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  • Danville's African-American Business District

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    In the midst of racial segregation, Second Street, now home to Constitution Square Park, served for many decades as the heart of African American economic, social, and religious activity. Despite the turbulent oppression of the times, African Americans built a thriving network of businesses, stores, restaurants, and social gathering spaces that fostered entrepreneurial success and a unified community. People would come from various counties to meander and soak in the livelihood and energy of Second Street. B.B. King lyrics drifted from restaurant jukeboxes, tantalizing smells rose from hot skillets, and crumbs of conversation were exchanged on storefront stoops. Historical Marker # 1958 currently stands in Constitution Square as a reminder of this prominent African American Business District that once flourished in the heart of Danville. However, the atmosphere of this part of Danville can hardly be captured in the beveled words of a plaque. The story of the African American business and social district was more than a moment in history; it was a way of life that prospered and resonated within the Black community, both then and now. 

    'You don't ever want to forget Second Street'

    “For blacks in Danville, Second Street was where it was at, as young people today would call it, the happening place. You don’t ever want to forget Second Street,” remarks Bobby Trumbo, member of First Baptist Church and former educator.

    Unfortunately, the African American business district began to decline in the early 1960’s. Building facades began to deteriorate quickly and eventually several buildings became vacant. Not long after, Urban Renewal initiated the demolition of the African American Second Street buildings and the expansion of Constitution Square Park. Urban Renewal made significant gains for Danville, as interviewees state, but simultaneously marginalized a group of people, unraveling a vital lifestyle rooted in the businesses and social spaces of Second Street. “I like what we look like, but I don’t like how we came to this. Because it was to me, trickery. Urban Renewal was good, but Urban Renewal didn’t stand up on its promises. It created a better looking community but it could’ve been even better if they had utilized these areas in more of a black way, if blacks were included. We didn’t feel like we were included,” reflects Trumbo. With the arrival of Urban Renewal, Danville lost the vibrancy and diversity Second Street brought to the fabric of downtown. Equally important, the Black community lost tangible public places representing the breadth of their successful lives despite the restrictions of segregation. “It took away some things we could have established and passed on for our young people to go from,” insists Marthetta Clark, current member of Boyle Landmark Trust and Second Street Christian Church. 

    Paving the way for future generations

    Though no longer contained in concrete buildings and businesses, the black community continues to proudly maintain the African American district’s prominent heritage. Now the legacy of Second Street is immortalized in conversations, photograph albums, self-initiated history projects, and memories of this prosperous part of town. By continuing to preserve and celebrate their past, they are able to gift the memory of this lost history to their youth. “They need to know that we didn’t get here by mistake and somebody had to pave the way,” Clark says.

    This guide to Second Street strives to commemorate the enduring spirit of the African American business district and the strength of its leaders, businessmen and women, and the entire community who persisted despite segregation and other forms of discrimination. The Heart of Danville hopes that as you explore this page you are given a taste of the flavor, economic prosperity, and soul of our historic business district and are reminded why “you don’t ever want to forget Second Street.”

  • Danville's African-American Business District image gallery

  • Downloadable guides to the district
    pdf_LargeIcon AA Historical District Guide
    pdf_LargeIcon AA Historical District Map