In recent years, we’ve seen a shift during Black History Month where people focus on the traumatic aspects of the past. While these events are crucial to understanding Black history in America, it's just as important to shine a light on the more uplifting aspects. I’d like to highlight some historic Black communities that have thrived throughout our nation’s history.
Harlem, New York, NY
Arguably the most famous Black community in American history, Harlem is known for its innovations and advancements in Black music, art, literature, and culture during the early part of the 20th century. This period is known as the “Harlem Renaissance” with the neighborhood becoming the ultimate stop for African Americans looking to migrate away from poor conditions in the Jim Crow South.
Notable residents: Louis Armstrong, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eunice Carter
Greenwood District, Tulsa, OK
The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, featured so many prosperous African American-owned businesses in the early twentieth century that it was nicknamed the “Black Wall Street.” In 1921, mobs descended on the community destroying many of the Black-owned businesses and homes. Nonetheless, the community rebuilt and thrived over the next 30 years until desegregation in the 1950s brought white investments and businesses to the community.
Notable residents: O.W. Gurley, J.B. Stradford, John and Loula Williams
Various cities have had the moniker of “Black Mecca” over the past 150 years, but Atlanta might be most deserving. In a time when many African Americans were disenfranchised from political power, Atlanta stood out as a city where Black people held the majority of political power. The city also boasts the Atlanta University Center, one of the nation’s largest collections of historically Black universities and museums about Black culture and history.
Notable residents: Martin Luther King Jr., Stacey Abrams, Andre 3000
Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles, CA
Nicknamed the “Black Beverly Hills,” the Baldwin Hills neighborhood in south Los Angeles has been a hub for middle and upper-class African Americans since the early 1950s. This is due in large part to it being one of the few affluent neighborhoods in the area that would sell to Black people.
Notable residents: Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Lenny Kravitz
Black Bottom, Detroit, MI
In its heyday, Black Bottom wasn’t just a neighborhood in Detroit–it was a city within a city, home to more than 100,000 African American residents and businesses. Similar to Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Black Bottom survived well into the 1950s before urban renewal efforts led to many residents being displaced to other areas of the city.
Notable Residents: Ralph Bunche, Joe Louis, Mary Wells
Third Ward, Houston, TX
For decades, the Third Ward has been the center of African American culture in Houston. The area includes MacGregor Way, a historic street home to some of Houston's wealthiest and most influential African Americans since the 1950s. The area is also the site of two of Texas’s most notable universities, Texas Southern University and the University of Houston.
Notable Residents: Beyoncé, Arnett Cobb, Garnet Coleman
Prince George’s County, MD
Prince George’s County is a powerful destination for those interested in learning more about Black history in America. The County has multiple historic sites commemorating African American heritage including Blacksox Park, Columbia Air Center, and Belair Mansion. Fast forward to today and Prince George’s County is a primarily Black county that boasts some of the nation’s wealthiest African American towns and neighborhoods.
Notable Residents: Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Durant, Martin Lawrence
As we take this month to honor the struggles of African Americans throughout our nation’s history, let’s also take time to celebrate these communities and many others like them who have served as beacons for success and progress.