7th Streets Remains Integrated

Such was the lack of infrastructural modification in Richmond from 1895 to 1908, if one were to walk through the Richmond as we know it today – specifically along Seventh Street – you’d without doubt be able to relate it with close comparison to the buildings’ shapes and outlines to those of both 1895 and 1908. The case is slightly different when we come to the discussing of the racial makeup of Richmond when comparing the city directories from either side of the turn of the 20th century. Although the number of black people inhabiting the street remains rather similar, the change in where they actually physically lived is the more interesting and intriguing part of the research. One thing that would immediately strike any researcher is that retail and industry filled the lower sections of Seventh Street, and that was still the case in 1908.

The change over the twelve years from 1895 to 1908 works two ways: change happens in a manner as you would expect, but in some places and a few instances, some adjustments are actually quite surprising and are ones that you wouldn’t assume due to other happenings going on in Richmond at the time.

I shall look to take us on a journey down 7th street, from further up the road towards the James River, for simplicity’s sake, and for the added bonus that it is easier to imagine. From the intersection of Seventh Street and East Main Street, and we shall proceed to study the changes that occur as we head downhill and end finally at the banks of the James River. From the intersection at East Main to the intersection at Carey, we see much change in both the people who worked and were residents on this section, in addition to the change in type of retail that was offered in most of the buildings. As well as some of the blacks (who both resided and worked in these buildings) not being present in the same domain after a gap of 13 years, some black people came in and replaced white people in 1908, something that is extremely interesting and will look to address shortly.

At the top of the intersection, we see that number 2 Seventh Street was originally occupied by a white person running a laundry service, and two black people who offered a shoemaking provision. Thirteen years later, the whole place was devoted to the white laundry service ran by Charley Sing. It should therefore be assumed that these black persons, probably forced out by the white population, moved North-West to the black-dominated community that seems to have been set up in 1903.[1] This process is replicated identically just a few residences down the hill, at number 6. Here, there was a white house and sign maker as well as two blacks that were classified as barbers in the city directories. Once again, by 1908 it appears as though they were forced out or priced out of living so close to the tobacco industry that had started to boom by this time. It is likely that the two blacks were bought out of residence at number 6 as the previous occupant remained there, but narrowed down their business to just signing; they apparently no longer worked as house building contractors.

The next change on Seventh Street that occurs is one that deserves particular attention, in my opinion. This could be considered against our natural expectations, as it works in complete contrast as to what we may think might happen. Just one house down from the aforementioned number 6, number 8 changed hands in the reverse way that we would expect between the years of 1895 and 1908. Going from being under ownership of 4 white men: a saloon manager, a clerk, a plumber and a mailing assistant; in 1908 number 8 was under the ownership of a newly installed restaurant manager, a Mr. JR Towns, an African-American who owned what the directory calls a ‘lunch room’.[2] Considering that (as mentioned above) many of the black population of Richmond resided in the North West quarter of the City, it is most surprising that there was a continued population of blacks more toward the centre. One of the possible explanations for this could be the need for a lunchroom in downtown Richmond. The black enslaved population was widely used for work in the tobacco factories in Richmond. Because of the large population of African-Americans working downtown, there needed to be somewhere where it was acceptable for them to sit down and eat peacefully. This gave rise to the black-run lunchrooms. These, surprisingly or unsurprisingly given one’s point of view, are not known as restaurants according to the city directories; the only ‘restaurants’ were those run by white people.

Once again a black-run lunchroom appears in 1908 at number 10 Seventh Street. The scenario is different to the three changes described above though, as the previous occupants were also black people. As with the first changes where the shoemakers disappear, it is also a shoemaker that has vacated number 10 from 1895. This probably suggests that, keeping the domain in black hands; the new occupant was fairly well off and wealthy. Another point of view is that the white population downtown was looking to get away from in influx of black people in and around where they lived, possibly forcing the whites to sell their occupancies at cheap prices, or at least prices that blacks could afford.

Touching on to the next section, sandwiched between East Carey and East Canal streets, we see a lot of variation from 1895 to 1908, but none of it being race and ethnicity related. The change on this section, as we get nearer to the river, is most likely the best illustration of Richmond becoming increasingly dominated by the tobacco production. The American Tobacco & Bloomingdale Stock Company, part of the City in 1895, seemingly disappears from Richmond, probably meaning they went out of business, as the ‘Allen and Ginter Branch’ takes over the entirety of 100-104 of Seventh Street by 1908. This is the first noticeable occurrence of Tobacco taking a great influence on the City of Richmond. The second instance is when Mayo and Brothers Incorporated Leaf Department is seemingly taken over or bought out by Patterson Tobacco Company. Patterson Tobacco had previously owned just 117 7th Street back in 1895 but comes to reside in what was Mayo’s location, 109, by 1908 whilst still retaining their original 109 residences. This meant that Patterson just about dominated the lower section of the block connecting East Carey and East Canal.

The stretch from East Canal to East Byrd has a high percentage of change from 1895 to 1908. A grocer and saloon at 208, both white-run, changes to just a saloon, whilst at 210 and 212 the Union News Company understandably keeps it hold of its residence on Seventh Street. At 216 a black Clara Barker seemingly buys out the black Mrs. Willis and (according to the directories[3]) co-habitors, husband and wife T and JH McCullough, to build another lunchroom. Further down the road CH Fanear diversifies his business as he goes from a simple wheelwright in 1895 to becoming a blacksmith in 1908. The most notable and intriguing modification on the block between Canal and Byrd comes at 224 to 226 where a white person-run grocery and saloon is taken over by a blacks, Sarah Allen, to form yet another lunchroom at 224, and the grocery kept, though now managed and owned by the black WM Turner.

The sudden influx and appearance of the lunchrooms coincides directly with the emergence of the tobacco warehouses. This however was not because of chance; the two occurrences are because of one another. The enslaved black population forced and able to work the machinery in the tobacco warehouses[4] and factories would go to these black-run lunchrooms daily to fetch themselves breakfast, lunch and dinner as the meals were relatively cheap, so thus extremely convenient for the black workers.

From East Byrd Street down and past Bragg Street, finishing at the river, there is not much change in terms of business. Although Gay and Lorraine Company’s coal and wood yard, seemingly the only smaller plot of land on this block, changes hands and becomes a grocer under Mr. McCarthy, the rest of the enterprises keep their locations. Patterson Tobacco, who had a place between Canal and Carey Streets, have huge storage areas in 1895 and are able to maintain ownership of them through until at least 1908. Woodward and Sons iron works also do the same thing, carrying through from ’95 to ’98.

The change in infrastructure has not been substantial by any stretch. As mentioned from the outset, I believe that if you were to walk down the lower sections of Seventh Street in 1908, it would not have looked much different than if you had passed through a good 13 years earlier, given the obvious exception of cars. The emphasis here is on infrastructural change. The only noticeable change is the addition of a few rooms at the top of the Canal and Byrd intersect, where use was made of the empty space next to Byrd Street station; this is where PJ Lenehan set up his saloon.

Therefore, interactions between black and white men and women certainly did not end in the early 1900s[5], as Brown and Kimball talk about where they state that interactions between the two dramatically reduced and became segregated in industrial space. The number of black people residing on the lower Seventh Street only reduced by one person from 1895 to 1908, from 6 to 5. This cannot be judged as conclusive evidence supporting the idea that interactions reduced. It does seem though, that the bottom of the valley became more money and industry-orientated, that would naturally come with the influx of more industry onto the street.


[1] Brown & Kimball, Elsa & Greg. Mapping the Terrain of Black Richmond. 21, Sage Publications, 1995. Page 318

[2] Richmond City Directories 1908/09

[3] Admittedly this is a strange occurrence, but there is no evidence to suggest that this wasn’t the case

[4] Rose, Willie L. A Documentary History of Slavery in North America. University of Georgia Press, 1999. Page 332

[5] Brown & Kimball, Elsa & Greg. Mapping the Terrain of Black Richmond. 21, Sage Publications, 1995. Page 328

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