Roanoke, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Social and Cultural Life
Social organizations and activities unified the community and boosted black leaders' influence.
The Roanoke Chapter of the NAACP was founded in 1916. Other organizations included the Freemasons, the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen (and its Ladies Auxiliary), Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, the Magic City Medical Society, and the Magic City Literary and Political Club. Women were also active, forming the Magic City Business Club in 1937, and establishing garden clubs dedicated to improving private properties, civic grounds, and public streets. In addition, there were branches of the YMCA and YWCA on Wells Avenue.
Henry Street was the entertainment hub from 1900 to 1960. A central gathering place was the Strand Theatre, built in 1923 as a cinema and small performance venue. Major black performers of the era, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie and the Harlem Globetrotters, gave their shows in the City's bigger segregated venues (such as the American Legion Auditorium, the Star City Auditorium,
Oscar Micheaux, one of the nation's first African-American film producers and distributors, established a corporate office and the Congo Film Company in the Strand Theatre in the 1920s. He produced at least six films from this location. His 1921 movie, The House Behind the Cedars, featured local actors and scenes in the neighborhood, including a garden party shot in the 400 block of Gilmer Avenue. Unfortunately, no print of the film survives. A marker on Henry Street highlights the Strand Theatre and the work of Oscar Micheaux.
”The Ebony Club had a great deal of entertainment going on during the late 50’s and early 60’s. During those days there was no air conditioning, just big floor fans to cool the building down. The side doors were also where you could find me and my friends. We had no money to buy a ticket, so we made our way to the side door and watched the show. Sometimes a door man would run us away, but we would always come back. The people inside would be dancing and wiping sweat. You could feel the heat coming through the open door. But no one paid the heat no mind. The music was good, the drinks were great,
David Ramsey, Sr., recalling his memories of the Ebony Club as a child.
From The Times and Life on Henry Street
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Entertainment • Fraternal or Sororal Organizations.
Location. 37° 16.535′ N, 79° 56.38′ W. Marker is in Roanoke, Virginia. Marker is on Wells Avenue Northeast east of North Jefferson Street, on the left when traveling east. Marker is located in a small sidewalk plaza on the north side of Wells Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Roanoke VA 24016, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A Once-Vibrant African American Community (here, next to this marker); From Frontier to Urban Community... A Gainsboro Prelude (here, next to this marker); Evolution of a Neighborhood Name (here, next to this marker); Milestones in Education (here, next to this marker); The Influence of Churches in Gainsboro (here, next to this marker); Health Care and Medicine (here, next to this marker); Civil Rights Trailblazers (here, next to this marker); Hotel Roanoke (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Roanoke.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Gainesborough •
Also see . . . Henry Street Historic District (Wikipedia). The Henry Street Historic District encompasses four contributing buildings constructed between 1917 and 1951. They were developed as the central business and entertainment district for the African-American neighborhood of Gainsboro in Northwest Roanoke. They are the Hotel Dumas (1917), The Strand Theatre (1923), Dr. Lylburn Downing office (c. 1945), and a commercial building (1951). (Submitted on November 30, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on April 28, 2021. It was originally submitted on November 27, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 85 times since then and 28 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on November 28, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on November 30, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.