Connect with us

Black History

Auburn Avenue: The Richest “Negro Street in the World”

Published

on

During the decades when Black people were being suppressed and subjugated by racist laws, many fought to carve out their own place in a segregated society. The results were black-owned businesses, churches and clubs. Some led the way to establish their own neighborhoods, organizations and newspapers. They built their own banks, schools and parks. And these became legacies of their fight and their success. But many of these legacies have been neglected and forgotten. For Black History Month, TheVillageCelebration will look at some of these abandoned legacies.

At a time when Black people were barred from white-owned restaurants and hotels, and when they couldn’t buy decent burial insurance or purchase property, they came together and built their own.

On a stretch of street two-miles long and sixty-feet wide, they established an empire that would become known as the wealthiest African American neighborhood in the world.

For years Auburn Avenue was the epicenter of African American business acumen, excellence and innovation, according to a 2017 article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The concentration of wealth and influence was unparalleled, the AJC reported.

African Americans had their own doctors, dentists and dry cleaners. They opened their own banks, barbershops and beauty parlors. From drug stores, grocery and flower shops to insurance companies, churches and photography studios, Black-owned businesses flourished.

And in 1956, Fortune Magazine named Auburn Avenue, “The richest Negro street in the World.” But with integration, many left and Auburn Avenue became a shadow of itself – and what was once a magnet of black enterprise became another symbol of what happens when people abandon their own.

“For black people, the street was a symbol of pride,” said pastor and historian Dr. Herman “Skip” Mason, Jr. “It was a street of pride and it serviced the community, and everybody patronized Auburn Avenue.”

Back then, he said, “We served our own, we took care of our own, we patronized our own people.”

Dan Moore, founder and president of the APEX Museum on Auburn Avenue, said what Black people accomplished on Auburn Avenue back then took courage.

“Black people had a vision and wasn’t afraid to go against the grain,” Moore said. “You had men and women, who had courage, step out and do their thing. They couldn’t buy property on other streets, so they came together and started their own businesses on Auburn Avenue.”

Atlanta Daily World Press

With its hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, Auburn Avenue was a commercial center of Black Atlanta. It saw the first Black daily newspaper (Atlanta Daily World), America’s first Black-owned radio station (WERD) and the first black-owned life insurance company (Atlanta Life), which was started by the city’s first black millionaire, Alonzo Herndon, a former slave.

The nightclub, the Peacock Lounge, hosted famous acts from Gladys Knight, B.B. King and The Four Tops to Little Richard, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, according to online reports. The nightlife on Auburn Avenue sparkled as men and women came out dressed in style to walk down the avenue.

Such was the success of Auburn Avenue that it attracted Blacks from other cities and states, Moore said. It also became a center for empowerment.

Home to History

Coined “Sweet Auburn” by businessman and Civil Rights activist John Wesley Dobbs, the maternal grandfather of Atlanta’s first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson, Auburn Avenue saw the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached on the avenue alongside his father.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by King, and Ebenezer Baptist, Wheat Street Baptist, Big Bethel AME and Butler CME churches kept Auburn Avenue as a nexus of social activity and the Civil Rights Movement, according to SoulofAmerica.com.

But by the time Moore arrived in Atlanta in the 1980s, the success of Auburn Avenue was already on the decline and he said integration was one of the main reasons for the change.

“Integration came in and Blacks were allowed to move into other parts of the city, and they abandoned Auburn Avenue,” Moore said. As for the owners, he said, “Most of the businesses, when they realized they were able to move to white neighborhoods, they fled.”

By the 1960s and 1970, many began moving to the suburbs. With the construction of the I-85/75 Freeway, which bisected Sweet Auburn, and the passing of the national Fair Housing Act, many of the black middle class surrounding Sweet Auburn began moving to larger spaces, according to soulofamerica.com.

“Those who helped end segregation, unintentionally helped end Sweet Auburn prosperity,” the online site noted.

The Power of Unity

But something else was lost, Moore said. It was the realization of what Black people can accomplish when they come together.

“We don’t realize the power and the strength we have collectively,” he said.

Still, there were some like Mtamanika Youngblood, who joined the board of the Historic District Development Corp. and worked to help improve Auburn Avenue, which in the 1990s was designated a National Historic District.

And there were some improvements. Atlanta Life Insurance Company rebuilt its headquarters on Auburn Avenue. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitor Center was built across from the Center for Non-violent Social Change and the Tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King. Even Ebenezer Baptist Church built a new edifice directly across the street from its old church, named a National Historic Landmark.

And there is also Moore’s APEX Museum, which provides a peep into the history of Auburn Avenue.  And the Auburn Avenue Research Library, one of a few nationwide, offers a wealth of information on Black history in America. There is also the Martin Luther King, Jr. birth home, freedom center, grave site and Old Ebenezer Baptist Church that attract more than a million tourists each year.

But the epicenter of Black empowerment and success was gone.

“I’d like to think that we would want the generations of young African Americans who come after us to know their history and the story of incredible accomplishment Sweet Auburn represented at a very difficult time for African-Americans,” Mtamanika Youngblood told the AJC. “The lesson they need to take away is — if we could do that then, what can’t we do now?”

Black History

First Black Manhattan District Attorney Wins Historic Felony Convictions Against  Donald Trump

Published

on

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg led the investigation that resulted in the first felony conviction of a former United States President, Donald Trump. Bragg’s case centered on the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who said she and Trump had sex in 2006. The trial involved charges that Trump falsified business records to cover up the payment to Daniels.

 “While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes to the courtroom doors,” Bragg said during a press conference after the jury’s verdict was announced. “By following the facts and the law and doing so without fear or favor.”

Trump and his Republican supporters have accused Bragg of “weaponizing” the judicial system.

“This was a disgrace,” Trump said. “This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt as a rigged trial, a disgrace. The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people. And they know what happened here and everybody knows what happened here.”

Who is Alvin Bragg

In 2021, Bragg became the first African American elected as the District Attorney for New York County covering Manhattan. He graduated from Harvard Law School and has served as an Assistant Attorney General at the New York State Attorney General’s Office and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bragg is a former member of the Board of Directors of the New York Urban League and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and a Sunday School teacher at his church.

Political Science professor, Sekou Franklin, said, “Bragg took a big risk bringing the case against former President Donald Trump. Undoubtedly, this risk is both personal and political. Despite this challenge, his willingness to prosecute Trump took great courage.”

Trump’s litany of indictments started when he left office in 2020 after losing the White House to President Joe Biden. Charges of Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 election continue to generate investigations and outrage. African American prosecutors have led three of the most significant cases.

In Georgia, Trump was indicted, along with 18 of his allies, for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought the charges; however, the case became overshadowed by controversy when Willis was accused of hiring Nathan Wade as the special prosecutor because she was in a romantic relationship with him. Judge Scott McAfee declined to disqualify Willis, a decision Trump and his team are challenging.

Earlier this year New York State Attorney General Letitia James handed Trump a defeat after a New York judge ordered him and his business trust to pay $453.5 million in penalties and interest as part of his civil fraud case. The judge ruled that Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate holdings when applying for loans.

But the latest convictions on 34 felony counts against the former President known for his boundary-breaking is historic.

“Alvin Bragg represents the new wave of prosecutors who have strong ties to public impact and community lawyering,” said Franklin, a professor at Middle Tennessee State. “Many of these prosecutors were elected as a result of protests that targeted racialized violence by law enforcement.”

Trump has described James, Willis and Bragg as “racists” – a thinly veiled attempt to tap into a vein of ingrained racism in the nation. The Republican Party lamented the convictions, decrying the trial as a political attack and a “shameful” day in American history.

Democrats view the convictions as an opportunity to sharpen their arguments that Trump is unfit to lead the nation domestically or represent America globally.

Trump faces up to four years in prison. His sentencing is set for July 11 – days before the start of the Republican National Convention.

Continue Reading

Black History

Senator Boozman Delivers $15 Million to Construct New UAPB Nursing Building

Published

on

Pine Bluff, AR —The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) nursing program will receive a $15 million investment to construct a new academic building as part of a major legislative package championed by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR).

“I’m proud to deliver investments to Arkansas that support growth and development as well as improve the quality of life for Natural State residents. Enhancing UAPB’s ability to provide medical training opportunities will benefit students and help address the shortage of health care providers in communities across our state. I look forward to seeing how a new, technologically advanced facility will serve nursing students and faculty who will, in turn, serve the needs of Arkansas for years to come,” Boozman said.

According to UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, the funding represents a major investment that will improve our educational facilities and equipment for preparing future generations of nurses and addressing the health care workforce needs.

“On behalf of UAPB, I would like to express our gratitude to Senator Boozman for his commitment to our institution and to this region of the state,” Dr. Alexander said. “This facility will be a game changer for UAPB. The funds will enable us to build a technologically advanced nursing school facility that will strengthen the university’s role in addressing the nursing shortage and developing and growing the health care workforce across our state.”

UAPB offers two program tracks: a pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and a registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (R.N. to BSN) program for nurses who are already licensed. UAPB Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dr. Andrea Stewart, added that “this investment to construct a new technologically advanced facility will enhance the foundation of the nursing pre-licensure baccalaureate program. Additionally, plans are underway to develop and establish new quality health care programs.”

Dr. Brenda Jacobs, Chair of the UAPB Nursing Department, applauded the funding as a key milestone in her plans to strengthen the program. According to Jacobs, the new funding allows UAPB to build upon prior successes, “There is no doubt that this will allow us to significantly enhance our program and recruit a new generation of talented nursing students.”

UAPB Nursing Students in Simulation Lab

The legislation was signed into law on March 23, 2024, as part of funding for health care resources and education, national security, government oversight, and community investments secured for projects across Arkansas. Boozman, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Ranking Member of the Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, secured more than $95 million for Arkansas Health Care Resources and Education in the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills.

Alexander said an investment of this magnitude will significantly aid UAPB’s goal of elevating nursing to one of its signature programs. “The great impact of this investment will be felt by the state for many years to come. Such a facility will attract quality students, faculty, and staff and enhance the overall quality of the student experience in the new learning environment,” Alexander said.

The Congressional funds follow a major gift of $1.1 million that the nursing program received in late 2022 from CHI St. Vincent,  a leading regional health network serving Central and Southwest Arkansas, for faculty development, student support, and a variety of other program enhancements. UAPB Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement George Cotton pointed to the future as he assessed the award’s impact. “This level of funding allows UAPB to build a strong case for increased funding in Nursing and STEM. In many ways, this award serves as a catalyst that will attract even greater resources to this great institution.” Cotton stated.

About the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) is an 1890 Land-Grant HBCU with a diverse student population, competitive degree offerings and stellar faculty. For 150 years, UAPB has worked to create an environment that emphasizes learning, growth and productivity while affording a basic need to its students: a chance to advance. UAPB offers certificate and associate degree programs, more than 50 undergraduate and master’s degree programs and a doctoral program in Aquaculture/Fisheries. Students are active in more than 100 organizations, including an internationally renowned Vesper Choir, Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South Band, Concert Bands, Wind Symphony and an accomplished athletics program.

Contact Information:

Mary Hester-Clifton

Director of Communications | University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

870.575.4602

Continue Reading

Black History

The untold story of a Black woman who founded an Alabama hospital during Jim Crow

Published

on

100-year-old artifacts discovered in home that once served as hospital for Blacks

  • December marks the 100th anniversary of the Juanita Coleman Hospital
  • Hospital served Black patients in Demopolis, Alabama during Jim Crow
  • Discrimination prevented Black physicians from working at facility    
  • Hospital artifacts discovered in attic nearly a century later

Mary Jones Fitts and her mother always enjoyed returning home to Demopolis, Alabama. Back in 2010, they were cruising through their old neighborhood when her mother, Mary Ida Calhoun, 85, casually pointed at a one-story blue house on East Washington Street.

“That was the Juanita Coleman Hospital,” said her mother.

Jones Fitts was puzzled. “Who was Juanita Coleman?”   

“She was a Black lady from Tuskegee who came to Demopolis and found out there was not a hospital for Black people,” said her mother. “So, she built this hospital.”

This was a life-changing conversation for Jones Fitts. It was the first time her mother mentioned the name Juanita Coleman or that a Black woman founded a hospital in west central Alabama – during the Jim Crow era.  The revelation was even more surprising because Jones Fitts is the former director and president of the local Marengo County History and Archives Museum.  Black history was her passion and she had absolutely no record of Juanita Coleman.

The revelation inspired Jones Fitts to dig for more information and bring the Juanita Coleman story to life. But in this Alabama community where Black people make up roughly half of the population, Jones Fitts was frustrated that more people did not know this story. She encountered some Black residents who were old enough to remember the Juanita Coleman Hospital but expressed a reluctance to talk about the painful history of discrimination that made an all-Black hospital necessary for survival.

“No more,” Jones Fitts told herself. “It’s time to tell our stories.”

Backstory

Nannie Juanita Coleman was born August 5, 1885, in Temple, Texas. After high school, Coleman studied at The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama where she graduated in 1908.

Coleman’s earliest achievements are documented in a few books and research papers. In 1915, at the age of 30, The Tuskegee Institute hired Coleman as the first female home demonstration agent to uplift poor Black families with lessons in agriculture, health, and homemaking.

During her years as a demonstration agent, Coleman had an important mentor by her side – Margaret Murray Washington. Washington was one of the most influential women in America as the principal of Tuskegee Institute and the widow of Booker T. Washington.

Under Mrs. Washington’s guidance, Coleman stages what might have been her most significant achievement. She raised money to secure space and furnishings to fulfill medical needs for the Black community in Demopolis. In 1923, Coleman purchased a house on Washington Street.

2015 discovery – side by side comparison of an unidentified portrait (left) discovered in the attic of a Demopolis, Alabama home, formerly, the Juanita Coleman Hospital. The portrait bears a strong resemblance to Margaret Murray Washington (right) who served as a mentor to Coleman. Washington led Tuskegee Institute and was the widow of Booker T. Washington. The portrait is on display at Marengo County historical society museum.

Juanita Coleman Hospital dedication

Hospital dedication article published in The Montgomery Advertiser, December 15, 1923

On December 15, 1923, The Montgomery Advertiser announced the opening of the Juanita Coleman Hospital. Approximately 600 people attended the dedication. The event was held in the town’s Confederate Park.

The total cost of the 12-bed facility and the furnishings was $6,000. Hospital superintendent Coleman is credited as the owner and operator who invested $2,000 of her own savings (the equivalent of $35,000 in 2023.) “The rest of the money was secured through donations from those interested in the movement, “according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Despite her significant financial stake, ownership and naming rights, Juanita Coleman did not have complete autonomy over her hospital operations. Coleman reported to a board of trustees consisting of three Black and four White community leaders.

No Black doctors allowed

In 1923, The Selma Times Journal reported the purpose of the new Juanita Coleman Hospital was to provide care for “colored patients and training of colored nurses.” But there was one catch – Black doctors were not allowed to practice medicine at the hospital. The ban is spelled out in a single sentence near the end of the article “Only White doctors are to practice in this hospital.” The article provides no further explanation or context.

It’s possible that White leaders in Demopolis established discriminatory ground rules around Superintendent Coleman’s hospital as a condition of support or to limit competition between Black and White doctors. It’s also worth noting that a hospital exclusively for Black people also provided an excuse for White hospitals to continue the long-standing practice of denying medical services to Black people.

On the hospital’s fourth anniversary, The Demopolis Times published a thank you letter from Coleman to the community for “splendid” donations and financial help “thus making it possible for us to go a little further,” she wrote.

The struggle to pay bills

Juanita Coleman’s hospital operated on “small fees paid by patients and the generosity of the public”. A remarkable accomplishment, especially during the Great Depression when the hospital temporarily closed its doors. In the spring of 1931, Coleman took out an advertisement in the Demopolis Times and announced the “reopening” of her hospital. This time, she informs readers that the hospital doors will be open to “all licensed physicians.” This appears to be Coleman’s victory in toppling the Black doctor ban. 

It’s unknown when the hospital officially closed. The last known newspaper reference to her hospital is a furniture sale announcement published in The Demopolis Times in 1953. At the same time, Coleman was working in Washington D.C. as a counselor at an Industrial school for girls. Newspaper accounts indicate Coleman travelled frequently between Washington D.C. and Alabama. 

So far, there has been no documentation of Coleman’s life in the 1960’s. She died in 1973 and was buried in Maryland.

More amazing discoveries

Not long after the 2010 revelation about the Juanita Coleman Hospital, Mary Jones Fitts returned to the blue house on Washington Street. She met the owner, who was unaware of the building’s history. Walking through the front door, Jones Fitts felt like she was stepping back into time. Inside, she noticed a number affixed to each door in the central hallway. They were the actual room numbers original to the hospital.

The discoveries continued several years later, when the homeowner found hospital artifacts in the attic including a white cabinet containing medical instruments. Perhaps the most valuable find was a framed painting of an unidentified woman. The painting bears a strong resemblance to Coleman’s mentor, Margaret Murray Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington. Both items have been on display at the Marengo County history and archives museum as the only public exhibit of Juanita Coleman’s hospital.

Registered nurse Inez Taylor Drake, graduated from Prairie View A&M nursing school before joining Coleman in Demopolis as head nurse in 1925. (Evelyn Inez Drake Houston family collection)

Author’s note: I’ve known for many years that in the 1920’s, my grandmother, Inez Taylor Drake RN was the head nurse at a hospital in Demopolis, Alabama. No one in my family, including my 89-year-old mother, had ever heard of the name Juanita Coleman. This led my family back into our scrapbooks where we found a century-old Demopolis postcard. On the back, my grandmother confirms what we never knew until now: “Sis Coleman introduces me to folks as her head nurse from Texas,” my grandmother wrote home to her younger sister. “Do you reckon I get to be somebody at last.”

Juanita Coleman Legacy

As a historian, Mary Jones Fitts believes she has a responsibility to continue telling the story, especially when she encounters life-long Demopolis residents who have never heard of the Juanita Coleman hospital. “Coleman was a force to be reckoned with,” says Jones Fitts. “She definitely left her mark.”

In addition to the legacy, Jones Fitts also thinks about her own mother who died two years after the Juanita Coleman revelation. What if her mother had remained quiet about this important piece of Black history?

“I wouldn’t be the historian that I am today,” says Jones Fitts. “My mother loved Demopolis. She loved the people that were here. Learning about Juanita Coleman started me on a journey that I am still on today.”

About the author: Carlton Houston is a former journalist, writer and historian. For more history stories, follow Carlton on Instagram @myhistoryvibe

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2024 Love Black History, powered by WordPress.