Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A lesson in separate but not-so-equal

In light of the history made at the polls yesterday, I thought today would be an appropriate time to introduce ye rabbits to the Maitland Cemetery.

Way back in 1891, the Packwood family sold 10 acres of their homestead lands on Lake Lucien to the fledgling city for a municipal cemetery.

Today, it is an urban oasis, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the bustling to-and-fro of Interstate 4. And, Maitland has become one of the busiest "satelite cities" in metro-Orlando--home to a pack of mid-rise office buildings and the RDV Sportsplex.

One of the lucky few enjoying his eternal rest in this idyllic setting is Josiah C. Eaton (1827-1892).

His stone notes that he was a native of Calais, Maine.

What it does not note is that he is the namesake of nearby Eatonville--the oldest black-incorporated town in America.

How did this happen? Why did the freemen name their new settlement after this white guy?

Well, another thing his stone doesn't tell us is that he was a Union veteran of the Civil War who came to this little corner of heaven with several of his former comrades-in-arms. They wanted to incorporate Maitland back in 1884, but state law required 30 registered voters within the proposed boundaries. So, they turned to their black neighbors--former slaves--for help.

The unexpected consequence was that the newly-registered black voters outnumbered the white Union veterans. And, when the newly-incorporated town of Maitland held its first municipal election, the black majority elected a black mayor and a black town marshal.

That's when the amicable relations between the black and white residents deteriorated.

To solve the "problem," the aforementioned Mr. Eaton agreed to sell 22 acres of his homestead lands so the black residents of Maitland could establish their own town. And, thus began official segregation in these parts.

My, what a different world we live in today, no?!

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