Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Historical Geography of the Black West Side, Part III

Third and final look at the geographical development of the black community on the west side, to around 1920, by using the locations of congregations in listed Austin’s church tables, with added information from Dayton’s African American Heritage by Margaret Peters.


After the turn of the century the Great Migration ensued, a mass exodus of African Americans from the South to northern cities. This was in part in reaction to increasingly oppressive Jim Crow laws and then to crop failures driving black farm workers off the land. In Dayton the population increase in 1900s was the same as in the 1880s & 1890s, but the Great Migrations appears in the 1910s. .

One begins to see black professionals in the 1890s. This was also the case in the 1900s, with business formation and more black entrepreneurs. One started up an amusement park for blacks at Lakeview and Germantown, Dahomey Park. This was perhaps a reaction to discrimination at the popular west side Lakeside Park.

On the west side one sees the relocation of the YWCA from Eaker Street, a playground on 5th street built, and more churches forming, particularly in that little corner near Germantown and Washington.

Not shown here is the development of a east side black community on the outskirts of the city, off Springfield Street, with a black church forming in 1909 as a mission of Third Zion. This would become Mount Pisgah Baptist.


The Great Migration begins in earnest in the decade 1910-1920, which was also the decade of the second racial disturbance in Dayton history. After the end of this decade downtown merchants adopt an unofficial Jim Crow policy barring blacks from public accommodations downtown.

During this decade one sees an increase in churches in the near west area, as well as churches relocating beyond this neighborhood.

What one doesn’t see is if there are changes in white congregations as the neighborhood changes. Apparently this happened after 1913 to a Catholic church south of Germantown Street, where blacks replaced Germans as parishioners.

A look at the heart of this neighborhood, Baxter Street between Fifth and Fitch. This was reportedly the first street to “go black” in West Dayton. Using an 1898 Sanborn map and old pix (from “Dayton Comes of Age”, I think). Looking north, one can use the locations of buildings and hydrants to figure out where the pix is.

The red boxes note the old firehouse on Fifth that was the site of the black school , Bethel, and McKinley churches.

A close up of the pix. The West Side as it was...

…and what the same view, more or less, looks today. Most of Baxter, renamed Dunbar, was removed for an industrial development

Expanding Beyond the Near West Side

Next, the expansion of the black community. Note some outliers over in early Westwood (which relocated back into the near west side) and in “Patterson” (AK Browntown, later Edgemont). The Patterson outlier didn’t survive, and this neighborhood remained mostly white as late as 1940..

Also the cluster of congregations locating off Western Avenue, perhaps indicating a black settlement developing in this area, near Kuhns Foundry (Peters, in Dayton’s African American Heritage, notes that Dayton blacks often worked in the foundry trade)

In this decade Allen AME moved from Fitch to a location west, south of 5th, on Euclid Avenue.

An additional black church also located in Hells Half Acre. Interestingly, the Mead/Fifth/Maple area didn’t support a church at this time.

And a church that started in the Washington/Germantown vicinity moved south to the fringes of Edgemont, on Pontiac Avenue

The Lakeside Racial Disturbance

So one can see a fairly organized community developing, even if they did experience job discrimination (NCR being the most egregious example). Yet one can anticipate some tensions between white and black given the big jump in population, which came to a flash point in the summer of 1919.

Newspaper accounts say tension was building all summer, but it came to a flashpoint on the night of July 19th, when racial disturbances broke out at Lakeside Park.

Lakeside was one of three early Dayton amusement parks, and though it didn’t ban blacks it did prohibit them from the dance pavilion and had other discriminatory practices.

Around 9:00 PM disturbances broke out, with blacks being ordered out of the concessions and park theatre by white park-goers, and fighting ensued. Reports said that the telephone line to the park was cut, and unfconfirmed reports of a shooting.

The violence apparently extended to the streetcar lines connecting the park to the city, with reports of cars heading back into town being stopped by groups of whites. blacks being taken from the cars and beaten. There were also reports of conductors getting punched and a car driver being beaten with the car controller handle.

Later in the week there was retaliatory violence at nearby McCabe’s Park picnic grove with black youth stoning white visitors, but scared off by one of the whites firing a pistol.

So Dayton had people going around armed, and it also seems a bit premeditated on the part of the whites, that they apparently knew to stop streetcars coming back into town from the park. (or word travels fast). It is suprising there wasn’t serious injury or deaths, considering the racial violence that flared elsewhere in the years just after WWI.

A map of the locations, showing Lakeside, the streetcar lines, and the black park, Dahomey Park, which had closed after 1911.

The Outskirts of Town

The black kids who had he rocks stockpiled probably came from Tin Town, which was next to McCabe’s Park. This was another early black community beyond the city limits. The black church here was Upshaw Mission. Based on the description in Peter’s book this sounds like a sort of self-help build-it-yourself place.

This apparently was not uncommon elsewhere in the US. Thomas Sugrue in “The Orgins of the Urban Crisis” describes the Eight-Mile/Wyoming neighborhood in Detroit as such a place. And Andrew Weise in Places of Their Own also notes this as a form of black community in his chapter “The Outskirts of Town: The Geography of Black Suburbanization Prior to 1940”.

A different approach was the Pontiac Street neighborhood, which was probably black from day one, as the congregation bought a lot there in 1913, and it was still partly undeveloped in 1919.

What makes this different from Tin Town is that this was probably more conventional working class housing : rows of identical two story houses might indicate serial construction by merchant builders rather than self-built cottages.

Black outskirts settlements probably deserves their own post, especially the east side ones.

The Ghetto

Perhaps a ghetto was forming in the near west side by this time, perhaps earlier. But certainly after the African American population explosion that started in the 1910s, the black community, while expanding somewhat beyond, still was confined to certain neighborhoods.

This meant increasing density, as one can see on these two enlargements of the Baxter /Dunbar Street blocks. One can see “negro hotels”, “tenements”, and houses locating on alleys and double and triple to a lot, including some small row houses. I’ve boxed the alley houses and side lot houses in red, to show how things grew.

What this doesn’t show is overcrowding in the houses, or if they have been spit up into multiple units.

By the 1940s this was a very dense neighborhood.

Yet, its all gone now! The near west side today, mainly the historic core black community south of 5th, is almost unrecognizable. Nary a house remains! Urban renewal has been as total here as in the old Haymarket area on the east side, though the streets still remain to some degree

Yet if you want to visit, there are the two old churches still standing off Fitch, plus Zion on Sprague.

So that’s it for development of the black community on the west side, at least the early era. If I had access to census info one could chart the development a bit better. Starting in the 1930s, and especially the 1940 Housing Census, one has actual numbers to work with, so its easier to research the continued growth of the black neighborhoods.


Anonymous said...

Great work on a little explored topic (as we've come to expect!).

Greg Hunter said...

Thanks Jeffery. Are remnants of Lakeside Amusement the ones mentioned at Possum Creek? Are they one and the same? Interesting history and one that indicates that blacks did not stay settled long or long enough to build a stable community or for that matter equity in a house to build wealth.

Jefferey said...

Lakeside was across the street from the VA entrance. Argonne Park, now Possum Creek, was different.

"..one that indicates that blacks did not stay settled long or long enough to build a stable community or for that matter equity in a house to build wealth."

I didnt get that at all from my research.

What I see is a community that was growing steadily in a few neighborhoods, but mostly the west side, then a big boom leading to increased density as segregation concentrated the new migrants, yet also growth to outlying areas, presumably on cheap land and near factory work.

This was a pretty stable community in the sense that the blacks were organizing schools, churches, and other things at an early date, so this was community development in the sociological sense.

And there certainly was an interest in owning property and land, hence those outlying settlments. Also note that the West Side was originally single family, mostly. How much of this was rental is a good question, but it was an organized community as indicated by the church formation.

I didn't post on social and mutual aid and fraternal socieities, but one could also see an growth in these as the community grew.

Another lesson is how the black community grew in place, and grew with neighborhoods. Note that they were among the very first settlers of the near west side, and as the neighborhood filled out, it continued to attract black folk.