Black History Month Spotlight – West Ninth Street

BHM16 W9thThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

As early as the 1840s and reaching 1880, the businesses of both black and white races existed in what is now known as Downtown Little Rock. In the last years of the 1800s, a prolific business broker and social center for African Americans dominated West Ninth Street.

In 1898, D. B. Gaines, a local black doctor who also served as pastor of the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, wrote a book called Racial Possibilities as Indicated by the Negroes of Arkansas. The last chapter, “Colored Business Directory of Little Rock,” documents the existence of a vibrant commercial center with almost twenty churches and hundreds of dealers of black people.

The black district was home to doctors, dentists, lawyers and entrepreneurs such as restaurant owners, newspaper editors, pharmacists, barbers, tailors, and merchants.

This city within a city, met the needs of the black community since the early 1880 to the 1950s. West Ninth Street saw its peak between 1870 and 1950. Since the 1960s, a number of factors including desegregation, urbanization, urban renewal and the construction of I-630 caused its decline.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.