Orlando’s first Black community was founded by former slaves

Jonestown was about a mile east of what’s now downtown Orlando

Parramore residents want to preserve history as area grows

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As we celebrate Black History Month, News 6 is reflecting on some of Central Florida’s deep roots, including what’s recognized as Orlando’s first Black community.

According to the city of Orlando, Jonestown was not an official city when it was founded in 1880.

Then, Jonestown was a 12-block community inhabited by Blacks near the banks of Fern Creek and Greenwood Cemetery.

The town was named after Sam Jones and his wife, Penny, who are recognized as its first residents. Little is known about these early African-American settlers, aside from the fact that they were once slaves.

(Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center) - Jonestown’s first residents, Sam Jones and his wife, Penny (WKMG)

Most people who lived in Jonestown were workers who lived in small houses or shacks, but there were also some residents who owned businesses.

By 1891, 21 families resided there, according to Orange County Regional History Center.

Over the years, flooding became a major issue for the community.

(Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center) - Jonestown flooded in 1904 and whenever the sinkhole near Greenwood Cemetery overflowed. (WKMG)

Jonestown was located in a low-lying area, so during rainy seasons, nearby lakes flooded the area and damaged homes.

Many people who lived there were forced to move, according to historian William R. O’Neal.

The community survived and by 1939, there was one school, at least one store and two churches in the community, including Mount Olive CME church, which still stands today, across the street from what is now Jones High School.

Though they share the same name, Jones High School apparently has no relation to Jonestown, other than the fact that they both are historically Black.

Photo courtesy of Jones High School Historical Society (WKMG)

The school is named after principal L.C. Jones, who put together together a land deal for the then new school at Parramore Avenue and Washington Street. It opened 100 years ago in 1921.

In 1939, nearly 18 years after Jones High opened, a fire destroyed a South Street resident’s home in Jonestown. That led to the destruction of all the homes in the community and Blacks were forced out because white residents protested to city officials, citing poor conditions of neighboring structures.

Ultimately, Orlando’s Housing Authority decided to demolish the buildings in Jonestown and relocate Black residents to a public housing development in Parramore called Griffin Park.

Today, Parramore is known for its predominantly Black roots, most of which derived from those who lived in a community once known as Jonestown.

About the Author:

Robert Brown is the assignment manager at News 6. He joined the team in July 2018 as a producer and was promoted in 2020. Before moving to The City Beautiful, he spent six years in Jacksonville at WJXT-TV. Robert graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.