[Intersection of Seminole Way and Sylvan Road]
As seen in (Un) Writing an old wrong in Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood , in the summer of 2020, the residents of Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood voted to expunge racial covenants existing on deeds for decades. While not always explicitly stated, the covenant deeds were designed to prevent Blacks, Jews and Italians from living in Meadowbrook, then a neighborhood developed by Eastman Kodak to provide housing for some of its employees.
As the restrictions have not been enforced for many years, the signing of the petition was largely symbolic — but highly laudable. My mother, Carol Kramer, signed.The other day, I was at the Brighton Memorial Library and passed Seminole Way, a nearby street in the Roselawn neighborhood.
Seminole Way piqued my interest for several reasons. First, while our western New York landmarks are frequently named after Native American tribes, for the most part those tribes are or were local. Brighton has a Delaware Road off Crittenden, although it is unclear if the road is named after the Delaware nation who lived in present day lower New York.
In contrast, the Seminoles developed in Florida, and after fighting fiercely in three wars to maintain their traditional way of life, most Seminoles were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma.More so, I was struck by the historical irony. Like Meadowbrook, although not as stringent, the deeds of Roselawn contained racial, religious and ethnic covenants. Hence, I doubt Seminoles would have been welcomed on the street named after their tribe (nor any Native Americans at that time).
I spoke with Matthew Bashore, Adult Services Manager at the library and a past president of Historic Brighton, which publishes the Historic Brighton journal several times a year. Matt shared his research on Roselawn which, apparently, allowed Italian and Jewish Americans before Meadowbrook did.
Attached is a copy of the Roselawn (or Rose Lawn if you prefer) deed restrictions. The race covenant is under article #26, and says “undesirable race or character,” but does not point out specifically which race (or character) these are. Some other Brighton neighborhoods’ deed restrictions specify.
The earliest street directory for the neighborhood I can find is 1930. It contains the following names, which likely indicate that Italian Americans and Jewish Americans were residents of Roselawn:
Harry Ross, Moe Cohen, Enzio Cantarano, Sol Leffert, Nunzio Cerniglia & Vito Danelo (who lived at #15 Seminole)
Since Seminole Way was probably named in 1917 or 18, and Florida State University’s athletics department teams were not named the Seminoles until the 1940’s, I don’t think the developer was an FSU fan.
We will never know why the developer named the Way after a Southeastern Native American tribe, although presumably the name was chosen for its appeal and salability — even if no Seminole could live there when the street was named in 1917 or 1918.
A reader of the Democrat and Chronicle in 1917 would encounter conflicting representations of the Seminole. On the one hand, an article on land development in Florida characterized the Seminoles as “semi-savage” if not akin to alligators. Another piece, a young adult short story about Florida boys fighting the Seminoles in 1836, uses imagery reinforcing the trope of the semi-savage.
On the other hand, in 1917 following race riots in East St. Louis, the film The Bar Sinister was screened in Rochester. As seen in the notice, the film is applauded for its vision of the “spiritual equality” extended to all races — an “impressive argument and demonstration against race prejudice.”
The Seminole character is depicted positively:
The strongly appealing impersonation of the giant Seminole Indian, gentle usually, but fierce, when rights are imperiled, given by Mitchell Lewis, is so sincere and natural that it does much to drive the lesson home.
The era of racial covenants was more than unfortunate. Nonetheless, perhaps we can imagine the developer saw The Bar Sinister in 1917 at the Avon, and made his own statement about prejudice and oppression.
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