Orlando’s African American museum teaches history of Juneteenth

Wells’Built Museum was formerly hotel for African American visitors, entertainers

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture, located at 511 West South Street in Parramore, hosted a Juneteenth celebration Friday. The event included spoken word artists, a maker’s market and food trucks.

News 6 spoke with several people who visited the Wells’Built Museum, who not only learned about the history of the former hotel but the significance behind this Juneteenth holiday.

“Everybody thought it was just a fiesta, you come to have fun. We never knew the meaning behind the events. Here’s history right here being created,” Henrietta Williams, 71, said.

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Williams, who is from Ohio, admitted she didn’t know the historical significance behind Juneteenth until she visited the Wells’Built Museum Friday with her son, Paul.

“To understand the meaning of it, that on June 19, 1865, the last of the slaves were free throughout the country. It’s powerful, very powerful,” Paul Williams said.

A milestone for African Americans celebrated and taught in a museum with its own history. The museum used to be the Wells’Built Hotel.

Dr. William Monroe Wells, one of Orlando’s first Black doctors, financed and built the hotel that opened in the 1920s.

“After getting a permit from the City of Orlando, it took him three years to build the two-story structure because he could not get financing from banks downtown. They did not consider a Black-owned and operated hotel a good investment so he self-financed,” said museum founder Geraldine Thompson.

During segregation, it was one of the few places Black visitors could stay. Soon after, Wells built an entertainment venue called South Street Casino, headlining Black entertainers. His hotel hosting several famous performers including Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles.

“We have a lot to celebrate. We certainly have had some dark days, but we have made progress and without looking back, you can’t see how far we’ve come and that’s what the Wells’Built is all about,” Thompson said.

Visitors learned about African American culture and history through artifacts and documents preserved at the museum. Some leaving with a new meaning to Juneteenth.

“It’s so nice to come together with people of all nationality and races to celebrate our history. You can’t do better if you don’t know better,” said visitor Derieth Sutton.

Henrietta Williams said she was excited to get back home and share everything she learned.

“It’s something I can go back home and tell my grandchildren about,” Henrietta Williams suad. “To me, Juneteenth means that I’m not a slave anymore. I have rights. I’m free. I can do anything that anybody else does. I’m equal.”

For some, Juneteenth gives them a sense of pride.

“I love that I’m a Black woman and whenever I get to speak about my culture and my people, it’s something positive and makes me smile,” Dr. Sherry Pough said.

Wells’Built’s Juneteenth Celebration starts at 6 p.m. and is open to the public. Admission is $10.

About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.