Created By: Sweetwater Center for the Arts
Black Business District
400 Block of Walnut Street
Though there were Black owned businesses throughout Sewickley and the region, this strip of Walnut Street between Broad and Thorn was a hub for Black businesses from the early 1900s to about the 1940s. The majority of the buildings at the time were wood frame, unpainted and only one story tall, but they are remembered fondly and with pride by those who patronized them. Some of the businesses included: Diggs’ Barbershop and Pool Room, Dr. Randolph’s dentist office, Dave Starr’s restaurant, Campbell’s Barbershop, Mrs. Harris’ cleaning and alterations shop, Mr. Higgenbotham’s shoeshine and hat cleaning parlor, A & A plumbing, and Smitty’s, which had two locations of beer gardens. Other Black owned businesses of note that were located in other parts of town were C. G. Wallace Garage and H. W. Blockson and Son Hauling. Cleve Wallace ran a variety of businesses but was most known for fixing and selling bicycles and motorcycles and offering car rentals and a taxi service. Horace Blockson founded his business in 1907 with a horse and wagon and through the years, with his sons, built it into the most consistent African American employer in Sewickley with 51 men on payroll by 1945.
Black History of the Time (1900-1940s)
In this time period that saw thriving Black owned businesses in Sewickley, throughout the country similar Black business districts were forming, along with entire neighborhoods and towns that were predominantly Black and very successful. The economic security and success of these businesses was fueled by segregation and a growing African American population. At this time, white owned businesses would not serve Black customers or even allow entrance to their businesses. Harsh and racist Jim Crow Laws were dangerously enforced in the South, but Northern states were also imposing strict segregation policies. This created business opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to serve their Black communities. Many white Americans resented the successes that African Americans were gaining, especially in the south, where tragedies like the massacres in Rosewood, FL and the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, OK were carried out. Eventually, the Great Depression and the end of segregation aided in the slow decline of the number of Black owned businesses in the 1930s and 40s. The rate of Black business creation went up and down throughout the years since and has seen a strong increase in the last decade.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Sewickley Black History Tour