While African Americans owned businesses in South Carolina since the colonial period, during that time these establishments usually consisted of blacksmith shops, harness shops, and other service industries. These early businesses were owned by free blacks, but they served and operated within both the black communities and the white communities of their respective areas.
Black business districts appeared in South Carolina and other southern states after the public segregation of the races became legal in the 1890s. New laws forced many businesses either to provide separate facilities for black customers or to deny service to African American patrons altogether. Black entrepreneurs stepped in to establish operations in which African Americans could be served with courtesy and dignity. Residential segregation in many cities restricted most of these businesses to African American sections of these towns and cities. This led to the beginning of black business districts.
In the predominantly rural areas of South Carolina, black business districts usually consisted of a few small concerns such as funeral homes, hair-care establishments, tailors, and clothing stores, as well as churches and schools. Cities with sizable black populations contained full-fledged black business districts with a variety of establishments. Such districts were usually centered around a major street where African Americans lived or congregated. Along the vicinity of Spartanburg’s “Baptist and Methodist Sides” (named after the respective concentrations of churches in this city’s black neighborhoods), some businesses owned and patronized by African Americans included the Hotel Hudson, the John and Nina Littlejohn Hospital, the Eli Chapman Real Estate Company, and Charles Bomar’s Grocery Store. Columbia’s “Black Downtown” (surrounding Washington Street) included the Victory Savings Bank, Nathaniel Frederick’s Law Office, the Blue Ribbon Taxi Company, and the Mutual Grocery Store. Near King and Spring Streets in Charleston, establishments owned and operated by blacks included the Lincoln Theater, the John Dart Library, the Hotel James, and the C. O. Credit Union. By the 1930s Greenville’s black business district east of South Main Street also contained members of a small black professional class, which included doctors, dentists, tailors, librarians, funeral directors, and a veterinarian.
After the civil rights movement ended legal segregation in South Carolina’s public places, many black businesses declined or disappeared. Many African Americans began to patronize white-owned establishments to which they had previously been denied access. Gentrification and urban-renewal projects also demolished many of the traditionally black business districts. In spite of these developments, African American businesses continued to survive and thrive at the end of the twentieth century.
Deas-Moore, Vennie. Columbia, South Carolina. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000.
Huff, Archie Vernon, Jr. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Meffert, John, Sherman Pyatt, and the Avery Research Center. Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000.
Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1990. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Pruitt, Dwain C. Things Hidden: An Introduction to the History of Blacks in Spartanburg. Spartanburg, S.C.: Community Relations Office, 1995.