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Dated: December 15 2020
Recently, I spent the weekend in a cabin at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. After enjoying the famous glass bottom boat tours, we took a walk around the grounds where I came upon this picture.
Having been raised in Florida, I was aware of the segregation that took place prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, I had never heard of Paradise Park before, and I was intrigued by this tourist attraction that was advertised “for colored people only.” This led me down a rabbit hole to learn more about this roadside attraction which was one of the first tourist attractions in the state.
Located about one mile from Silver Springs (more on this attraction in another blog), Paradise Park was founded and managed by the same people who oversaw the Silver Springs attraction. Paradise Park offered many of the same features as Silver Springs Park including a glass bottom boat tour, jungle cruises, a petting zoo, a dance pavilion, and a sandy beach with lifeguards. The main difference was that Paradise Park was for “colored people” only since they were not permitted to visit Silver Springs Park.
The park was in operation from 1949 to 1969 when the Civil Rights Act forced the desegregation of Silver Springs. Prior to the Civil Rights Act which outlawed segregation, separate facilities based on race were common in the South where there were separate bathrooms, water fountains, schools, and churches.
Paradise Park was one of three beaches in Florida where African Americans could be admitted, so it became a popular tourist attraction drawing about 100,000 visitors each year. People came by the busload from as far away as New York and California. In 1953, Ebony magazine lauded the park as, “the newest and largest recreational facility for Negroes in the South.”
Paradise Park was a popular place for churches to hold baptisms, picnics, and services. Ross Allen was a herpetologist who set up a reptile exhibit at the park like the one at Silver Springs. His exhibit included alligators, snakes, monkeys, birds, and even lions and tigers.
Paradise Park closed in 1969 when Silver Springs was desegregated. Today, almost nothing remails from the original park. In 2013, the state of Florida purchased Silver Springs and the old tourist attraction became part of the 4700 acres that make up Silver Springs State Park.
Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....
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