Two downtown blocks on Washington Street were once known as Columbia's Black Downtown. View historic photographs of the district from the Walker Local & Family History Center.
During the Jim Crow era Black residents of the city were not welcome in many white-owned businesses. So, Black entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, morticians, lawyers, bankers, movie theater owners, beauticians, barbers, dentists, and others established businesses that welcomed Black patrons along the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Washington Street. This “Black Downtown,” as is was known, existed from the early twentieth-century until the early 1970s, when a series of fires, demolitions, and the passing of a generation took their toll on the district. Today, only one original building remains from these two blocks, and this once-thriving district has been almost erased from local memory.
A new mural depicting the area has recently been completed by local artist Ija Charles. Her beautiful work captures the vibrancy of this almost forgotten two-block span.
Some notable businesses that once stood along these blocks included the law offices of Matthew Perry and Lincoln C. Jenkins, the photography studio of Richard Samuel Roberts, the Prince Masonic Hall, Lilliewood Barber Shop, Nathanial J. Frederick law offices, the Greenleaf restaurant, Counts Drug Store, the Phoenix Café, the Capitol Theater, Blue Ribbon Taxi Company, Hemphill Pride Dentistry, and many others.
The businesses were Black-owned and served a Black clientele. Some of the surrounding blocks also catered to Black clients and offered housing to a mix of Black, Jewish, and Greek residents. The Victory Savings Bank at 919 Washington St., the Nathaniel J. Frederick Home at 1416 Park St., and the Lilliewood home at 1418 Park St. all still stand.
Few photographs are known exist of the area, but some have been discovered in the historic collections in the Walker Local and Family History Center. Take a look below at images of Washington Street from 1913 to 1980. And don't forget to stop by 1400 Main Street to view the new mural.