Black History Month: Wells’Built Museum provided refuge for African Americans during segregation

ORLANDO, Fla. — Central Florida is home to a rich amount of African American history.

Channel 9 had the chance to explore the important role the Wells’Built Museum played in the history of our area.

During a time when segregation didn’t allow African Americans to stay at the same hotel as white guests, a local doctor named William Monroe Wells created the Wells’Built hotel and a nearby entertainment center, the South Street Casino.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

“So this building used to be a hotel back in the 20s,” said Wells’Built Museum educator Katrece Pitts. “So this side of Division Street was your Black Orlando.”

On what is now called West South Street, the second level of the hotel had 20 rooms while the bottom floor was dedicated to storefront property.

“This bottom half utilized a storefront, so that gave Black business owners an opportunity to have their own storefront at that time,” Pitts said.

Read: Hannibal Square Heritage Center sheds light on Winter Park’s African American community

Beloved Black performers like B.B. King, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong stayed at the Wells’Built Hotel while rocking the South Street Casino.

The Wells’Built was part of the Chitlin’ Circuit, which was a collection of venues where African Americans performed at across the country.

The Wells’Built Hotel has since been converted into a museum housing memorabilia of Orlando’s African American community and displays on the Civil Rights movement, along with some African art and artifacts.

Read: Road to major league baseball’s integration runs through Daytona Beach

The museum still has the names of all the performers, along with other pertinent pieces of Central Florida history.

“We have items about Jones High School, which was the first Black high school that was here,” Pitts added.

Pitts said her adoration for the museum starts with the foundation of its history.

Read: Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park & Museum: What you need to know

“The initial, when I talk about Dr. Wells, because without him, it did expand or open up to other items to be discussed when it came to Central Florida outside of Disney,” Pitts said.

For more information on the Wells’Built Museum, CLICK HERE.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.