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Art & Re-birth the Harlem of the South
By Starling Root
The Harlem of the South. Black Wall Street. Following the Civil War, Richmond, Virginia's historic Jackson Ward district made headlines as a center for African-American arts and commerce South of the Mason Dixon. The neighborhood's demise came in the 1950s with the construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike. The turnpike cut the neighborhood in two, dividing families, resources, and dreams.
Today Jackson Ward garners the attention of urban planners, artists, and concerned citizens who want to restore the district to its former glory. Jackson Ward is a place where 30% of adult residents did not graduate from high school and over 1/3 live below the poverty line. This past Easter holiday alone, reports of aggravated assault (a shooting), burglary, and theft from a motor vehicle (three, as a matter of fact) were made.
But this past weekend was also a cause for local celebration. The first Friday of every month, Jackson Ward opens its doors to Richmonders for 1st Fridays Artwalk on Broad Street. Over 40 venues--galleries, restaurants, and other businesses--come alive for the night, hinting at the kind of revelry and creativity that made Jackson Ward such a spirited place so long ago. And so it happened once again on April 6th, Good Friday.
Now that the City of Richmond is more actively pursuing its plans for getting Jackson Ward and other parts of Downtown official status as an Arts District, the Harlem of the South may soon rise from the ashes.
After all, "Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix."