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Ghosts of Orlando past

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When I was 6 years old in 1958, I went from New York to Orlando to visit my grandmother who was living there (“A local historian looks at the unlikely story of Orlando’s emergence,” Oct. 30). Amazingly, several things still stick in my mind about the trip. Remember, these are the recollections of a small boy from more than 50 years ago, and I offer them as such:

First was the blatant racism in Orlando. On a bus trip with my older brother, we got on and like typical New York boys, we ran to the back seat to look out the window. The bus driver stopped the bus and yelled at us terribly that we weren’t “little n*****s” and to get to the front of the bus. I was terrified. I’d never heard the n-word before and never had been treated that way in my life. My brother, who was 10 years older, had to explain it to me.

During that same trip my cousin lost her cat, and she and my sister went looking for it. Well, they went into an area where some black families lived and all hell broke loose. The way people acted you would have thought they’d be murdered and we’d never see then again. My aunt organized a search for them, and I think called the police. Shortly after, they came back. The children over there had been helping them find the cat and nothing bad happened at all.

My other recollections were the poverty, or at least the rundown appearance of Orlando. I still see it in faded grays and yellows like it could have used a good coat of paint; it wasn’t a place I wanted to return to. I also remember the spiders, the snakes and walking in the orange grove.

It was many decades later, in the ’90s, when I finally returned to Orlando to take my boys to Disney, and of course I didn’t recognize a thing. Orlando had gone from a sleepy little Southern backwater, typical of the old South to a modern tourist center. Orlando has transformed itself, but in truth, I still don’t look forward to going back.
William Mai, via


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