The History of Church Street
Those who remember the uniqueness of Church Street describe it with wit and charm, even as they rue the circumstances that necessitated its existence and led to its extinction. After the Civil War ended in 1865, during the Reconstruction period, many states – including South Carolina – passed a set of laws known as “The Black Code” or “Jim Crow Laws” specifically designed to repress black people. The harsh realities of these laws kept African Americans from fully participating in economic, social and political systems. During this bleak time, the entrepreneurs on Church Street found a way to flourish, creating their own vibrant economy in a tight-knit business community.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, civil rights legislation led to the repeal of these draconian laws and to desegregation. As integration progressed, those who previously supported the businesses on Church Street exercised their option to patronize “white-owned” businesses. This led to hard times for businesses on Church Street as their customer base splintered.
During the 1970s, the viability of the area waned. The buildings were razed for a parking lot at the end of the decade. Some businesses were relocated with the assistance of the City of Anderson, but most simply closed. As the businesses disappeared, an effort led by “The Black Pioneers” called to honor Church Street so that its historic and economic contribution to Anderson would not be forgotten. “The Black Pioneers” were a group of former business owners, their family members and patrons who held Church Street dear. Their sentiment captured the attention of City leaders and the seeds of the Church Street Heritage Project were sown. A monument to honor the era was placed on the site when the parking lot opened in 1982.