Leigh Street in Pictures

Perry L. (urpl4ut)


Black and white photograph of Ebenezer Baptist Church, 216 W. Leigh Street; a crowd of people surrounds the church and the nearby sidewalks; an African-American man in the foreground of the image reads a copy of the Atlanta Constitution; the headline of the newspaper reads, "Nation's Leaders Join Thousands / For Dr. King's Funeral Here Today."

Black and white photograph of the demolition of a Richmond fire station at Seventh and Leigh Streets; image shows the brick building with a large hole in the side; a crane with wrecking ball is visible in the image; the partially constructed Richmond Coliseum rises from behind the station.

These images suggest Leigh Street served its citizens both as a gathering space and a place of economic promise in the middle of the twentieth century.  The image of people standing outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church depicts a public display of mourning for Martin Luther King, Jr., an act of black unity in a city divided by segregation.  Specifically, the attire of the mourners points to the wealth of the surrounding population.  In this picture, these black mourners not only show reverence to Dr. King but also exemplify their improved social standing with their fine suits and hats.  Also of note, the photo reveals that residents still viewed the church as a place of congregation and a social center for their community.

The other image shows the demolition of a fire station, with the partially constructed Richmond Coliseum in the background. This photo is striking due to the contrast between the destruction of old buildings in the shadow of new development, an example of the city as a whole in the middle of the twentieth century.  The rise of the Coliseum, a public venue for shows, musical acts, and sporting events, signals a shift in the purposing of city spaces towards leisure and entertainment; at that time, the Coliseum was the only large space of its kind in Richmond.  The photo also illustrates the simultaneous construction of larger spaces and the demolition of smaller spaces in the city, evidence that the “bigger is better” principle began to take its hold on Richmond in the mid-1900s.

(Photos courtesy of the Valentine Richmond History Center.)

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2 Responses to Leigh Street in Pictures

  1. urse4rp says:

    I think you drew some excellent connections in your analysis of these pictures. The comment on the appearance of the mourners as a reflection of improved social standing and wealth was something that I completely overlooked.
    It’s interesting to see that in the image of the destroyed fire station you can see the Richmond Coliseum looming in the background. I used a photo involving the Coliseum as well and despite the fact that you can only see a small section of it here, it seems so much more imposing. It definitely helps to make your point about larger spaces taking over and replacing smaller spaces to make way for a new, more urban city!

  2. urty4rt says:

    I too would not have realized the appearance of the mourners if you had not mentioned it. I find it very interesting that African American population showed such unity and bonding in such a segregated time- it really shows the sentiment of the people, it shows how much they cared for and respected Dr. King, Jr. This shows that they felt so comfortable in their church as to use it for such a momentous occasion. Church life must have been very important for the black population in Richmond.

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