Black Wall Streets: Richmond, Virginia

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  • Published on August 25, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In History

Visit Jackson Ward, Virginia’s ‘Harlem of the South.’

Affectionately nicknamed “The Harlem of the South,” Jackson Ward, a neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, was the home of Black culture, commerce and family life in the city’s post-reconstruction period. The neighborhood’s famed Hippodrome Theater hosted the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald and the nation’s first Black female bank founder, Maggie L. Walker of St. Luke Penny Savings, called it home.

That all changed in the late 1950s when city officials had the area bisected by the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, displacing homes and businesses alike. At the same time, integration led to the dispersal of Black families and the area fell victim to neglect and dilapidation. Some lots were eventually taken over by the city for administrative buildings, campus buildings for Virginia Commonwealth University and a sports stadium.

Revitalization efforts began toward the latter half of the past century, where the city worked to upgrade much of the housing stock in the area. The National Parks Service restored the Maggie L. Walker house before adding it to the National Register of Historic Places. Finally, a convention center was built hoping to steer foot traffic to the area. Unfortunately, this destroyed some of the area’s historic homes and created a physical barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of the downtown.

More recent efforts to restore the neighborhood’s cultural integrity have fared better, however, many feel that they are already too late. Although murals commemorating Black history have gone up and parks have been refitted with new equipment and features, the demographics of the neighborhood had already shifted significantly. In 2000, Jackson Ward was a majority Black neighborhood, but by 2010, white residents outnumbered Black residents 2-1. Median home values climbed over $100,000 dollars, which left many former residents unable to keep up with property taxes. Still, some observers and involved citizens remain hopeful. They suggest that with policies like property tax caps and inclusionary zoning, this neighborhood, a place where people leave lawn-care equipment out for communal use, where historical properties are restored for community enjoyment, where economic engines and historical preservationists like the Jackson Ward Collective and The JXN Project reside, can continue to thrive.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

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