Hidden History: ‘Pride an inspiration’ surround Richmond’s Frederick Douglass Court

Black History Month

RICHMOND (WRIC) — As 8News celebrates Black History Month with Hidden History of Central Virginia, we’re highlighting a Northside Richmond neighborhood that looks a lot different than it did during its beginnings.

Frederick Douglass Court started as an African-American part of town, built by the people who lived there. The suburb was founded in the early 1920s, right around the time of World War I.

Founders settled on the corner of Brook and Overbrook Roads, as well as Dubois Avenue.

Professor Charles Russell, one of the first blacks licensed to practice architecture in Virginia, designed some of the homes. Douglass Court consists of ‘stucco homes,’ as well as a frame house and tutor revival homes. These homes were said to reflect purity.

Elvatrice Belsches, a historian for the Black History Museum in Richmond, said Douglass Court’s creation came at a time when the city of Richmond started seeing an evolution.

“Jackson Ward was becoming too overcrowded and there were many families displaced by the extension of Chamberlayne Avenue into Chamberlayne Parkway,” Belsches said.

Frederick Douglass Court started as an African-American part of town, built by the people who lived there. The suburb was founded in the early 1920s, right around the time of World War I.

Blacks, who were considered ‘well-off,’ created Douglass Court at a time when segregation existed.

8News also spoke with Selden Richardson, a local author whose book highlights significant neighborhoods in the African-American community. “This was a trend in the country at the time and often these suburbs would have a draw or catch to want people to move there,” Richardson said.

The neighborhood served as home for teachers, physicians, doctors, and lawyers. Richardson said Douglass Court managed to stand the test of time.

“It has been able to resist these attacks over the years, the industrial plan, the bad zoning, the creation of the highway,” Richardson said.

Frederick Douglass Court started as an African-American part of town, built by the people who lived there. The suburb was founded in the early 1920s, right around the time of World War I.

The small neighborhood has a big story to tell, according to Belsches, who grew up three blocks away from Douglass Court.

“It serves as a source of great inspiration and great pride. Here, you had a collective that based on overcrowding and the need for additional housing, they were going to formulate their own neighborhood.”

Some of the streets are named after prominent African-Americans, such as W.E.B. DuBois, an educator, and sociologist.

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