Beyond Commerce: Building a Legacy of Hard Work
Church Street boasted a premier business climate and an array of commercial options. There were barbershops, tailors, doctors, dentists, funeral homes, restaurants and more. It was like a miniature city, offering just about everything a consumer could want. At its peak, it had a thriving economic base which would be enviable to any modern city. The business owners and merchants there built a strong support system. They had respect for each other and for their patrons.
In addition to its lively environment, Church Street stood as an iconic example of the fruits of education and hard work. The harsh and racially motivated restrictions of the era made it difficult for African Americans to make a living wage, much less have the opportunity of ownership. The business owners on Church Street overcame those obstacles through fierce determination. This made them role models and among the most respected citizens in Anderson.
During its history, more than 300 businesses were located in this short 3 or 4 block area, with at least 100 at any given time. Not only did these businesses serve the black community, they also made a significant contribution to the overall economy of the City of Anderson as a regional draw for nearly a century.
When integration evolved in the 1950s and 60s, African-American consumers had more options and the businesses on Church Street did not have the capital to compete. As the sustainability of the area seemed doomed in the wake of changing times, City leaders opted to raze the buildings to make room for a parking lot, a common practice in 1970s America. Most buildings were two-stories with turn-of-the-century style architecture that looked much like the rest of downtown Anderson. Experts have noted that had the buildings survived, Church Street would probably be among the most desirable streets in Anderson.
“Church Street had a great impact. It showed us about the initiative to own something. It was hard for blacks to get a bank loan back then, so it was hard to get established. It was something to look at that showed the value of hard work.” Mrs. Mary Frances Wardlaw
“Starting a business was the only thing you could do. There was no future, there was no vision. You just existed. You couldn’t get good housing, there was no transportation system. You could buy on old raggedy car, maybe. It was the only place where there was an economic base for black people . . . everything centered around Church Street in those days.” Mr. Patrick Flack
“When I was a child, my father took me to Church Street to inspire me. Many of the business people were college graduates and had children who attended colleges all over the east coast. A prominent businessman named W. I. Peek is a good example. He owned a restaurant and a funeral home and was an icon on Church Street. He helped me and lots of other young men from Anderson to attend Tuskegee Institute.” Mr. Al Norris
“I learned to be a tailor in New York City. I came to Church Street because that was where the black people were and it was good business for me.” Mr. Johnny Williford
“Church Street was a good place for children to learn. They learned business and how to serve. They learned the value of money and ownership and the chance to be entrepreneurs.” Coach William Roberts
“I always tell people, you can make it if you try. People on Church Street tried and they made a good living.” Mr. Roosevelt Thompson
“In its prime, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Church Street was the place to be – a meeting place for friends and just plain fun. And it provided a significant financial contribution to the City in the form of business licenses, taxes and more.” Dr. Beatrice Thompson