Geography of America’s Historic Black Main Streets

 

Original North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Building in Durham, NC – Source: today.duke.edu

Discriminatory Jim Crow Era segregation laws that were often brutally enforced throughout the South and the bigoted use of similar divisive tactics elsewhere in the United States led to the creation and development of African-American business districts and corridors in many cities. Historic Black Main Streets successfully catered to the daily business, shopping, service, financial, lodging, religious, and cultural needs of African-Americans who were otherwise being excluded from using white-owned businesses and organizations in the community.

Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa – Source: athometulsa.com

In some places, historic Black Main Streets were merely a block or two long, while in others they filled multiple blocks of the city. In all cases, they were vital in serving the needs of the local African-American population. Several of these historic Black Main Streets became quite notable. Two corridors in particular, Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Parrish Avenue in Durham, North Carolina were two (2) of the most successful examples in the nation – interestingly, both were nicknamed Black Wall Street.

Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, OK – Source: pinterest.com

Today, many historic African-America business corridors have largely disappeared and/or have faded from memory due to several reasons. These include:

  • Urban renewal projects that were used in the guise of community improvement and slum/blight removal (see example below);

Destruction of Wylie Avenue and The Lower Hill District in Pittsburgh – Source: pinterest.com

  • Freeway/interstate construction projects that were purposely directed through minority and underprivileged neighborhoods (see two examples below); and

Claiborne Avenue destruction in New Orleans – Source: bigeasymagazine.com

Hastings Street destruction in Detroit – Source: reddit.com

  • The repeal/overturning of segregation laws during the 1950s allowed Black Americans to reside throughout the community. As a result, both African-Americas residents and businesses tended to disperse over larger geographic areas instead of being concentrated in limited neighborhoods and business corridors. Secondarily, while African-American consumers were now both willing and able to frequent formerly segregated white-owned/operated businesses throughout the community, the same trend did not occur with white consumers visiting black-owned/operated businesses in sufficient numbers to offset the business lost as the Black Main Street’s local customer-base dwindled (Source: Black Wall Street).

Parrish Avenue in Durham, NC – Source: pinterest.com

  • A more recent negative impact on historic Black Main Streets has come from gentrification. While taking place nationwide, this phenomenon is particularly acute in the rapidly growing cities of the southern and western United States. East 11th Street in Austin, Texas and Williams Avenue in Portland Oregon are two noteworthy examples.

Walnut Street in Louisville, KY – Source: uofllibraries.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/old-walnut-street-african-american-businesses/

This primary list contained in this post identifies the specific street corridors that composed the business epicenters of the African-American community in each city listed during the time frame extending from the late 1870s to the mid-1950s. Sadly, of those listed below, only one (1) is actually located on a “Main Street.” During this period of American history, “Main Street” tended to be reserved for businesses that served whites only or which were owned by white business people. The most common street names identified for historic Black Main Streets were Second Street/Avenue and Washington Street/Avenue with seven (7) examples each; followed by Seventh Avenue/Street, Ninth Street/Avenue, and Center/Central Street/Avenue with five (5) examples of each.

Source: static1.squarespace.com/static/55933593e4b0847ca286c68d/t/58c744ad2994ca3a007dc2c9/1489454321154/CottonAve-WalkingTour-WebVersion.pdf

Also included on the primary list at the end of this post is the current name of the street corridor (if it has changed), as well as the nickname for the street if it had one. The nicknames themselves are quite interesting, as seen here just below:

Source: wnky.com

List of Street Nicknames

  • Back Street
  • Big Nine
  • Black Broadway
  • Black Wall Street (2)
  • Back-o-town
  • Catfish Alley
  • Deep Deuce
  • Deep Greenwood
  • Five Points
  • Golden Blocks
  • Greasy Street
  • Hot Corner
  • KY and the Curb
  • Mink Slide
  • Shab Row
  • Shake Rag
  • Soulsville – added 2/7/21
  • Street of Dreams
  • Sweet Auburn
  • The Block (2)
  • The Blocks
  • The Bottom (2)
  • The Cut(s)
  • The Deuces
  • The Hollow
  • The Line
  • The Sharp End
  • The Strip
  • The Triangle (or Halifax Triangle)
  • The Wedge
  • The Wharf
  • Wall Street of the Rockies

Source: visitcolumbusmms.org

As always, any additions, corrections, or suggestions to this post are most welcome. Here (below) is the primary list presented alphabetically be city.

America’s Historic Black Main Streets

  • Akron, Ohio – Howard Street

Source: remarkableohio.org

  • Alexandria, Virginia – Queen Street
  • Anderson, South Carolina – East Church Street
  • Annapolis, Maryland – Clay Street
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan – 100 Block of East Ann Street
  • Anniston, Alabama – West 15th Street

Source: hmdb.com

  • Asheville, North Carolina – Eagle Street (nicknamed the Block)
  • Athens, Georgia – corner of Washington & Hull Streets  (nicknamed Hot Corner)
  • Atlanta, Georgia (2) – Auburn Avenue (nicknamed Sweet Auburn) and Decatur Street – added 2/7/21
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey – Kentucky Avenue (nicknamed KY and the Curb)

Source: hmdb.com

  • Augusta, Georgia – Ninth Street (nicknamed Golden Blocks and now also known as James Brown Boulevard)
  • Austin, Texas – East 11th Street
  • Baltimore, Maryland – Pennsylvania Avenue
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana – Government Street
  • Berkeley, California – Adeline Street
  • Biloxi, Mississippi – Main Street north of Esters (nicknamed Back-of-town)
  • Birmingham, Alabama – Fourth Avenue

Source: styleblueprint.com

  • Blytheville, Arkansas – Ash Street
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky – North State Street (nicknamed Shake Rag)
  • Bradenton, Florida – Central Avenue
  • Brooklyn, New York – Tompkins Avenue
  • Brownsville, Tennessee – Jefferson Street
  • Buffalo, New York – Michigan Street
  • Burlington, North Carolina – Worth Street
  • Cambridge, Maryland – South Pine Street from Muir Street to Cedar Street
  • Canton, Mississippi – Hickory Street (nicknamed the Hollow)
  • Canton, Ohio – Cherry Avenue S.E.
  • Cape May, New Jersey – intersection of Lafayette & Jackson Streets
  • Carbondale, Illinois – North Washington Street
  • Champaign, Illinois – North First Street
  • Chapel Hill, North Carolina – West Rosemary Street
  • Charleston, South Carolina – King & Spring Streets
  • Charleston, West Virginia – city block formed by Washington, Shrewsbury, Lewis (now Norman), & Broads Streets (nicknamed the Block)

Source: hmdb.org

  • Charles Town, West Virginia – three blocks of South West Street
  • Charlotte, North Carolina – Brevard Street
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee – Ninth Street (now MLK Boulevard) (nicknamed Big Nine)
  • Cheraw, South Carolina – intersection of Kershaw & Second Streets
  • Chestertown, Maryland – Cannon Street
  • Chicago, Illinois (3) – 35th Street; South State Street; and Chatham-Grand Crossing area (75th & Cottage Grove to 79th & Cottage Grove)
  • Cincinnati, Ohio – area surrounding the corner of Lincoln & Gilbert Avenues
  • Clarksdale, Mississippi – 4th Street (now Martin Luther King Blouevard) – added 1/19/21
  • Cleveland, Ohio (2) – Euclid & E. 105th Street and East 55th Street
  • Columbia, Missouri – Walnut Street (nicknamed The Sharp End)

Source: columbiamissourian.com

  • Columbia, South Carolina – Washington Street
  • Columbia, Tennessee – East Eighth Street (nicknamed The Bottom or Mink Slide)
  • Columbus, Mississippi (2) – 4th Street South (nicknamed Catfish Alley) and Seventh Avenue North 
  • Columbus, Ohio – Mount Vernon Avenue

Source: library.cscc.edu

  • Culpeper, Virginia – East Davis Street (nicknamed the Wharf)
  • Dallas, Texas (2) – 1oth Street in Oak Cliff and Elm Street in Deep Ellum
  • Dalton, Georgia – 600 block of McCamy Street (now South Hamilton Street)
  • Danville, Kentucky – 2nd Street

Source: waymarking.com

  • Danville, Virginia – North Union Street
  • Davenport, Iowa – 600 to 900 blocks of Harrison Street
  • Dayton, Ohio – West Third Street
  • Daytona Beach, Florida – Second Street
  • Denver, Colorado – around the intersection of Washington Street, 27th Street, 26th Avenue and Welton Street, located northeast of downtown (nicknamed Five Points and Wall Street of the Rockies)

Source: hmdb.com

  • Des Moines, Iowa – Center Street
  • Detroit, Michigan – Hastings Street
  • Dothan, Alabama – South Alice Street
  • Durham, North Carolina (2) – Fayetteville Road and Parrish Street (nicknamed Black Wall Street)
  • Evansville, Indiana – Lincoln Avenue
  • Flint, Michigan – St. John Street
  • Florence, South Carolina – 200 and 300 blocks of North Dargan Street

Source; greenbookofsc.com

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Sistrunk Boulevard
  • Fort Pierce, Florida – Avenue D
  • Fort Smith, Arkansas – Eighth and Ninth Streets
  • Franklin, Tennessee – Natchez Street

Source: hmdb.com

  • Frederick, Maryland (2) – North East Street for the 2.5 blocks north of Patrick Street (nicknamed Shab Row) and All Saints Street
  • Gadsden, Alabama – Sixth Street
  • Gainesville, Florida – Fifth Avenue
  • Gainesville, Georgia – Athens Street
  • Galveston, Texas – Gus’s Alley
  • Gastonia, North Carolina – The Square
  • Greensboro, North Carolina – East Market Street
  • Greenville, Mississippi – Nelson Street

Source: hmdb.com

  • Greenville, South Carolina – McBee Avenue & Spring Street
  • Hampton, Virginia – North King Street (now Quash Street) & Rip Rap Road
  • Hannibal Missouri – 1200 block of Broadway (nicknamed the Wedge)
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – North 6th Street
  • Hattiesburg, Mississippi – Mobile Street
  • Henderson, Kentucky – Second Street
  • High Point, North Carolina – Washington Street

Source: greensboro.com

  • Hopkinsville, Kentucky – Virginia Street
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas – Malvern Avenue
  • Houston, Texas – Dowling Street (renamed Emancipation Avenue)
  • Huntsville, Alabama – Church Street & Holmes Avenue
  • Indianapolis, Indiana – Indiana Avenue (nicknamed The Avenue)

Source: theclio.com

  • Indianola, Mississippi – Church Street
  • Jackson, Mississippi – Farish Street
  • Jefferson City, Missouri – 600 block of Lafayette Street
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas – Baker Street
  • Kansas City, Missouri –18th & Vine
  • Knoxville, Tennessee – Jackson Avenue
  • Lakeland, Florida – West Memorial Boulevard & Florida Avenue
  • Laurens, South Carolina – North Harper Street (nicknamed Back Street)

Source: laurenscountyadvertiser.net/2019/09/25/family-gathers-to-remember-dr-pughsley-laurens-back-street-business-community/

  • Lexington, Kentucky – Deweese Street
  • Little Rock, Arkansas – West Ninth Street (nicknamed The Line)
  • Los Angeles, California – Central Avenue
  • Louisville, Kentucky – Walnut Street (now Muhammed Ali Avenue)
  • Lynchburg, Virginia – Fifth Street
  • Macon, Georgia – Cotton Avenue (now Forsyth Street and D.T. Walton Way)
  • Martinsville, Virginia – Fayette Street
  • McComb, Mississippi – Summit Street

Source: waymarking.com

  • Memphis, Tennessee (2) – Beale Street and McLemore Street (nicknamed Soulsville) – added 2/7/21
  • Meridian, Mississippi – Fifth Street & 25th Avenue
  • Milledgeville, Georgia – McIntosh & Wayne Streets (nicknamed the Strip)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Walnut Street

Source: wisconsinhistoricalmarkers.com/2015/09/bronzeville-milwaukee-walnut-street.html

  • Monroe, Louisiana – Desiard Street
  • Montgomery, Alabama – High Street
  • Muskogee, Oklahoma – Second & Market Streets
  • Nashville, Tennessee – Jefferson Street
  • Newark, Delaware – New London Road

Source: hmdb.com

  • New Bern, North Carolina – Five Points intersection of Neuse Boulevard, Queen Street, and Broad Street
  • New Iberia, Louisiana – Hopkins Street
  • Newnan, Georgia – East Broad Street
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (2) – Claiborne Avenue and Bayou Road 
  • New York City, New York (Manhattan/Harlem: 3) – 135th Street, 7th Avenue, and Lenox Avenue; (The Bronx: 1) – White Plains Road – See separate listing for Brooklyn.
  • Oakland, California (2) – West Seventh Street and San Pablo Avenue
  • Ocala, Florida – West Broadway
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Second Street NE (nicknamed Deep Deuce)
  • Omaha, Nebraska – North 24th Street & Lake Avenue (nicknamed Street of Dreams)
  • Paducah, Kentucky – South 7th Street
  • Panama City, Florida – Cove Boulevard
  • Pensacola, Florida – Belmont & DeVillers Streets (nicknamed the Blocks)
  • Petersburg, Virginia – Harrison Avenue (nicknamed the Triangle)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 52nd Street
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2) – Centre Avenue and Wylie Avenue 
  • Plant City, Florida – Laura Street
  • Portland, Oregon – Williams Avenue
  • Portsmouth, Virginia – Effingham Street
  • Raleigh, North Carolina – East Hargett Street
  • Richmond, Virginia – Second Street (nicknamed The Deuce)
  • Riverside, California – Park Avenue
  • Roanoke, Virginia – Henry Street
  • Rochester, New York (2) – Clarissa Street and Joseph Avenue
  • Rock Hill, South Carolina – Trade Street (now Dave Lyle Boulevard)

African-American Business District Monument in Rock Hill, SC – Source: oldeenglishdistrict.com

  • Rocky Mount, North Carolina – Douglas Block
  • Ruleville, Mississippi – Front Street (nicknamed Greasy Street)

Source: hmdb.com

  • Sacramento, California – 35th Street
  • San Antonio, Texas – East Commerce Street
  • San Diego, California – intersection of 5th & K Streets
  • Savannah, Georgia – West Broad Street (now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive)
  • Seattle, Washington – 23rd Avenue
  • Sewickley, Pennsylvania – 400 block of Walnut Street
  • Sherman, Texas – East Mulberry Street
  • Shreveport, Louisiana – Texas Avenue
  • South Bend, Indiana – Birdsall & Liston Streets
  • Springfield, Illinois – South Grand Avenue (nicknamed South Town)
  • Springfield, Missouri – Jones Alley
  • Statesville, North Carolina – Garfield Street
  • Staunton, Virginia – West Johnson Street
  • St. Augustine, Florida – Washington Street
  • St. Joseph, Missouri – Messanie Street
  • St. Louis, Missouri – Easton Avenue (now MLK Drive)
  • St. Paul, Minnesota – Rondo Avenue
  • St. Petersburg, Florida – 22nd Street South from 2nd Avenue South to 18th Avenue South (nicknamed the Deuces)
  • Tacoma, Washington – K Street
  • Tallahassee, Florida – Macomb Street
  • Tampa, Florida – Central Avenue 

Source: hmdb.org

  • Thomasville, Georgia – West Jackson Street (nicknamed The Bottom)
  • Topeka, Kansas (2) – 400 block of Kansas Avenue and Huntoon Avenue 
  • Trenton, New Jersey – Spring Street
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma – Greenwood Avenue (nicknamed Black Wall Street and Deep Greenwood)
  • Tupelo, Mississippi – Green Street from Barnes to Spring Streets

Source: hmbd.com

  • Tyler, Texas –  North Palace Street [nicknamed the Cut(s)]
  • Waco, Texas – Bridge Street
  • Washington, DC (4) – U Street (nicknamed Black Broadway) in the Shaw neighborhood; 7th Street at T Street; 14th Street NW in the Columbia Heights neighborhood (see photo below); and Sheriff Road in the Deanwood neighborhood (see the second photo below)

    14th Street -Source: hmdb.com

Sheriff Road – Source: hmdb.com

  • Waynesboro, Virginia – Port Republic Road
  • Wheeling, West Virginia – Chapline Street
  • Wichita, Kansas – 9th & Cleveland Streets
  • Wilmington, North Carolina – North Fourth Street
  • Wilson, North Carolina – East Nash Street from Railroad to Pender Street
  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Martin Luther King Drive
  • Wytheville, Virginia – East Franklin Street

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SOURCES:

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1 Response to Geography of America’s Historic Black Main Streets

  1. Lea says:

    Reblogged this on Something wild.

    Like

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