No street in Winter Park is named for Gustavus “Gus” Henderson. Yet he was one of the city’s most influential early residents. He was a newspaper publisher, an entrepreneur and a civic activist who was instrumental in making certain that a contentious incorporation vote passed in 1887.
Because Henderson was an African-American, Black History Month is an ideal time to salute this historically significant figure, who was born during the Civil War and spent his life striving to make a positive difference.
More specifically, the city should find a stretch of asphalt (or bricks) to rename in Henderson’s honor. Every other prominent early Winter Parker has one.
Like many African-Americans, Henderson and his family came to Winter Park because it was thought to be a relatively enlightened place where they could own their own homes — albeit only on the west side’s designated “colored lots” — and control their own destinies.
The politically savvy Henderson, who had been a traveling salesman, started a print shop and later established the Winter Park Advocate, a weekly newspaper that primarily covered activities in the Hannibal Square community but was also widely read east of the railroad tracks.
A year following Henderson’s arrival, the Winter Park Company, led by founders Loring A. Chase and Oliver E. Chapman, decided that the entire settlement — including the west side — should be incorporated as a city.
But many white residents opposed forming a city in which black voters would constitute a majority. (At the time, black voters outnumbered white voters 64 to 47.) Two separate town meetings were held to decide on incorporation. But in neither case was a quorum present, so no vote could be taken.
Blacks stayed away, in part because businessman J.C. Stovin (who has a street named for him) persuaded them that incorporation was a ruse to make them pay high taxes and lay bricks on city streets. Perhaps other, more ominous threats were made.
When a third meeting was scheduled for Oct. 12, 1887, Henderson got busy. He went door to door, pleading with his friends and neighbors to attend and exercise their rights as free citizens.
Some accounts claim that a marching band and children waving flags accompanied the delegation that Henderson led across the tracks to Ergood’s Hall. Incorporation was approved, and two African-Americans were elected as aldermen.
Henderson left Winter Park several years later. William Comstock (who also has a street named for him) led a successful effort to remove the west side from the city in 1893. (It would not be reannexed until 1925.)
None of that diminishes Henderson’s accomplishments. If Stovin and Comstock get streets, Henderson ought to get one, too. He earned it.