A short walk to historic Jackson Ward will be led by an eighth-generation Virginian and fourth-generation Jackson Ward resident, Gary L. Flowers. This one-mile tour includes stops at twenty historic educational, economic, religious, and social institutions that inspired the recognition of “Black Wall Street” and the “Harlem of the South.”

Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood is located on the northern edge of the downtown district. It was originally built by European immigrants attracted to and made prosperous by Richmond’s status as a central retail hub. Freed slaves began moving into the neighborhood during Reconstruction, and by 1920 Jackson Ward was one of the most active and well-known centers of African American life in the country.

Jackson Ward hosted a thriving entertainment district centered on the famed Hippodrome theatre. Among the names that appeared regularly were Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Richmond’s own Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The neighborhood was the home of several large and well-known African American churches, including the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, founded by famous orator John Jasper. It also hosted a strong retail and business community in which Maggie L. Walker became the first woman in America to found and lead a bank in the United States when she opened the St. Luke Penny Savings. Jackson Ward was also the home and headquarters for civil rights advocate John Mitchell, Jr., editor of the Richmond Planet, which crusaded against the discrimination and persecution of African Americans in the South.

The late 1950s would have a devastating effect on the unity of Jackson Ward. City and state officials designed the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (now part of I-95) to pass through Jackson Ward, bisecting the neighborhood and tearing down many structures. At the same time, desegregation and white flight were opening other neighborhoods to blacks, beginning a scattering that gradually left more and more of Jackson Ward in the possession of absentee landlords and real estate speculators. As buildings began to deteriorate, the area was further targeted for new development such as federal housing projects, the City Coliseum that opened in 1970, and the building of additional administrative buildings by the city, state, and VCU. 

The foregoing information about Jackson Ward’s history is provided by Virginia Commonwealth University. Read more about Jackson Ward and view photographs of buildings in Jackson Ward, many that no longer exist at https://digital.library.vcu.edu/islandora/object/vcu%3Ajwh.

The walking tour leaves the Greater Richmond Convention Center (GRCC) at 9:45 a.m. and returns at 12:30 p.m. 


NGS and our partners the Virginia Genealogical Society and the Afro-American Historial and Genealogical Society encourage attendees to patronize Black-owned restaurants in nearby Jackson Ward to experience southern comfort and soul food at its best including Southern Kitchen and Mama J’s Kitchen.

Registration is now open at https://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/.