, serving as both coach and bus driver of the "Big Newt Bus."
The City of Oviedo named Boston Hill Park in his honor in 1994.
Check back Wednesday, February 10 as we highlight Hal King, element #3 of the Black History of Oviedo mural.
Element #3: Hal King
Oviedo born and raised, Hal King was a professional baseball player who began his career in 1962 at 23 years old in the Negro League with the Indianapolis Clowns.
The catcher, a graduate of Oviedo High School, went on to play in Major League Baseball for the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, and Cincinnati Reds before retiring in 1974 at the age of 30.
Images of baseball and the Black Hawks mascot are depicted near King on the Black History of Oviedo mural. Moss painted King wearing his blue Atlanta Braves baseball hat (shown right).
element #4: Oviedo Black hawks mascot
Element #5: Antioch Church Bell
Element #6: Antioch Missionary Baptist Church
Element #7: Congregation at White's Wharf
Element #8: Boston Hill Cemetery
ELEMENT #9: ANTIOCH LOGO
The Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, located at 311 East Broadway Street in Oviedo, was founded in 1875 and secured Reverend Amos Laster was the first Pastor of the church. Mr. Prince Butler Boston, Element #1 in the mural, joined the church in 1886 and was a member until his death in 1947. He served as Superintendent of the Sunday School and Deacon. Boston designed and built a choir stand and two classrooms. The church also owns and operates the Boston Hill Cemetery, Element #8 in the mural, named in his honor after his patronage and gift of five acres. Boston Avenue flanks the church today to its east. The Antioch Church Bell is the Fifth Element in the mural.
The Church is an integral part of the history of Oviedo, providing fellowship and community for many. Today, the church has more than 2,000 members, provides 20 ministries, and is lead by Pastor Charles Jones.
ELEMENT #10: MARIE JONES-FRANCIS
Nicknamed “The Midwife of Sanford," area resident Marie Jones-Francis delivered more than 40,000 babies in her 32-year career. She delivered babies for both Black and white families in Seminole County, primarily patrons who either preferred natural births or could not afford deliveries at a hospital.
Jones-Francis started out as a successful hotel and restaurant owner in Sarasota, Florida, but returned to Sanford and became a midwife when WWII caused a shortage of doctors and nurses in the area. The Florida Children’s Bureau sent her to study at Florida A&M, where she earned her nursing license in 1945. She specialized in premature babies and returned to Sanford to help her mother, Carrie Jones, who was also a midwife, at Fernald-Laughton Memorial Hospital. The pair opened a maternity ward in their Sanford home. Jones-Francis took over full time after her mother’s health failed.
Her sister Annie Walker did the cooking, and the house also served as a school where she taught nurses midwifery. Nurses would come from across the state to learn how to deliver infants naturally.
ELEMENT #11: OVIEDO CITIZENS IN ACTION
ELEMENT #12: JACKSON HEIGHTS
ELEMENT #13: GLADYS HOLMES SMITH
Gladys Holmes Smith was a teacher at Oviedo Elementary School before and after integration. The schools in the area were integrated in 1967. Smith, the mother of former Oviedo City Council Member Judith Delores Smith, recounted the school’s history for the Seminole County School Board. The School Board kept separate minutes for white and Black schools that were segregated at the time.
“The school colors were red and yellow. The school covered grades 1-8 then 1-10 and finally 1-8. We had two basketball teams. We had a music club and a drama club that met on Fridays. We had speaking, singing programs and produced plays. Some interesting facts that I remember about the school:
"1. We had a 2-room building. 2. We had no running water. 3. We had no inside bathroom. 4. We bought our own books. 5. Discipline was very strict. Lateness was not tolerated. You were there to learn."
Holmes Smith graduated from Florida A&M High School and received her Baccalaureate from the Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her depiction in the mural helps symbolize fellow educators and the many Black women who made great contributions to our community.
ELEMENT #14: HENRY JACKSON
Henry Jackson was born in Georgia in 1886 and raised by a white family. Fellow Georgian Prince Butler Boston persuaded Jackson to save money for a home and settle in Oviedo. Jackson homesteaded 40 acres from 1911 to 1918 on both sides of Long Lake. The area became a predominantly black settlement, now known as Jackson Heights.
Jackson grew up farming and learned to read, write and do arithmetic while working in Georgia. He worked for Oliver P. Swope and N.F. Lezette for 25 years clearing land. The crew cut through the thick palmettos in the area and dug out stumps, trees, and palmetto roots by hand and with mule-drawn plows. In this massive undertaking, the crew piled up the brush and set it ablaze, leading a watcher to describe it as “it looked like the whole world was on fire.”
The now middle school bears his name was completed in 1952. Jackson was an active member of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where he was a Sunday School teacher.
ELEMENT #15: BLUE GOOSE
Nestled between a slice of citrus and celery, a blue goose is pictured in the bottom right-hand side of the mural “Black History of Oviedo.” This icon belongs to the Blue Goose brand that started in 1918. The company portfolio now includes grove and crop management, hedging & topping, excavation of site work, citrus real estate, and leasing.
Many in the local Black Community grew citrus – and it was difficult and back-breaking work. From clearing the land to plant diseases and weather, the work was hard for all ages.
According to the book Oviedo: Biography of a Town, a Baptist minister new to town called on a grove manager. “When the minister looked around at the white sand gleaming in the spring sun and the tidy rows of newly set orange trees, he said, ‘Sir, you and Lord have done a wonderful work here!’ The citrus man looked at him and drawled, ‘Yeah, but Preacher, you ought to of seen the place when the Lord had it by himself.’”
ELEMENT #16: CELERY FIELD WORK
Oviedo's earliest settlers grew citrus and celery on the area's mucky, rich topsoil. While citrus was the dominant crop for some time, celery took the lead after the Great Freeze of 1894-1895, which destroyed many citrus groves in the Central Florida area. Around the beginning of the 20th century, as many as 25 or 30 farms within 30 square miles of Orlando produced 20 percent of the nation's celery.
Oviedo's celery industry flourished, especially during World War II, and thus contributed to Central Florida's unprecedented growth and development during that period.
Pictured right is Joe Lee, an African-American laborer, with Blue Goose celery at Charles Simeon Lee, Sr.'s farm in Oviedo, Florida, in 1928. During the Great Depression, Lee grew celery and bought 20,000 acres to start a cattle ranch. He passed away on November 9, 1991.
element #17: Brick layers
Prince Butler Boston (Element #1), in addition to his innovative work in citrus, was also a bricklayer. Members of the Black community worked in agriculture and as bricklayers, who played an important part in the history of Oviedo.
In January of 1946, the City Council, at the bequest of the citizens, began work on the Memorial Building to honor those who’d lost their lives in the war. According to the book Oviedo: Biography of a Town, The City bought the land before the year ended but they did not have enough money to go ahead with the project. The donations were invested in savings bonds for two years until the Council felt there was enough money on hand to build. Costs were rising and the bids were so high that the Memorial Building, pictured left in 1974, suffered one more postponement.
Oviedo Mayor Lee Gary picked up where his predecessor Frank Talbott left off and plunged into erecting a city hall to replace the “tin-walled building on the northeast corner of Central and Broadway that had served the City for too many years.”
The bonds matured for two more years, then plans resumed in 1950. The building was completed in January 1951, cost $18,900, and was dedicated to Oviedo’s veterans. When the building was demolished, the bricks were given to citizens.
ELEMENT #18: TEMPLE ORANGES
After a hard freeze in the 1890s destroyed much of the local citrus crop, Oviedo resident Prince Butler Boston (Element #1) graphed the heartier Temple orange that helped the Oviedo economy bounce back from devastation. Moss painted citrus (Element #18, the Temple Orange) around Butler Boston to showcase his contribution to the area and citrus industry.
According to the book Oviedo: Biography of a Town, “Recovery was slow, with many setbacks. In 1906 and 1907 came a prolonged drought of more than a year that killed many citrus trees and ornamentals, as well as ten to fifty percent of the pines in the state. A hurricane in October 1910 lasted 36 hours, damaging the orange crop at the beginning of the harvest.
“Land values were still low. A large grove in the center of Oviedo, now the [Lawton House], was called the “X” grove because it consisted of ten acres and sold for $10,000 before the freeze. After the freeze, it was bought for $500.”