Race and Economics in 20th Century Jackson Ward

The average American’s knowledge of the economic structure of the American South over time comes to a halt around five years after the Civil War, when the dissolution of the Confederate dollar made the pockets of thousands of people weightless.  A keen ear during high school history class may have discovered the existence of carpetbaggers who came to the southern states in order to prosper, buy cheap land, and alter local politics.  Presumably, as the capital of the Confederate States of America, Richmond’s economic movement must have frozen absolutely and, as all things Southern do, the cultural and financial aspects of the city sat still in time until the present day.  Rather, in inspecting regionalized trends in mobility and segregation as well as methods of property utilization, the economic landscape of Richmond in highly racialized regions, particularly in Jackson Ward, can be classified as dynamic on a local scale.

North Second Street saw two trends emerging within its boundaries.  One portion of the avenue, from Duval Street southward, witnessed the type of restructuring generally associated with an area that has realized economic growth.  Large construction zones stood out often among the small but numerous buildings lined up in neighboring lots, signifying the relative worth of developing new property on Second, and tiny specialty shops stood in their respective spot over the span of several map republishings.  The most obvious signal of a burgeoning business economy on this street is the repurposing of residences as storefronts.  As economic theorists have proposed, the movement of the average man to become an entrepreneur is the one of most successful indication of flourishing capitalism as it suggests market security and a sense of low-risk opportunity.  Between 1895 and 1905, eight residence buildings between Duval and Marshall Streets on Second Street became repurposed into shops and stores; by 1924, thirty-three buildings listed as residences in 1895 re-appeared in fire insurance maps as shops [1].

On the other side of East Duval lies the northern-most section of Second Street: part of Jackson Ward nests between Charity and Duval Streets, where the economic climate expressed by the maps is entirely different.  This stretch of road, between 1895 and 1905, had three former residences repurposed into stores – a statistic fairly proportional to the amount claimed below Duval Street – but also experienced the repurposing of seven former shops into residences.  On the other hand, south of Duval encountered one noted alteration of a storefront to a residence.  By 1924, the area from Charity to Duval had seen only four reclaiming of residences to create shops, which is largely unproportional to the growth seen south of Duval.  In addition, five former shops were listed as residences in 1924 [1].  Furthermore, scanning articles of the Richmond Planet circa 1895-1900 generates a host of rental or sale listings for “desirable houses” along Second Street: in any one publication, eight to thirteen of the many homes for sale may reside on Second, longing for new ownership [2].  To consider the length of time in which community members stayed in their homes also illustrates the fascinating economic climate that trickled into Jackson Ward after the Civil War; according to city directories manufactured during this era, all but one of the may homeowners and renters north of Duval departed their dwellings between 1884 and 1893. Between Duval and Jackson Streets on Second Street in this same time period a similar trend is demonstrated, but not nearly to the extreme of upper Jackson Ward, whereas south of Jackson Street, extended home ownership is not uncommon [3].

It seems that the home repurposing trend over time began to spread.  While ten residences were repurposed as shops in 1924 between Duval and Jackson Streets, three former shops were listed as residences in comparison to data collected in 1895 [1].  In both the area between Charity and Duval and the area between Duval and Jackson, one storefront disappeared completely and was listed as an empty lot in the 1924 fire insurance maps.  This may not necessarily allude to slow or no economic growth, but considering that there was no such observation made throughout the remainder of North Second Street, there is something to be said for the eradication of what may have been a failing business or facility.  Home sale ads in the Richmond Planet stayed consistent with the numbers recorded in 1900, although extended home owning occurred more often between 1893 and 1911.

The racialization of Richmond city neighborhoods was adorpted with the integration of black code in the 1880s, but it was not until 1911 that entire blocks could be classified as strictly black or white on Second Street. Black folks were centralized in the northernmost part of Second Street in 1884, although there were many black singles and fmailies living among white households on all of Second.  Directory information details the movement of blacks away from south Second, near Main Street, and other white communities: by 1894, a smattering of poor white men or immigrants could be found among the listings of blacks, but otherwise, these neighborhoods (or more aptly put, black neighborhoods and the white city) became widely segregated. Additionally, Jackson Ward saw expansion during this time as blacks flocked to a community already exposed to a minority population. Blocks like Second between Leigh and Clay Streets became largely racialized, although there were some presumably transitory white homeowners still occupying these areas.  North Second Street shifted from a racially diverse community of varying economic status to a strictly black community, all in just twenty years [3].

The diversity of economic activity happening on Second Street becomes confounding when taking into account the restructuring and repurposing of property throughout the street. A cursory study of a map of building usage on Second Street between 1895 and 1905 reveals the pervasiveness of shops and businesses on southern North Second Street, particularly past Duval Street (Figure 1).  It also demonstrates the necessity for housing and the poor market for business on northern North Second, confirmed by the aforementioned widespread shot-to-home repurposing that is not nearly as prevalent in south North Second.  On the other hand, Figure 2, which illustrates the same topic but compares the years 1895 and 1925, reveals a Jackson Ward that is not simply residential but features many more businesses and shops that the area had twenty years earlier.  Moreover, southern North Second Street hosts almost entirely shops and businesses, with only perhaps a quarter of street space devoted to flats and domiciles.  What caused this stark transformation – just like the neighborhood itself – may be the effects of racialization.

Historically, race and class (and therefore economics) have come hand in hand, especially in American history.  After the abolition of slavery in the states and the subsequent segregation of races in urban spaces, whites, who carried more societal power, could claim higher-level and higher-paid jobs, leaving menial labor, farming, and factory jobs to freed blacks. Nevertheless, it became excruciatingly difficult for blacks in Richmond to find any jobs, well paying or not.  It consequentially became imperative that these underpaid and unpaid blacks found a home wherever they could, even if that meant moving around different boarding houses and flats in various cities.  “Large numbers of black Richmonders…have experienced high degrees of geographic mobility… ’If you did not have the money to pay the rent, you moved about often.’ ” [4] This migration of necessity meant constant flows in and out of Second Street, which could have a variety of effects on the economy, although the incomes of the newly arrived would presumably not be high enough to stimulate the region dramatically.

This massive influx of various people to Jackson Ward juxtaposed with absolute segregation created a niche for different parts of the same street; Second Street became condensed with a high volume of black folks who could not frequent other parts of the city for fear of their safety, and therefore had to construct a small sustainable community that functioned like a town in order to survive comfortably.  Second Street, therefore, served as a residential center at its northernmost regions, where blacks had already established domiciles.  On the southern side of North Second street lay Jackson Ward’s version of a central business district, where a large church, drug stores, grocers and a bank, among other businesses, were all instituted by 1925.  Though blacks were, in a few parts of Richmond, technically allowed to visit some facilities, it would be more convenient and secure for black establishments to be concentrated around black populations, appropriating the large growth illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 over thirty years.

The link between race and economics is a concept that economists and sociologists still ponder and debate today; it is unclear how exactly they work in position to one another or which has the most weight in society.  Nevertheless, the structures of both and their interactions are important not only today, but one hundred years ago.  Racialized politics and economics affect not merely coins and congressmen, but geographic distribution of people and small-scale urban resource management, and Second Street would not be what it is today if not for the segregation installed in the region so many years ago.

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