Posted January 27, 2023

How Black History & Culture Has Shaped Charlotte – and 3 Black Businesses to Support Right Now


Charlotte is a historically rich city that prides itself on being part of the new and moderate South. Even so, the Queen City’s Black history remains tied to the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the events of the subsequent Civil Rights movement. While more quietly displayed than in smaller Southern cities, the stories of Black Charlotteans are showcased in several historic neighborhoods, parks, and cultural centers.

Charlotte, North Carolina at sunset. (Photo Credit: Wes Hicks)

Want to explore more of Charlotte’s Black history and culture? Let us be your guide.

Neighborhoods, Parks, & Cultural Centers

The Historic West End is home to vibrant African American communities surrounding the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, a private historically Black university. In February of 1960, a series of nonviolent sit-ins led by four students at a Woolworth’s department store in northern Greensboro, North Carolina ultimately led to the chain removing its policy of racial segregation. Inspired by “the Greensboro four,” Charlotte students staged their own similar sit-ins. Despite bomb threats in the area, no violent incidents were reported, though several downtown lunch counters refused to integrate and closed. Following a four-mile protest march, a turning point came on May 29, 1963 when a lunch “eat in” was organized between Black and white leaders. In honor of Johnson C. Smith University’s 100th anniversary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and praised the city’s peaceful civil rights achievements. The West End remains at the forefront of the fight for social justice.

HBCU’s play an important role in the identity of Charlotte. (Photo Credit: Clay Banks)

Pearl Street Park was the first African American public park built in the city. This recently revitalized park is a remnant of the onetime thriving Brooklyn neighborhood in uptown Charlotte that was “demolished in the name of urban development” in the 1960s and 1970s. Brooklyn was the city’s largest Black neighborhood, where Black folks owned businesses and homes, went to church, and attended Second Ward High School, the first public high school for African Americans in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. Located on the axis of the former residential Pearl Street, the park’s stainless steel and bronze sculpture, Brooklyn Stories,” is engraved with quotes from former Brooklyn residents.

Romare Bearden Park is a 5.4-acre park in the heart of the city that honors the signature Charlotte-born artist with a design inspired by his collages and paintings. The sprawling park features gardens, waterfalls, and interactive digital chimes.

An intimate alley across the street from Romare Beardon Park. (Photo Credit: Wes Hicks)

Named after Charlotte’s first Black mayor, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is where you will find the city’s most intentional recognition and celebration of African and African American art, history, and culture. The four-story center was designed by the late Phil Freelon, the Durham architect and visionary behind the design of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Inside, there are references to quilt designs from the Underground Railroad era and woven textile patterns from West Africa. The museum features works by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, and also hosts performing arts and educational programs.

3 Black-Owned Eateries to Support Now

The family-owned Mert’s Heart and Soul is a colorful, bustling uptown Charlotte soul food destination celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Try the famed salmon cakes and soul rolls – two egg roll wraps stuffed with black-eyed peas, seasoned rice, collard greens, and diced chicken breast.

Also uptown, 7th Restaurant & Lounge specializes in rib-sticking Low Country fare like gumbo, fried whiting, shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles.

A historic water tower amidst unique uptown eateries. (Photo Credit: Carissa Rogers)

Three-time James Beard nominated chef Greg Collier and wife and business partner Subrina are the innovators behind the modern juke joint Leah & Louise. The menu features modern interpretations of Mississippi river valley foodways (from Memphis, New Orleans, and Jackson, Mississippi) with inventive small plates such as the Wabbit Season entree with smoked rabbit, grits, and almond raisin crumble. The Colliers also launched the annual BayHaven Food & Wine Festival.

Check out the rest of our Black History & Culture blog series by following the tag below.


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