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Speaking of Blacks in the Cities…and in Community

By 1911 African Americans in Virginia, particularly those in the Richmond area owned substantial real estate holdings. 43 years after the formal end of enslavement, Africans in this part of southern Virginia had also achieved a high level of literacy. In Richmond Virginia Africans, like most blacks, were racially segregated. In the section of Richmond set aside for them, called “the ward” or “Jackson’s Ward” (which had been an important base for the Confederacy) Blacks owned 75 percent of the real estate. In addition, African Americans employed one another through a variety of business ventures. For example, according to Jackson and Davis (one an African American lawyer and the other an educator, respectively)[1], African Americans developed The Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers, largely an insurance organization, which boasted a membership of more than 200,000 blacks. Notably, the black citizens of Richmond also held skilled, semi-skilled and professional positions. For example, the area had 11 attorneys, 4 dentists, 2 florists, 11 funeral directors, 1 bookstore, 6 music teachers, 24 nurses, 2 universities and 12 physicians. By 1907 African Americans owned nearly one half million dollars in personal property and 2 million in real estate holdings. In light of this data, the authors asserted in 1911: “Turned loose as he was on the 3d day of April 1865, without one foot of land or one dollar with which to purchase it, in forty-three years he has accumulated and owns one twenty-eighth of all the land in Virginia…with a finger of scorn upon their arrival in this country, and with the hindrances and obstacles encountered by them since their emancipation, it will be clearly shown that the Negro has exceeded all other races in acquiring property.” [2]

–History Is a State of Mind

[1] Giles Jackson and Webster Davis, The Industrial History of the Negro Race of the United States, Richmond, Negro Educational Association, 1911, 104-111.

[2] Jackson and Davis, 104-105.