In Virginia There was Once The Black Wall St of Richmond Jackson Ward 1870 Black Wall St of Amerika fewer then 50 Black own businesses were listed in city directories, 14 years later 400 business were own and operated by Men and Women of Afrikan Descent much of these businesses were spreaded throughout the city’s Commercial Districts. In 1889 Black Richmond’s Highly skilled professionals included 4 lawyers , 5 Doctors, 1 Dentist by 1921 the city’s black professional ranks included 24 Doctors, 15 Black Nurses, 12 lawyers , 7 Dentist and 55 dress Makers and Black Richmonder’s own 4 Banks , 3 news papers , 14 Funeral homes , 5 Theaters , 9 insurance firms, 135 barber and beauty shops, 139 Retail Grocery Stores.
In the years immediately following the American Civil War of the 1860s, thousands of African Americans, including both former southern slaves and northern soldiers, moved into a lively neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, the capital city of the defeated Confederate States. The neighborhood became known as Jackson Ward locally, and to blacks across the American East as the “Harlem of the South.”
It’s the perfect neighborhood to examine during the nation’s annual February observance of Black History Month.
Richmond is sometimes called the “Monument City” because of its boulevard of memorials to Confederate generals and admirals, as well as world-famous African-American tennis player Arthur Ashe. And in a grittier part of town not far from the Virginia State Capitol stands another, far less somber statue. High on a pedestal, a concrete figure saucily waves a bowler hat above his head as he dances up a short flight of stairs.
This monument honors Jackson Ward’s most famous son — Bill “Bojangles” Robinson — the pioneer tap dancer and occasional singer who dazzled vaudeville and movie audiences in the 1920s and ’30s.
During the first half of the 20th century —when restrictive rules called “Jim Crow laws” consigned whites and blacks to separate restaurants, bus seats, public toilets, and even drinking fountains —Robinson and other black celebrities often frequented night spots on the street that locals called “the Deuce.”
A building at the corner of Second and Jackson Streets today. (taberandrew, Flickr Creative Commons)
Duke Ellington, and singer Cab Calloway unwound with jam sessions in Jackson Ward after performing at the whites-only Mosque Theater downtown. Black athletes such as boxing champion Joe Louis and baseball st
ar Willie Mays stayed at the ward’s Slaughter’s Hotel.
On the Deuce, a fellow named Tom Mitchell was a regular customer at the Hippodrome and Globe “picture theaters,” as folks called those movie houses, and at the Armstrong Athletic Club, which was both a gymnasium and a bar.
“Nobody called it that, though,” Tom told me one day when I visited Richmond, where my middle daughter lives and works. “Everybody called it ‘Tat Turner’s Place.’ There’d be doctors and
lawyers, and at the end of the bar was the free trade — reserved for special friends and police. And as you know, the police have ears. And that was one of the main ears that they had on Second Street.”
During World War Two and the Korean War in the 1940s and ’50s, Jackson Ward swelled with black soldiers on leave from nearby Fort Lee. Clubs and restaurants such as the Golden Gate — Richmond’s largest dining room open to blacks —stayed open all night.
Memorabilia from Jackson Ward’s vibrant days are preserved at Richmond’s Black Museum and Cultural Center, housed in one of the neighborhood’s old mansions. Carolyn Brown, now retired, was a historian at the Center. She calls Jackson Ward a “city within a city,” where blacks formed what they called “benevolent societies” to look after one another.
The white insurance companies, most of them, would not insure black people. So they formed their own little societies. They saved money in these societies. And when someone became ill, there would be money that could be used for purchasing medication and what not. When someone died, there would be money for that person’s burial.
Jackson Ward is often acknowledged as the “birthplace of black entrepreneurship.” In addition to benevolent societies, blacks formed their own banks and savings institutions, and other African-Americans prospered in medicine, law, and similar professions.
Ah, yes. “Miss Maggie” Walker, the daughter of a former slave, who in 1903 became the first woman of any race to found and become president of an American bank. Three of its branches still operate. Maggie Walker also founded a newspaper and a department store called “Saint Luke’s Emporium.”
Walker was the matron of the “cradle of black capitalism,” as the Washington Post put it in a profile story earlier this month. At her home, now a National Historic Site, visitors were intrigued by one of Walker’s granddaughter’s dolls. It was, Post reporter Ellen Perlman wrote, “a ‘Tu-In-One’ doll’ . . .
. . . a Siamese-twin-like doll with a head on either end, instead of feet. It becomes a white doll with a bonnet or a black doll with her hair tied up in a red cloth, depending upon which head the dress covers.
These could possibly have dated to the days of southern slavery, which did not end until the Union victory in the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s. I can imagine children of both races playing with such a doll, with the “massa’s” child speaking with the slave child, depending upon which way one flipped a wrist.
“There were banks in Richmond that would simply not accept money from African Americans,” Carolyn Brown told me. “So they used, as they had a way of saying, ‘Miss Maggie’s Bank.’ This was because of devotion to her, because she was a person who did everything that she could to uplift people in the community.”
Maggie Walker went out of her way to hire black women at her bank and other businesses. “It meant that these women could escape the drudgery of working at one of the three main occupations available to black women [in Richmond] at the time: laundress, domestic servant, or tobacco factory worker,” National Park Service ranger Ben Anderson told the Post.
Visitors begin their tours by watching a short videotape in which an actress portrays Maggie Walker.
“All of these good things — the newspaper, the bank, the emporium, were possible because we put our hands, brains, and might together and made jobs for ourselves,” the character says, presumably quoting Walker. “There is no reason why any man, woman, or child should stand by idly waiting with folded arms, saying there is nothing else I can do. With education and determination, you can do anything.” Maggie Walker’s bank was one of more than 100 black-owned businesses in Jackson Ward, and most of them thrived, because of a loyal local clientele and patronage of African American visitors from across the nation.
Jackson Ward resident John Mitchell ran for the governorship of Virginia in 1921 at a time when many former slaves were still alive and living in the decidedly segregationist city. He ran on what was known as a “Lily Black” ticket, mocking what he called the usual “Lily White” team. Mitchell even led a boycott of the streetcars in Richmond. But despite the strident words, he and Walker worked amicably with the city’s mayor and Virginia’s governor to support universal voting laws and good schools — good by segregationist standards — in Jackson Ward.
Ironically, the civil-rights movement and desegregation of public accommodations in the 1960s, which gave a lift to Richmond’s black community as a whole, devastated Jackson Ward. As white-owned businesses and entertainment venues opened to blacks, Jackson Ward banks, shops, and theaters lost customers. Many closed. The city razed dozens of homes for a highway and a new convention center, and creeping blight in Jackson Ward became a stampede.
Today, Jackson Ward is a quiet, slowly improving neighborhood but is still an ungentrified collection of brick row houses, corner stores, hair parlors, carry-out stands selling fried fish and pork chops and beer, churches on many corners, community outreach centers, and a few remaining mansions with ornate but rusted ironwork.
The Globe and the Golden Gate and Tat Turner’s Place are gone.
But the Hippodrome Theater has been extensively renovated and reopened as a lively entertainment venue for dancing, stage plays and movies, and mixing and mingling by the Virginia capital’s over-30 crowd that doesn’t care for loud music and the noisy bar scene.
At the “Hipp,” as locals call it, and at the Black History Center, the Maggie O. Walker Home, and at the jaunty statue of Bojangles Robinson, you can still get a taste of the glory days of the Harlem of the South.
The black business districts were havens for African-Americans who were educated, including lawyers and accountants, but couldn’t find work in their profession. The districts also were a place where business owners could open shops, because selling to white consumers was, at best, difficult. “So the business of ‘captive black consumers’ fueled black business success,” Perry-Rivers said. “Nearly all of the needs of African-Americans, from cosmetology and music, to legal, mortuary and tax services, were able to be met by black businesses.” Richmond, she said, proved to be a particularly strong incubator for African-American capitalists and produced “some of the most important entrepreneurs ever.” Perry-Rivers singled out Maggie L. Walker, one of the first female American millionaires of any race and the first African-American woman to charter a bank, but she said that just as important were “the amazing 13 former slaves” who started the Richmond Planet in 1883.
Haki Kweli Shakur
ATCO NAPLA NEW AFRIKAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
FREE THE LAND!!!
Jackson Ward Richmond Black Wall St ( New Afrikan Self – Determination ) – Haki Shakur x K.Kinte