Words by Duron Chavis (Brother Manifest)
Some of my fondest memories are of working for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia as a tour guide. From elementary school aged children to senior citizens, it was my responsibility to interpret the history of African American’s in Richmond Virginia to diverse audiences - literally every day. The permanent installation on the history of Jackson Ward served as, perhaps, the most inspirational tours I ever gave though it wouldn’t be until almost 10 years later that I would find out the more intimate reasons for the demise of the, “Harlem of the South.”
Jackson Ward was created around 1870 and was originally home to free Africans, German, Irish and Italian immigrants. During Reconstruction free African Americans overwhelmingly moved into the area and by 1920 Jackson Ward was the center of black business for the city of Richmond. Due to American apartheid, in the form of segregation laws and exclusionary local attitudes by people of European descent, Jackson Ward developed independently both politically and economically from the rest of Richmond. In 1940, an estimated 5,000 African Americans lived in Jackson Ward. From retail businesses, insurance companies, lawyers, doctors, churches, newspapers, banks, fraternal orders, beauty shops and entertainment facilities Jackson Ward existed as a city within a city. The success of Jackson Ward was built on the principle of interdependence which is essential for strong resilient communities and the backbone for success for any group in our society.
Renown nationwide for its social scene, Jackson Ward was a famous stopping point for musical greats such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Artists would stay at the Hotel Eggleston or the Harris Hotel on 2nd Street and later perform at the Hippodrome Theatre. At least 5 black banks would find home in Jackson Ward, including the St. Luke Penny’s Saving bank founded by Maggie Lena Walker the first black woman to start a bank. The culmination of the five would take shape in the form of Consolidated Bank and trust as a result of the economic turmoil resultant from the Great Depression. Black owned insurance company Southern Aide Life Insurance would find it’s home at 3rd and Clay street. Waller’s Jewelry, the Richmond Planet, Chalmer’s Beauty School, fraternal orders such as the Knights of Pythagoras, churches like Sixth Mount Zion and Ebenezer Baptist Church all would find their roots deeply planted in Jackson Ward and this was before 1950 less than 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
Imagine the economic power of having dollars turn over so many times in your community. Say for instance, you were a promoter of shows that featured Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Chances are you had a bank account with a black owned bank, life insurance with a black owned insurance company; you booked your acts at a black owned theatre and had them stay in a black owned hotel. They would then eat at a black owned restaurant, you would have gotten your clothes tailor made from a black tailor, your watch fixed by a black jeweler all the while holding membership in a black fraternal order and on Sunday you gave tithe and offering at a black church afterwards you could stop and pick up a copy of a black owned newspaper in the form of the Richmond Planet. Talk about black power! With 25% of the city’s population being overwhelmingly black, a resurgence of this type of economic self-sufficiency is certainly a way to re-emerge the city of Richmond from it’s current state.
Makes you wonder what happened right? Well a common misnomer is that the collapse of historically black neighborhoods and Black Wall Streets was a byproduct of integration with the inference that it was African American’s overwhelming desire to support businesses other than their own. The truth is that the opportunity to participate freely in mainstream America without concern of a white’s only sign may have had an effect on the Harlem of the South but the demise of Jackson Ward was a much more complicated, uncomfortably more insidious and unfortunately deliberate act.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s statue in Jackson Ward
In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted the New Deal in the 1930’s which instituted a myriad of economic programs with intentions of boosting the American economy. Sounds good right? Well it was if your ethnic persuasion was fit for the salvation. As it related to housing, the Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC) was designed to refinance homes to prevent foreclosure. Field workers for the HOLC went through communities rating neighborhoods to determine if eligibility for refinancing. African American neighborhoods were given the lowest rating regardless of how much the median income for their respective communities with white communities even if on the decline receiving higher grades. This affected how much, if any, assistance was given to communities like Jackson Ward during one of the most economically trying times this country has yet to face.
Similar to the HOLC, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that was charged with guaranteeing low interest loans with small down payments and long-term payback periods. This program discriminated as well and refused to give loans to African Americans even if they had good credit. The FHA used the racist ratings determined by the HOLC to deny African Americans neighborhoods both loans and mortgages. If property ownership especially homeownership is the foundation of wealth, then African American neighborhoods had successfully been locked out of the giving circle while others got assistance without any semblance of similar obstacle.
To add insult to injury, the development of public housing targeted African American neighborhoods despite the original purpose of them being for people of all ethnicities. The suburbs didn’t get any public housing developments at all in Richmond. Centralizing public housing in and around traditionally African American neighborhoods in the city of Richmond, in the case of Jackson Ward - Gilpin Court, which meant the centralization of poverty close to and inside of black neighborhoods. That wouldn’t have been so bad had there not been the final deathblow administered by way of the initiation of the Interstate Highway program that would be built directly through the middle of Jackson Ward – despite the community being against the idea. State and city legislators created the Richmond Metropolitan Authority and built the highway anyway despite multiple public community vote downs. Seven thousand African Americans or 10% of Jackson Wards population would be displaced by this act of economic violence.
The interesting thing about the highway, the new deal programs, and the development of public housing in and or around traditionally African American neighborhood was that Jackson Ward in Richmond was not the exception to the rule. This was no anomaly. In fact when one does the research you find that every major metropolitan city across America followed the same blueprint that would crush the economic fortitude of major black epicenters that had been forced to develop out of necessity due to segregation. It was as if a memo was passed down from some secret meeting that read “this is how you stop black people from gaining political and economic power in your city.”
During this time of urban renewal; of course the civil rights movement was in swing working to provide access for African American’s into mainstream America. Inherently this is the way that it should be. Irrespective of such overwhelming economic terrorism, lawyers and activists in Jackson Ward would go on to spearhead numerous landmark efforts during the civil rights movement – with notables such as Oliver Hill locating their offices in Jackson Ward. Hill served on the legal defense team for the NAACP and championed cases such as the Brown vs. Board of Education. He would later become the first black person to serve on city council since Reconstruction in 1948. Henry Marsh III had offices in Jackson Ward, and his work on Bradley vs. Richmond School Board instituted school bussing programs to racially integrate the school system. He would later become the city’s first black mayor in 1966. The Richmond Crusade for Voters had its offices in Jackson Ward and fought for voting rights for people of African descent to be able to participate fully in the political system. The Richmond NAACP offices were in Jackson Ward and their work organizing sit-ins broke led to the first sit in at Woolworths. Efforts from leaders from right here in Richmond VA by way of Jackson Ward helped shape the civil rights movement immeasurably. Funding for these efforts came by way of businesses like Virginia Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company and citizens living right in Jackson Ward.
Oliver Hill and (a daper) Henry Marsh III. Civil Rights legends made power moves in Jackson Ward.
It is a hard argument to hypothesize what Jackson Ward would have been had its neighborhood been given high ratings and its residents had access to the same loans, refinancing options and mortgages that their white counterparts had been given, had a highway not been built through the middle of the neighborhood and public housing not been placed there virtually at the same time. Of course the convergence of so many economic wrecking balls aimed directly at a specific demographic would leave any community reeling. Once one takes into account the cumulative impacts of these events taking place simultaneously over two decades and the subsequent divestment from Richmond, Virginia in mass in the forms of massive resistance and white flight in response to integration, and later the influx of crack cocaine into
public housing developments in the late seventies and eighties – one starts getting a full scope of what communities like Jackson Ward were up against to
The economic violence done unto Jackson Ward was like a poisonous dart. it didn’t kill instantly – and great works were done in spite of; however it was an orchestrated attempt none the less. One thing is for certain, you can kill the messenger but you can’t kill the message. The lessons of interdependence learned from Jackson Ward are timeless and even more relevant today than ever before.
Current revitalization efforts of Jackson Ward are under way, however due to influences from the market and stifling poverty, intensive gentrification has inspired a major influx from the individuals with much higher financial means that the neighborhood’s historical inhabitants. What used to be for blacks only is slowly becoming too expensive a place for the city’ black residents to live. The black owned businesses that were once a mainstay of Jackson Ward are being replaced by white owned businesses or businesses that cater to “mixed audiences”. Croaker Spot – one of the oldest black owned restaurants in the city, owned by descendants of Neverett Eggleston – founder of The Eggleston Hotel – moved to newly developed areas of the city in Manchester. Consolidated Bank and Trust – once the oldest black owned bank in the country was sold to a white company in recent years. The Hippodrome theatre once feature legendary black acts who wouldn’t have been able to get major headlines in white venues. Ironically now, often feature non-black acts and are done by non-black promoters. Funny story, the venue had a show by a local band, from Richmond, called, “Black Girls,” which was paradoxically an all white male college-rock band. No one seemed to notice the irony tho…
Rebuilt – The Hippodrome now stands tall in Jackson Ward.
Duron Chavis (Brother Manifest) is the director of Happily Natural Day and coordinator of the Mcdonough Community Garden. He will be writing about RVA Black History every Friday this month.
So first things first…This is the best Richmond Famous Poster that I have ever seen. I just love it. My friend David works really hard on these posters and this one is a complete takes the cake. With that said, what can I say about Patience that has not already been said a million times? Nothing. She’s as amazing as advertised and if you don’t believe me…see for yourself this Friday as she is the featured guest for the Richmond Comedy Coalition’s Richmond Famous. As you might guess, I’m a huge fan of these shows. Patience is going to be wonderful. Click HERE to RSVP on FB and more importantly Click HERE to buy your advance ticket. I hear these things sell out so you want to guarantee your seat now.
The John Mitchell Jr. marker is proudly posted right beside the Richmond Convention Center in Jackson Ward.
Words by Duron Chavis AKA Brother Manifest
African history is so awe inspiring to me. Being an African born in Richmond ,Virginia makes me particularly interested in the story of people of African descent from right here in my hometown. Interestingly enough, the city of Richmond is pretty well renown for some amazing personalities, many of whom few of us have ever heard anything about.
The time period immediately following the civil war, which W.E.B. Dubois called, “the Black Reconstruction,” was an era of black history that I was particularly drawn to. Spanning from 1865 to 1891, historians ascertain that over 2000 African Americans held political offices in the South. One such man by the name of John Mitchell Jr. was from Jackson Ward.
Mitchell was born a slave in Richmond, VA, on July 11, 1863, two years before the end of the Civil War. What you find in Mitchell that is so astounding is that he melded his life around service to uplift the black community. His approach was multidisciplinary and evolved over time. He started out as journalist speaking out against lynching. His journalistic activism kept the conversation in the public eye via the Richmond Planet, a black weekly paper to which he would later be appointed editor. He promoted the works of activists throughout the U.S. such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington, in addition to local leaders and the business community.
Mitchell used his pen and political influence as a weapon. His work to highlight the injustice of lynching was one thing, but Mitchell stepped out to combat injustice on even a broader scale. For example, the case of Simon Walker – a 15 year black boy accused of raping a 12 year old white girl was brought to trial and the young man was found guilty and to be executed. Mitchell was able to keep the story alive in his paper and through advocacy on the boys behalf to the Governor at the time, Fitzhugh Lee (nephew of General Robert E. Lee), was able to eventually get the sentence commuted to 20 years in prison versus him being hanged. This was an amazing feat considering the ever present threat that whites would simply snatch the boy up and lynch him anyway. Mitchell was able to coral the support of state officials to ensure Walker was delivered to prison unharmed.
What’s even more impressive is that Mitchell wasn’t afraid to represent and stand up as a man in defense of his community. When threatened with hanging himself after reporting on a lynching of an African American in Smithfield, VA, Mitchell loaded two pistols, boarded a train to Smithfield, arrived, and then walked from the station to the site of the hanging. In this day and time, where we have so many internet revolutionaries and rappers talking about gangsta this and gangsta that, with fabricated stories of killing their own – I have to say, John Mitchell Jr. was really really gangsta, in a positive way.
The beautiful thing about Mitchell’s act of resistance is that it paints an accurate picture of African Americans as courageous and self-determining, standing in self defense of their families and community – not cowering in corners fearful of mob violence that was on the rise post Reconstruction as whites attempted to reestablish white supremacy and Jim Crow throughout the south. We were not passive at all. We owned businesses, newspapers, participated in local and state government, and stood together as a community against injustice.
Mitchell held down a spot on city council for Jackson Ward, organized a successful black boycott of the segregated electric trolley streetcars, founded the Mechanics Savings Bank in Richmond, and eventually ran for Governor of the state of Virginia in 1921 even though he didn’t win.
Mitchell died in December of 1929 in his office at the Richmond Planet. From a journalist to activist, to a banker and politician he truly dedicated his life for the betterment of African people. Our leaders of today and aspiring leaders of tomorrow can learn a lot from his courage and tenacity.
Duron Chavis (Brother Manifest) is the director of Happily Natural Day and coordinator of the Mcdonough Community Garden. He will be writing about RVA Black History every Friday this month.
S/O to Nick Mastro for this one. I met Nick at the RVA Street Art Fest and he puts in great work. Really great visuals – check him out at: MastroTime! Like his facebook page - then click over and like The Cheats Movement!
Everyone is going in on G40 photos and I am no different – this event is so awesome that everyone should be getting in on it…taking photos, talking to artist, doing it big…with that said, I’ve been trying to limit my photos until I turn them over to the crew and I want to capture some different stuff than just the standard — here is a quick sample of the direction I’m going:
One week after her debut column in the nationwide mega-blog The Huffington Post, I sat down with RVA’s own Patience Salgado. She is better known to many as Kindness Girl. Though Patience and I share the honor of both being named to Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2009 we’d never met or spoken before last week. Patience and I actually connected via Facebook after I saw her amazing photos from RVA Remembers. In addition to all the wonderful act of kindness she does, she is also an amazing photographer, writer, and blogger (BTW: a wife and mother of four). She has over 2,800 followers on twitter and has been featured in Oprah’s Magazine (yep that Oprah). Though we’d never spent any time around each other before — you would have never known it if you saw us in Crossroads last week. She instantly felt like my sister and we immediately hit if off. We spoke about her new gig at the Huff Post, her passion for the concept of kindness, how being known as Kindness Girl impacts her personal life, and her new guerrilla project: The Great Day of Garbage Gratitude. Check out my full interview with Patience by clicking HERE. Please support her efforts at: kindnessgirl.com and follow her on twitter at: @kindnessgirl
“Honestly – the crazy thing is that if Oprah had never happened, or any of it had never happened, I would still be doing exactly what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong, all of the publicity is awesome because it’s great to dream bigger and think about how much further the concept of kindness can go but I was telling my husband the other day that I have the same exact feeling walking away from brainstorming a kindness project with my garbage men that I did when I found out about Oprah Magazine – the same exact feeling.” — Patience Salgado
Cheats Movement: You just mentioned the Oprah article but the recent news is your writing for The Huffington Post, you just posted your first column last week?
Kindness Girl: Yes. I posted a week ago. It came out of nowhere, The Huffington Post just started a new “Good News” section and I got an email from them asking if I would be interested in writing. They have tons of blogger so there are a lot of people doing it but what is really cool about it is that I now have a new voice to tell stories about kindness that I didn’t have before…
Cheats Movement: And they’re huge – one of the most popular blogs in the country. This is a big deal.
Kindness Girl: I’m so nervous about it. I really don’t write editorials – that’s not my thing. So I guess I will just do the type of stuff I do on my blog and hope that it hits.
Cheats Movement: So how often will you write for them?
Kindness Girl: They are asking for once or twice a week but I think I can pull off once a week. I’m hoping to get approval for a post now – I am hoping that they feature it. I’m asking the country to do a kindness mission with me.
Cheats Movement: Awesome! Is this brand new?
Kindness Girl: Yes. I’m hoping it will be approved but I’m not sure.
Cheats Movement: So I can break some news? Can I break some news with this interview?
Kindness Girl: Well, I met my garbage men right before Christmas and I had this thought that these men are in our lives day in and day out but we often don’t know their names, we don’t know who they are. While I was talking to them, I decided that I want to do a kindness project for garbage men because they often go unrecognized. I asked them, “What type of kindness would you appreciate?” Joe said, I think we just need a little respect.” Hearing that I thought, that is such a basic human need – everyone needs a little respect. So, I’m asking the country to write notes of gratitude to their garbage men, maybe throw in a gift card too, and put it on their trash can for their garbage collectors on a selected trash pick-up day. Think how great it would be if can after can garbage collectors received another note. Just for one day, they would feel gratitude for the work they provide on a daily basis.
A 2012 Cheats Movement project is to post new music, artwork, and videos from RVA’s creative community. Therefore, I’m starting The Cheats Movement Club. A series of picks from “friends” of the Cheats Movement. If you are an artist and would like you new work considered for the club, send it to TheCheatsMovement@gmail.com.
THIS WEEK IN THE CLUB: DAMAGED ANDY, SUPERSTAR SPITAZ, ARTIK PHREEZE, SMOOTHMATIC, RYAN EASTER
ARTIST: DAMAGED ANDY ALBUM: PSYCHOSIS TRACK: ROMANS WHY: Damaged Andy is a RVA hip-hop vet. He took some time off to focus on what he wanted to accomplish in music and the result of his internal joureny was Psychosis. Check out the track Romans below and check out the album by clicking here.
ARTIST: SUPERSTAR SPITAZ X ARTIK PHREEZE VIDEO: YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS WHY: What’s next in RVA hip-hip? You can never tell but these two gentleman, Phreeze and Spitaz are working hard to carve out their spot. They were kind enough to invite me down to West Coast Kix to shoot some behind the scenes – check that out by clicking here. Below is the official video.
ARTIST: SMOOTHMATIC VIDEO: 2011 YEAR END PROMO WHY: I give credit where credit due and Robert Roby AKA SmoothMatic absolutely killed the 2nd half of 2011 with video after video. He is always doing quality work for RVA artist. Check out his year end promo below.
ARTIST: RYAN EASTER VIDEO: RORSCHACH’S JOURNAL WHY: I’ve only met Ryan Easter one time (and it was brief) - after he killed a show at the camel last year before he went to Berklee College of Music. I ran across this video on my facebook feed and really loved the RVA visuals and the groove. Salute to Ryan Easter reppin RVA.
Again, if you want your work considered for the club send it to: TheCheatsMovement@gmail.com — all art, music and videos.
Linking up again with my friends over at RVA Mag, I was invited to cover the Finally Famous Tour Wednesday night [Check RVA Mag for the full show review article]. Thanks to my good brothers over at Slpadash, I was able to shoot photos of the night. I broke it down into two parts; Part 1 features RVA’s own Suburban District, Nickelus F with Conrizzle, and the Finally Famous Tour artist, Shawn Chrystopher and GOOD Music’s CyHi Da Prynce. Click HERE to see all the photos from Part 1.