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Historic Jackson Ward: Reviving ‘Black Wall Street”

Today, to visit Jackson Ward, the historically African-American neighborhood and National Historic Landmark District where CPDC is currently planning new, mixed-income and mixed-use affordable apartment communities, is to see an area very much in the midst of urban renewal and gentrification–on the comeback from a period of decline.

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A century ago, however, the neighborhood was the center of a thriving black community abuzz with energy and residents and home to more than 100 black-owned theaters, insurance companies, churches, hospitals, shops and other establishments.

Located less than one mile from Virginia’s state Capitol, Jackson Ward was a center of black commerce, entertainment and religion. After the Civil War, previously free blacks joined freed slaves and their descendants in creating a thriving African-American business community that became known as the “Black Wall Street of America” and the “Harlem of the South.”

“There is a side of Richmond known as the cradle of black capitalism, despite the fact that just a few decades earlier, during the Civil War, the city had served as the capital of the Confederacy.”

~Washington Post, “Escapes: Tracing black history in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood” 2/2/12

Jackson Ward was central to the Civil Rights movement in Richmond. Among its African American leaders were John Mitchell, Jr., editor of African American newspaper and Maggie L. Walker, the first woman to charter and serve as president of an American bank (more remarkable as Walker was both African-American and mobility-impaired).

Ironically, after desegregation, as black Virginians became integrated into Richmond’s other business and residential areas, Jackson Ward’s role as a center of black commerce and entertainment declined. In the 1950s, Jackson Ward was split in two—much to the detriment of the neighborhood. With the demise, like many older urban neighborhoods of that era, Jackson Ward’s housing also deteriorated.

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Toward the end of the 20th century, investment in the housing stock increased as the neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and as a National Historic Landmark District in 1978. In the 1980s, federal government historic tax credits aided the restoration of dozens of homes.

Last year, CPDC claimed a stake in the revitalization of Jackson Ward with the kickoff of a 3-phase mixed-income, mixed-use redevelopment project that will add more than 200 new units of affordable housing in Richmond. Two of the three developments will be located in Jackson Ward at the Baker School and Convent Site.

CPDC’s three new affordable communities will be home to current residents of Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s aging Frederic A. Fay Tower via the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration, a mixed financing tool allowing public housing authorities to create public-private efforts to replace outdated buildings.

In addition to bringing critical housing to the area, CPDC is working closely with community leaders, including Richmond Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, who is leading the effort to revive economic development and opportunity in the area.

“Highland Park Senior Apartments is the beginning of a larger effort. It opens up the floodgate of opportunity for huge economic development in the community.” ~Councilwoman Ellen Robertson

“Highland Park Senior Apartments is the beginning of a larger effort. It opens up the floodgate of opportunity for huge economic development in the community.” ~Councilwoman Ellen Robertson

To learn more about CPDC’s real estate and community development plans in Jackson Ward and Richmond, see:CPDC-BlackHistory-Slider

“City Council OKs Jackson Ward Project”

“CPDC Partners with RRHA for Hundreds of New Affordable Apartments in Richmond”

“CPDC, Richmond Leaders Embark Upon Broad Six Points Revitalization Effort”

For more on CPDC’s Black History Month 2016 series exploring our work and impact in minority communities, follow us on Twitter @CPDCorg and join the conversation: #BlackHouseStory #BlacksInHousing.


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