Black business districts and neighborhoods have always provided a sense of belonging and safety that have allowed us to celebrate our culture and garner wealth. With events such as Jim Crow, segregation and desegregation, and the assassinations of Civil Rights leaders, individual livelihoods were greatly affected, as well as the stability of these neighborhoods.
Today, we are witnessing Black communities disintegrate due to gentrification and racism, while some are managing to rebuild and evolve. Either way, the history of these Black neighborhoods often gets hidden and not fully recognized.
The following are 10 Black business districts that are examples of Black economic excellence and self-empowerment. They are what we always have to remember, learn from and keep alive.
Greenwood/Black Wall Street (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is home of the Greenwood district, also known as Black Wall Street. It is one of the most well-known Black business districts from the early 20th century. The district was a successful, self-sufficient society where Black businesses thrived. Black people created their own community and economy, which included a newspaper, grocery stores, barbershops, doctors’ offices, schools, and more. The area was a Black utopia with a population of about 10,000 people at the time, until mobs of armed white residents descended on the community, burning down businesses, looting homes, and attacking/killing Black people on May 31, 1921. The massacre killed hundreds of Black residents and thousands of houses were destroyed.
18th & Vine (Kansas City, Missouri)
My hometown is not only the place for the best barbecue and jazz, but also Black businesses that have a rich history and culture. 18th & Vine is internationally recognized as a historical point of origin of jazz music and a historic hub of African-American businesses. Black Kansas citizens were prohibited from moving south of 27th Street during the first half of the 20th century. As the community grew in population it became completely self-sufficient. Black doctors, dentists, and lawyers practiced and lived in the neighborhood, while more than 600 businesses, hotels, theaters, restaurants and stores flourished. The number of successful businesses owned and operated by Black people made this neighborhood significant.
Hayti District (Durham, North Carolina)
The Hayti District became a successful Black community soon after Black people migrated to Durham to work. The land where the neighborhood emerged was initially owned by white merchants but was eventually purchased with capital that Black residents earned over time. From the 1880s to the 1940s, the district was one of the most successful Black communities in the country. The city was home to the historic North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, Lincoln Hospital, as well as over 200 other Black-owned businesses.
Harlem was the epitome of Black excellence in the 1920s, and still gives that same energy today. This neighborhood was home to the Harlem Renaissance and will forever be ingrained in not just Black history but American history. Many cultural, artistic, and literary figures found inspiration and comfort in Harlem. The Great Depression had a devastating impact on Harlem. Even so, the community’s political, social, and economic influence has continued to shape the Black experience to this day.
U Street (Washington, D.C.)
Historically known as Black Broadway, Washington, D.C.’s U Street corridor was known as the epicenter for Black excellence and talent at the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. U Street was the home of Black social, cultural, and economic prosperity, despite racial and political tension in the country. Pioneers like Carter G. Woodson, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, and more found refuge there to unapologetically celebrate their Blackness and talents. Currently, U Street is known as Washington’s cultural center, and it is home to many restaurants, clubs, markets, and more.
Tenth Street Historic District (Dallas, Texas)
Situated in a white community called Oak Cliff, Tenth Street District grew to become a prominent Black community soon after the Civil War because of segregation. More than 500 Black residents lived in the area by 1900. The strong Black presence in the district is one reason the area flourished. As with other Black communities in the country, the effects of integration caused many residents to relocate, taking their cultural influence and impact with them. The district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
The Fourth Avenue District (Birmingham, Alabama)
This area became an affluent Black business district during the early-to mid-20th century. It was home to a surplus of businesses including theaters, restaurants, hotels, cafés, mortuaries, and more. Fourth Avenue District was a haven for many Black Americans to celebrate themselves in various ways. Not only was the district a great retail and entertainment area, but it also served as a location for community engagement and activism.
Jackson Ward (Richmond, Virginia)
Nicknamed the Harlem of the South, Richmond’s Jackson Ward was a cultural, entertainment, and economic hub for Black residents. Thousands of Black Americans moved to the area that is now a historic district after the Civil War to create better lives for themselves and to start businesses. The prosperous area was home to many well-known churches and the first Black and woman-owned bank in the country, St. Luke Penny Savings, which was founded by entrepreneur and monumental figure Maggie L. Walker. Jackson Ward was a booming entertainment scene were Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway visited, in addition to its being the birthplace of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Seventh Street (West Oakland, California)
Seventh Street in West Oakland became a prosperous area around the time of World War II. Black Americans moved to Oakland en masse due to war-related jobs and other opportunities. Black-owned businesses were created for residents to support and buy Black, which in turn laid the foundation to help the economy thrive. West Oakland was the West Coast epicenter for Black Americans, providing them the opportunity to embed their talents into the city.
Sweet Auburn Historic District (Atlanta, Georgia)
Sweet Auburn was a haven for Black Atlanta residents before the Civil Rights movement. The district’s cultural and social landscape shaped the Black experience in the city, birthing historic Black churches, businesses (such as the second largest Black insurance company in the country, Atlanta Life Insurance Company), talent and more. The Sweet Auburn district is also the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. Visitors can take a tour of his childhood home. It’s also where the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church are located. It is definitely an emotional experience to visit. Sweet Auburn declined in the 1980s as social and economic factors reshaped the district.
Despite gentrification, oppressive policies, and federal interference, the impact of these communities still inspires entrepreneurs, creatives, and community leaders of all backgrounds as places of culture, creativity, and influence. In many of these districts, there has been a resurgence of support for Black businesses, and today Black Americans are using these neighborhoods as a blueprint to create their own legacies while ensuring our ancestors’ history continues to live on.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.