Following the Civil War, Raleigh became a center of opportunity and advancement for African Americans. That significance is evident today in numerous landmarks, districts, and educational and cultural institutions.
Foremost are two institutes of higher education: Shaw University and Saint Augustine's College. From its founding in 1865, Shaw University, the oldest historically black college in the Southeast, quickly became a major center both for academic and technical training. The campus contains several buildings that date from its founding years, most prominently four-story Italianate style Estey Hall, built in 1873 to serve Shaw's female students, and recently rehabilitated.
In east Raleigh, Saint Augustine's College, founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Church to educate black teachers, offers a testament to the resourcefulness of its first students. The campus features several buildings built of stone quarried by students, including the Gothic Revival style St. Augustine's Chapel. Also located on the campus is St. Agnes Hospital and Training School for Nurses, built to provide care for and by African Americans. At the turn of the last century, Rev. Henry Delany supervised St. Agnes as the college's Vice Principal; decades later, his daughters Bessie and Sarah memorialized those early years in their autobiographical work, Having Our Say.
The presence of these institutions in turn prompted development of the land surrounding the schools into black neighborhoods. Idlewild and College Park, near Saint Augustine's College, and South Park, near Shaw, exhibit a large stock of vernacular building types, especially the Hall and Parlor House, Triple A House and Saddlebag House, and tell the story of the newfound opportunities for homeownership among African Americans.
Other black neighborhoods were established on the outskirts of town. The Oberlin community, founded in the late 1860s as a freedmen's village, is today represented by several late 19th- and early 20th-century dwellings: the Queen Anne style Rev. Plummer T. Hall house and the Colonial-Revival style Willis Graves and John T. & Mary Turner houses.
By the turn of the 19th century, these educational and business prospects were creating a new black middle class. Simultaneously, the social and political barriers of segregation emerged. In this climate Dr. M. T. Pope, a prominent physician and businessman, erected a stylish two-story residence on Wilmington Street, at the edge of the mostly-black Fourth Ward. A Shaw alumnus, Dr. Pope went on to a bid for Mayor in 1919, at a time when Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation. In the years since, nearly all the adjacent residences--both white and black--have been demolished. Yet the Dr. M. T. Pope House stands, now being transformed into a museum that will tell the story of this extraordinary Raleigh citizen.
Just to the north, East Hargett Street became Raleigh's black "main street," location of the city's greatest concentration of black-owned businesses (including the medical practice of Dr. Pope). Immediately adjacent are Moore Square, one of the city's four original public squares, and beyond that, the 1914 City Market, gathering point for white and black residents alike. The surrounding area contains a varied collection of two- to three-story commercial establishments, many of which in recent years have found new life as offices, small shops and entertainment venues.
During the Great Depression, measures were taken to improve recreation options for black citizens. Just east of downtown is Chavis Park, which was opened in the summer of 1938. Today, this community facility serves as a city-wide resource, beckoning residents with its rolling natural landscape and one of Raleigh's two antique carousels, this one designed by the Allan Herschell Company in the 1920s.
These educational, cultural and recreational institutions helped confirm Raleigh as a hub of black opportunity. In the process, they underscored the city's development as a center of government, education and commerce in North Carolina's Piedmont. Through the efforts of historic preservation advocates, many of these historic places have been renovated and restored, and will continue to tell the stories of African Americans in Raleigh.
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