History and the people who make it: Luresa Lake

Luresa Lake [L], original model for the historic Paradise Park, and her daughter Rose [R], were interviewed by Katie Gresham [G] in March, 2016.

This is the 44th in a series of transcript excerpts from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection at the University of Florida.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

L: I was born in Ocala, Florida on November 9, 1929. I am now eighty-six years young, not old. [Laughter] My father was a farmer. My mother was a seamstress, and she used to play the piano for the Shady Grove Baptist Church, which I was a member of all of my life.

G: Where did you go to school?

L: Evergreen Elementary School, and then to Howard High School. And I, being the only girl in the family, also went to school in New York for a couple of years. I can’t remember the school name at this time, but I went there. Me being an only girl in my family, all of my aunts wanted me to stay with them. Many times I stayed with them, and cared for a baby or something like that. All of my family thought that I was something very special.

G: When did you first visit Paradise Park? Had you been to the springs before Paradise Park was open?

L: Well, see, Paradise Park was opened purposely for Black people. There was a segregation problem years ago – the White people were on one side of Silver Spring, and Black people were on another side. The river belongs to everyone. They even wanted to separate the waters as though the water would turn one white, or black, whichever the case may be. That was one of the things that we learned to live with, and accept, and appreciate it because Paradise Parks was fixed up very nice. All of that was available to Black people. People from everywhere in the United State visited.

G: How did you become the model for the Paradise Park brochures?

L: People sort of picked attractive Black women and made them stand out. This was always done by people with money. I was an attractive Black girl. They asked for pictures for Paradise Park, and they asked me to be a model. I thought that was an honor, and I still do, because there were many beautiful Black women, but for some reason I was picked. I think it was because of my size, because you have to [have] not too much meat on you. People recognize me as being Miss Paradise Park. And I just adore it.

That was after I went to New York and to the schools up there. That gave me that natural accent of New Yorkers. My mother was a seamstress, and I was one of the best dressed girls in Ocala, because my mother could walk down the street, see an outfit on someone, and go home and make it. When I went to school, everyone turned their head [Laughter].

G: What was the role of Paradise Park within the Black community?

L: Oh, it was one of the best things that could happen, because we had two places, more or less, in Ocala that we could go swimming: East Lake, which was a great big pond, and Silver Springs. Well, when they separated us, they gave us a decent place, and decent roads, and even people where we can buy candies, and all of that. They made it perfect, and people from everywhere, over the states, would come. If you were Black you knew you would separate, and you accepted that. If you were White you went to the White side. We never mixed or had problems with that. We accepted what we were given in those days.

G: There was never any violence, or issues with the separation?

L: No, none at all. We actually felt we were blessed. Silver Springs was always such an ideal place, because the waters were so good, nice and comfortable to be in. In East Lake the waters would be cold in cold weather. But Silver Springs was always an ideal place for swimming. It still is. Only now, you can go anywhere you want.

R: How did you all feel about it being closed?

L: We felt like we was cheated, because why close it when nobody’s arguing about it in the first place. White or Black could go. So why close it up?

G: What was your fondest memory from Paradise Park?

L: Taking that picture on that tree. The postcards themselves went all over the world. Can you imagine what it made me feel like? And the recognition that I got, because after that postcard people, “Oh, there goes Luresa Lake!” My head got bigger than the football [Laughter].

Some of the guys that took the pictures were workers at Silver Springs. All of the drivers at Silver Spring were Black men. That was unusual. I thought that was quite an honor too. They were the ones that drove those boats up and down the river for people to see. Finally they got so that every color could get on the boat.

R: If they sold enough tickets on the Black side, then they would send a boat to Paradise Park to pick up the Blacks.

G: So they were the same boats, and you got to see all the same things?

L: Oh yes, the whole thing. And the glass-bottom boats, you would look down and see all the fish of all different types. Silver Springs is still an ideal place to visit, right on. It hasn’t changed, and that’s God given.

It’s so amazing that things have changed so intensely as far as White and Black. The White and Black nowadays sit together, live together, marry each other, and that’s amazing, because years ago your head might have been blown off. Black man marrying a White woman? You had to be mighty careful. All over the south, there is a little bit of it every now and then yet.

G: Did having Paradise Park make you feel special?

L: Yes. I didn’t just feel special about Paradise Park, I was an only sister of my three brothers. Not only that, but I had several aunts. One lived in New York City, one in Jacksonville, others in Ocala, and places like that. Each of those aunts wanted me to come and spend some time in their houses, and I did. I took care of my little cousins.

It seemed to me from around my teen years, racism wasn’t really such a major issue in the long run. People accepted you for different reasons, whatever they were.

I was picked as a radio announcer. I played music on Sunday afternoon, and my name got put out, “Luresa Lake, listen to her music on Sunday afternoon.”

All of the music of different nationalities and different bands and whatnot, I mixed it and played it. I actually had a great voice. It was the joy of my life. I would talk on TV, “and listen to Luresa Lake, she’s coming to you with music.” I could go on and on, I practiced it at home.

I made myself pretty noticeable. People all over Ocala and on up the road would hear me. “Tune in to Luresa, she plays Lionel Hampton music.” People from all over Ocala, if they had a good record they saw to it that I got that record to play on Sunday afternoon. “This is Luresa Lake for your listening pleasure. Now, I would love for you to stay with me throughout the afternoon and blah blah blah.” [Laughter] I got to be very real known.

G: How did you end up on the radio?

L: Through White people.

G: You were playing on a White radio station?

L: Yes, ma’am.

R: During that time, they needed to have something for the Black community, and that’s when they set aside a station that would play Black music, because the Black music was so popular in Black, but also White and all kind of cultures.

G: What kind of events went on at Paradise Park while it was open?

R: Church. Baptisms. They had Easter egg hunts out there for churches.

L: Yeah, that’s true. It was most interesting. We were given an area to enjoy at Silver Springs, and it didn’t bother us, because we were used to being separated, Black from White. We felt like it was an honor to have the area, even though Silver Springs should be for everyone. It’s a matter of accepting whatever is inevitable at the time.

Yeah, that was the way of life. Black people do not integrate with White people. It’s just beginning to lift in your day. I can remember when different Black men were hung up by trees for courting a White woman. The separation didn’t really bother us.

G: You felt like it was for, like your own safety kind of?

L: Yes, it was a part of what life was all about.

G: So there was a like separate Black community in Ocala, right?

L: No, not just in Ocala, baby. The United States of America had areas especially for White people, and areas especially for Black people. If you happened to be caught, a Black man with a White woman, White men would take you and hang you up to a tree. in public places where everybody can see you hanging there. That was the way life has been in my day. It begun to lift, all that kind of thing, things have changed such a tremendous amount, you say, “thank you God.”

Right now I’m eighty-six years old, and I have good health and strength and a pretty good mind. I don’t remember a lot of stuff, me being as healthy as I am, that is great. And the fact that I was a mother of, how many children? [Laughter]

R: Nine.

L: One girl – well, two girls but one of them died. This is the only girl that is living, and I have now, how many boys living?

R: You have six boys now.

L: That by itself is pretty good. The thing that is most important is I have no pain. I attend to myself. Get up and do things. She and I take walks each day, and –

R: She has a really healthy life. She participates in church activities. She’s still a special lady, and all of her family make sure that they get a chance for her to come and stay with them still. She’s the monarch of our family now. All her family’s deceased, her immediate family. She’s the only one left.

L: And I let them know I’m in charge. [Laughter] I really do enjoy my life, because they visit me quite often.

R: Anything else you want to say about Paradise Park, now that it’s changed? Anything you wish that they could incorporate in the new Silver Springs, now that the government owns it?

L: The big thing that I would really like to emphasize is that segregation is no longer a part of the life of American people. And that’s enough right there, just that.

Search for “Luresa Lake” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu for the full transcript of this interview.

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