History was preserved on Oct. 27 in High Point when a historical marker was unveiled on Washington Street.
This marker is not just about Washington Street. It symbolizes the blood, sweat and tears of the entire black community, which made Washington Street the center of its universe.
When Carlvena Foster and I unveiled the marker, I looked up at it and was immediately filled with emotions — joy, hurt, hope and pain.
Having written the wording for this marker, I could hear the cries of my ancestors, who breathed life into Washington Street only to have it die a slow, painful death because we as black folk misunderstood the real meaning of integration. For whatever reason, we crossed Centennial Street to spend our time and money, believing we were now accepted as equal, thus deserting our black history.
What did the unveiling of this marker mean to the High Point community? Not much! Before Oct. 27, I saw nothing in the newspaper or TV or any other source regarding this unveiling.
I saw only one person from city government in attendance, City Councilman Jeff Golden. Edith Brady, the director of the High Point Museum, and her daughter, Madeline, attended as well as Dorothy Darr and Gloria Halstead, members of the High Point Preservation Commission.
Half of High Point showed up to celebrate the naming of a baseball park but shows little if any interest in history that helped define High Point. So sad!
When I think of Washington Street, I think of nine magnificent blocks that ran from Centennial Street to Harrison Street. Even though our community was surrounded, this icon represented progress and success versus failure and despair.
The early success of Washington Street, and the reason it survived so long, was tied to “segregation.” We had to support our own because we really weren’t wanted or appreciated west of Centennial Street. So, black folks spent their money with merchants who appreciated their patronage, and in return, they were treated with dignity and respect. This relationship, before integration, helped create an economic base that rivaled anything in High Point, and it all took place within nine blocks.
The Washington Street corridor was created on Nov. 5, 1860, by High Point city officials, but it took many years before blacks established themselves along the corridor.
By 1910, between Centennial and Normal streets, blacks had laid the foundation for what would later become nine magnificent blocks. Businesses sprang up, including the Crystal Pressing Club, McCloud Brothers Grocery, Hinton’s Hotel, Patterson Drug Store, Guy and Hoskins Grocery, Lee Flake Eating House, Turner Causey Eating House, Valmore Cheek Grocery and J.T. Hoover’s Barber Shop.
Within four blocks, in addition to the businesses, both black and white, there were two churches, one hotel, one high school and one fraternal organization.
In 1933, Washington Street had grown to seven blocks with 30 businesses, including three doctors, two dentists, one lawyer, three churches, one Young Men’s Christian Club, one high school, one drugstore, one hotel, a dental lab, a taxi service, a tailor, a dressmaker, a shoe repair shop, an insurance company, a real estate company, a candy company, billiard parlors, barbershops, beauty shops, restaurants, a shoeshine parlor, a grocery store and an ice cream shop.
When 1960 rolled around, this growth included 54 businesses, seven of which were white-owned, and 76 residents. Washington now offered black people nine blocks to shop for food, clothing, health care, and other essentials. We even had our own post office, Station B!
There was no reason to cross Centennial Street into an environment where our dollars were accepted but we were treated like second-class citizens.
I hold my people and the city of High Point equally responsible for the demise of Washington Street. The area was no longer supported by the black community, and the city created an economic choke hold on the street when it created Kivett Drive and College Drive. This allowed people to bypass the black community. I call this selective racism.
Businesses closed or moved, and that entrepreneurial spirit that once permeated those nine magnificent blocks disappeared. What took blood, sweat and tears to build was left to slowly decay, its history swept under the rug.
The long-overdue historical marker demonstrates how this street rose above discrimination, segregation, and racism to become a symbol of black determination and perseverance.