Perry L. (urpl4ut)
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.)