The first half of the 20th century shaped Black Americans’ identity and influence on the United States. In reaction to racist actions and laws in that period, Black neighborhoods provided a sense of belonging, serving as a space not only to garner wealth, but also to celebrate Black culture in a unique and authentic way. During this time, a Black cultural identity began to emerge, but Black Americans were still significantly affected by key events such as Jim Crow, segregation and desegregation, and the assassinations of key Civil Rights leaders. These events impacted individual livelihoods and the fate of these neighborhoods.

Many of these communities disintegrated because of factors such as gentrification and outright racism, while others continue to rebuild and evolve. However, the history of these neighborhoods have often been hidden and not fully recognized. As a way of honoring Black excellence and their full rich history, the National Trust is exploring nine “Black Wall Streets” across the country where African American businesses districts flourished and served as examples of Black economic self-empowerment.

Learn about these nine neighborhoods:

Greenwood/Black Wall Street—Tulsa, Oklahoma

Black Wall Street Memorial at the Greenwood Cultural Center

photo by:Marc Carlson via Flickr CC By 2.0

Memorial to Black Wall Street at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is home of the Greenwood district, also known as “Black Wall Street.” It is one of the most well-known Black business districts from the early 20th century. The district was a successful, self-sufficient society where clusters of Black businesses thrived. Black Americans created their own community and economy, which included a newspaper, grocery stores, barbershops, doctors’ offices, schools, and more.

The area was a Black utopia with a population of about 10,000 people at the time, until mobs of armed, white residents descended on the community burning down businesses, looting homes, and attacking African Americans on May 31, 1921. The massacre killed hundreds of Black residents and thousands of houses were destroyed. Reconstruction of the district took place in 1922, when around 80 businesses were opened, but by the end of the 1950s, many of them closed due to desegregation.

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund recipient Historic Vernon Chapel AME Church was one of the few buildings that was left barely standing. Names of the survivors who rebuilt the church are inscribed on the stained-glass windows. And the $150,000 grant (the largest award this year) will help fund the church’s window stabilization project.

Fayetteville St., Hayti, circa 1940

photo by:Durham County Library, NC Collection

Looking down Fayetteville Street in the Hayti District of Durham, North Carolina around 1940.

Hayti District—Durham, North Carolina

The Hayti District, also known as “The Black Capitol of the South” among Black leaders in Durham, North Carolina, became a successful Black community soon after African Americans migrated to the city to work in tobacco factories in the local area of Fayetteville Road. The land where the neighborhood emerged was initially owned by white merchants but was eventually purchased with capital that Black residents earned over time. In its prime from the 1880s to the 1940s, the district was one of the most successful Black communities in the country.

The city was home to the historic North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, Lincoln Hospital, as well as over 200 other Black-owned businesses. Upon his visit to the district in 1911, Booker T. Washington stated that he found a “a city of Negro enterprises” whose citizens were “shining examples of what a colored man may become.”

Harlem—New York, New York

View of the Harlem River and Bridges c1902

photo by:Irving Underhill/Library of Congress

View of the Harlem River and Bridges in New York c. 1902.

Harlem, New York, was the quintessence of Black excellence in the 1920s. From the culture and social activism to the artistic expression and scholarly works that were created, the New York City neighborhood was home to a renaissance that will forever be ingrained in American history. Thousands of Black people from the South and the Caribbean moved to the community, known as the “Black Mecca” during the early 1900s, searching for opportunity and new livelihoods.

That time period (specifically the 1920s) became known as the “Harlem Renaissance” when many cultural, artistic, and literary figures such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Josephine Baker and more, found inspiration and solace in Harlem.

The era birthed art pieces that helped define Black history and are still recognized to this day.The Great Depression had a particularly devastating impact on Black communities, including Harlem. Even so, the community’s political, social, and economic influence has continued to shape the Black experience through the Civil Rights Movement and up until today.

U Street—Washington, D.C.

Exterior view of Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street in Washington, D.C.

photo by:Alan Mayers via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Outside Ben’s Chili Bowl, a legacy business along U Street in Washington, D.C.

Historically known as “Black Broadway,” Washington, D.C.’s U Street corridor was known as the epicenter for Black excellence and talent at the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. U Street was the home of Black social, cultural, and economic prosperity, despite “racial and political tension” in the country. Some of the most prominent entertainers, activists, educators, and artists in the country have walked the legendary corridor, shaping its history into what it is known for today. Pioneers like Carter G. Woodson, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, and more “found refuge in Black Broadway” to unapologetically celebrate Blackness.

Although Black influence has almost disappeared due to desegregation and gentrification, the memories and stories from the historic district will continue to keep its significance preserved and cherished through some Black-owned shops that have survived over the decades such as Ben’s Chili Bowl and Lee’s Flower and Card Shop. Currently, U Street is known as “Washington’s cultural center” and it is home to many restaurants, clubs, markets, and more.