Some historians say Macon had its own “Black Wall Street,” with two banks and dozens of black-owned companies.
MACON, Ga. – In the early 1900s, downtown Macon reflected segregation and widespread business opportunities for all. In the 1920s, evidence of the success of black and white businesses could be seen throughout the city.
Some historians say Macon had its own “Black Wall Street,” with two banks and dozens of black-owned companies. Historians say downtown Macon was very busy and everyone who wanted to work had a job.
Even more interesting was that in that era of segregation, black and white-owned businesses worked side by side. There were black and white businesses facing each other in Macon. This was not a common occurrence for many different communities.
Many black businesses prospered. Evidence of this was seen along Popular Street, Mulberry Street, Broadway and especially Cotton Avenue.
People with first-hand knowledge of Macon’s black business success shared their stories, and many can be found in the many historical sources available.
One of those documentaries, produced in 1993, was called History of Black Culture in Macon, Georgia. It included many interviews with individuals and family members, many of whom are no longer with us.
Historian Macon Dr. Thomas Duval has the historical record of many businesses on Cotton Avenue and is a product of that prosperous time for African Americans. His father is the late William Duval. At the 1993 interview, he was the retired owner of Paul Duval and Sons Upholstering.
At the time of the interview, William Duval was the third generation of a more than 100-year-old company that was still in the upholstery business. The late Duval’s grandfather began working in a furniture factory in Macon and later started Paul Duval and Sons Upholstering.
Packing and shipping was big business in the early 1900s, and the railroad that ran through Macon was essential to the town’s economy. William Duval said his family’s business successfully made tents and had a year-round upholstery business.
He said he started working there when he was 12 years old. Duval said Macon was surprisingly different in that black and white companies “were right together, mixed.”
In that interview, William Duval said, “Macon was a different situation than it was for most of the surrounding towns that you see during that time. In most cities at the time, (black) businesses were crossing the tracks. You have to go to a certain side of town. But Macon has always been where the businesses were all over the city.” He said, “If you take Poplar Street down there, we had a lot of black businesses … like a black-owned real estate company, and Henry Williams had a big coffee shop.”
Duval said Macon had two black-owned banks, “A man named Douglass was on Broadway, and then a man named Hendricks has a bank on Cotton Avenue.” In the 1920s, Charles Henry Douglass made Broadway the place to be.
He said that when people got off work, they would pack Broadway. “Charles Henry Douglass had a bank, a hotel, a pool room, a shoe store, a barber shop and a hotel annex. He employed many people. Besides, he only has about five houses in the whole community that require a lot of care.” Benny Scott says he frequented the Douglass Theater. Scott says the shows will include regular acts who traveled from New York.
“Even if you were a janitor or a maid, finding work near Macon was not difficult for African-Americans back then,” Benny Scott said. “There were a lot of jobs because most of the downtown businesses were booming, when they kicked out the blacks, that’s when the businesses died.”
Benny Scott said his brother, Leonard Scott, owned the tall building across from Macon City Hall. He also owned the building on the corner alley up from the Elks lodge. “And he ran a coffee shop, called Gene’s Cafe, and a package store for several years.”
Scott says at least four black tailors were doing well around Macon. Own black businesses lined Popular Street, including leather shops where they made saddles and similar items. Scott remembers a man named WT Barnes who worked in one of the leather shops for over 60 years. There were also at least two or three blacksmiths.
He also remembers Henry Williams, who had a restaurant about half a block from Macon City Hall on Popular Street. Blacks and whites ate at that business. They had a petition separating blacks from whites eating in the front of the restaurant. Scott said most of the people who ate there came from other counties around Macon. “People like farmers and people who came to Macon to shop on weekdays and weekends,” Scott said.
African-American travelers stayed busy in downtown Macon because black and white businesses constantly moved supplies. Scott says they moved materials, wooden crates and supplies.
The historical term for “drayman” was the driver of a low-bed, sideless wagon, generally drawn by horses or mules. This was a common way to transport all kinds of goods.
There were black stables with horses, fine horses and wagons, parked on the corner of People’s and Third streets. Later, when they were mechanized with vehicles, they dispersed to other areas around the city, quickly finding work.
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