Jackson Ward and its Black Wall Street

A three story hall next to two different two story buildings on 2nd street in Richmond
The True Reformers was one of the first major fraternal organizations to rise up in Jackson Ward.

Jackson Ward after the Civil War

In post-Civil War Richmond, the Jackson Ward area was the northern most section of the city and was home to a diverse set of Richmonders. When the Civil War ended the neighborhood was largely made up of European immigrants and both free and formerly-enslaved Black citizens. Throughout the late 1800s the demographics of Jackson Ward shifted to be up to 90% Black residents. During the 1870s, the all-white Richmond City Council stifled the political power of Black residents by gerrymandering them into one voting ward, which they called Jackson Ward. Most Black residents now voting for just one city council seat, and white Richmonders seized control of the other five, guaranteeing a majority on the city council.

Black Richmonders found their local political influence stolen by the Richmond City Council, but the residents of Jackson Ward still exercised their rights in state elections to strong effect. White Virginians wanted to strip more rights from Black Virgininians and a new constitutional convention convened to codify Jim Crow segregation as statewide law . The convention drafted a new constitution in 1902 without the input of a single Black resident. Carter Glass, a newspaper editor and politician from Lynchburg, Virginia stated the purpose of the convention was "the elimination of every Negro who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the strength of the white electorate." The new constitution instituted poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests and more restriction, disenfranchising 90% of African American voters in Virginia. With the voting power of the neighborhood diminished the city council saw no need for a majority Black voting ward and dismantled Jackson Ward as its own voting ward. Even with its political power limited through Jim Crow segregation, Jackson Ward grew into a bastion of Black business and entrepreneurship.

Second Street Becomes the Centerpiece of Jackson Ward

A center bank counter window with three employees behind the counter and bars and and second counter window with a fourth employee on the left
The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank was opened by Maggie Lena Walker (pictured, center-right) and became the longest running Black-owned bank in Jackson Ward and the United States.

NPS Photo/Maggie L. Walker NHS

Before it became a hub of black business, residents of Jackson Ward often used white-owned businesses and faced discriminatory practices. One of the industries brought to Jackson Ward helping to free residents from these unfair and embarrassing practices was banking. On March 2nd, 1888 William Washington Browne and his fraternal organization, the True Reformers, chartered the first Black-owned bank in Jackson Ward. When it was chartered, the Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers Bank was not just the first chartered Black-owned bank in Jackson Ward but the first chartered Black-owned bank in all of the United States. Following the True Reformers' lead, several other Black fraternal orders founded banks in Jackson Ward, such as the Knights of Pythias founding the Mechanics Savings Bank and Maggie L. Walker's bank, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank founded through her fraternal organization, the Independent Order of St. Luke.

Second Street became the hub of business activity for Jackson Ward with many other businesses developed during this period. By the 1900s several fraternal organizations had already developed the insurance industry in Jackson Ward, but independent companies, such as The Southern Aid and Insurance Company, also operated in Jackson Ward. Insurance comanies, banks, theaters and many other types of businesses were located on Second Street in Jackson Ward, creating a hub of Black-business found in very few communities in the early 1900s. Second Street became known as Black Wall Street by 1903, one of the earliest references of a street being called "Black Wall Street."

Last updated: June 22, 2021