Marshall in the “New” South

Many wealthy, white Richmonders lived on Marshall Street.  Just a block away from the excitement of Broad Street, people considered Marshall Street a convenient place to live.  The Civil War and ensuing emancipation caused many neighboring streets to undergo change, particularly the streets to the northeast.[1]  Yet forty years after the war, remarkably little had changed in terms of racial integration on Marshall.  Even into the twentieth century, Marshall Street remained racially segregated, and showed no sign of infrastructural improvement.  This lack of change highlighted the racial tensions that existed in Richmond, even as the city tried to put its past behind.

People had high hopes for the prospects of the New South, but on Marshall Street in Richmond, racism still ran rampant.  In fact, new kinds of racial tensions formed.  Before the Civil War, whites and blacks were accustomed to living together; blacks as slaves, and whites as slaveholders.  Yet after emancipation, this did not happen.  Segregation felt unusual for both races, and its prevalence on New South Marshall Street increased problems between the two cultures.  Even after the turn of the century, forty years after the end of the war, Marshall Street remained remarkably homogeneous.  In 1884, there were no more than a handful of “colored” people on any block all of the way down Marshall Street[2].  In 1911, almost twenty years later, the street was no more diverse.

Rather than integrate the white neighborhood, blacks did not move onto Marshall Street after the Civil War.  Centuries of bondage made it impossible for racial tensions to disappear.  The ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 declared that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites were legal[3]. Such establishments evolved unofficially before this ruling, but the decision removed the necessity for integration.  Blacks would supposedly have equal facilities, and desegregation could result in violence that would make the reward smaller than the inherent risk.  Thus Marshall Street was occupied almost exclusively by whites into the twentieth century.

Not only did racial integration remain on Marshall Street, but the infrastructure barely changed, as well.  In the eighteenth century, wealthy Richmonders created “plantations-in-town,” which were city blocks or squares that housed a family’s living quarters, gardens, and other possessions.[4]  Ownership of such a space conveyed prestige, and such estates helped Marshall Street establish a reputation of elegance.  The block between Adams Street and 1st Street provides an accurate snapshot for the rest of the street.  The Sanborn map of this block from 1886 shows just one house facing the back alley that provides a boundary for the houses on Marshall Street[5].  The properties likely stretched all of the way back to the alley, with sheds and other small structures.  These “plantations-in-town” were still commanding Marshall Street, and the same rich citizens owned them.

The 1905 map of the block shows a very similar area.  The city directories tell that the block was populated by the same of whites as it was in 1884[6].  In terms of infrastructure, the block remained the same as well.  A lumber yard changed ownership from the Foster family to P.H. Bruner, but the structures at the yard remained the same.  The dwellings maintained the same size and shape, and no additional housing was built on the other side of the block.  Without the knowledge that the maps were twenty years apart, there would be no way of knowing that the pictures showed anything different.

Marshall Street in the New South was not very new at all.  Existing racial boundaries remained, as the street maintained its reputation for housing wealthy white Richmonders.  Infrastructure did not change either, as the old “plantations-in-town” still existed just as they did in the eighteenth century.  As the South changed throughout Reconstruction and beyond, Marshall Street remained backwards, lagging behind in the development of a new nation.


[1] Speech, Mapping American History: Presentations, VA, Richmond, April 25, 2011.

[2] Hill’s Richmond City Directory (Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, VA.).  John Maddox. 1884.

[3] Lisa Cozzens, “After the Civil War: Plessy v. Ferguson,” http://Www.watson.org, September 1999, 17, accessed March 2011, http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/post-civilwar/plessy.html.

[4] “The House’s History–John Marshall House,” Home — Preservation Virginia, accessed March 2011, http://www.preservationvirginia.org/marshall/house/.

[5] “Digital Sanborn Maps, 1886. Virginia,” map (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Bell & Howell Information and Learning, 2001).

[6] Hill’s Richmond City Directory (Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, VA.).  John Maddox.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Assignment #3. Bookmark the permalink.