Her mother is celebrated in Oviedo’s new black history mural, and her family’s legacy in the community stretches back nearly 100 years. Meet Judith Dolores Smith and experience her unique perspective on Oviedo history.
She remembers when local schools were divided by race. She remembers the desegregation process and moving to a new school to learn alongside white students. She remembers when Oviedo – a city her family has called home since the early 1900s – was still a small, cozy community.
Judith Dolores Smith even remembers life in Oviedo before air conditioning, though it didn’t faze her.
“Houses had a lot of windows back then,” she grins. “You left the front door open for cross-ventilation. But also remember there wasn’t all this concrete [like we have now]. In the heat of summer, most people sat under an oak tree and drank a lot of water, especially the kids. You just didn’t think about it being hot.”
Racial tensions were just a part of life back then, says Judith, who was elected to the Oviedo City Council last fall. While she remembers Ku Klux Klan members outside her school, she also remembers positive interactions with white neighbors, as well. Judith’s childhood is a time in history that she wishes more Oviedo children knew about, as it all happened right here.
“We can teach generations that if things are bad, you can get around it,” she says. “You can get through it, and you can be joyful while doing it.”
A Century of Success
Judith’s mother, Gladys Holmes Smith, is memorialized in the new black history mural at Round Lake Park (full coverage of the mural on page 26). Gladys, the wife of Joseph “Doc” Smith, was a teacher at Oviedo Elementary before and after integration.
Judith’s grandfather, Colonel Butner Holmes, and grandmother, Melinda Gibbs Holmes, arrived in Oviedo in the early 1900s, obtaining a land patent from President Woodrow Wilson for 80 acres. Other relatives came to Oviedo to settle, as well.
Though Oviedo was their home base, citrus didn’t keep people busy year-round, says Judith. Her family members followed the seasons and followed the crops. There was turpentine manufacturing work, and Judith remembers her brothers traveling by bus to Live Oak, Florida to harvest tobacco.
“That’s how they earned money to buy their school uniforms,” Judith says.
With citrus not ready until spring, traveling for work was how families survived economically.
“You could be in groves doing maintenance when they weren’t in season, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a community,” says Judith.
Separate, but Hopeful
Judith remembers going to church as a child, with blacks and whites sitting in separate sections. She was a student at Jackson Heights Elementary Colored School, where her mother, who earned her college degree later in life, was a teacher. In 1967, Judith and her classmates were transferred to the Oviedo High School campus, where Lawton Elementary School is located now. At Lawton, all the black kids were put into one academic level, but Judith was quickly moved to a more advanced class because of her grades.
They weren’t in robes, but Judith remembers older white men standing outside her school the day after a fight between a black student and a white student. She was told the men were Ku Klux Klan members. Though silent, “They were there to intimidate us,” Judith remembers.
By the time she was a senior in high school, Judith was class president, and she went on to get a college degree in Tennessee. She worked as a social worker, correctional officer, and psychiatric case manager and started many small businesses. Judith also became involved in civic causes, running in various local political races.
She is now president of the Historic Jamestown Colored School Museum Foundation, and Judith is seeking contributions, artifacts, and documents to include in a planned physical museum celebrating the school’s rich history.
Judith says her parents taught her that just because someone hates you doesn’t mean you hate them.
“It was the tune of our community,” she says. “Even in school, we were told, ‘They think you are not good. Get beyond that. Reach for the stars.’”
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