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The Block

By Anthony Kinzer

The historical marker for The Block at Simpson Memorial Methodist Church in Charleston. Photo by Anthony Kinzer.

The Ferguson Hotel was the social and economic center of the African-American business section of Charleston, known affectionately as “The Block.” It embodied many facets within and around a supportive community.

The Block—an extended area bounded by Washington, Shrewsbury, Lewis (now named for John Norman), and Broad (now Leon Sullivan Way) streets—was a hub of activity that reached beyond Charleston. It wasn’t just the business entities that tied together this tight-knit community; the people who lived in this area were connected by similar motivational schooling, religious teachings, and social factors that led to lasting friendships.

Very little is left of The Block these days. Only a few architectural remnants are left of this once-bustling neighborhood. About all that remains are the old segregated Garnet High School (now Garnet Career Center), A. H. Brown Building, First Baptist and Simpson Memorial United Methodist churches, Preston Funeral Home, Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House, and Samuel Starks Home—Starks was the first African-American in the nation to serve as a state librarian. Most of the other buildings in the area fell victim to Charleston’s urban renewal effort of the 1960s.

  The Block encouraged individuals to make their mark on the world and to work hard for better living conditions for themselves, their families, and their community. It created a sense of pride and confidence for these folks to know they could make a difference, regardless of the circumstances of their lives. The things they learned and accomplished on The Block gave rise to a strong black middle class, and the name “The Block” still brings a tear to the eye along with a smile to those who grew up there.

Since so few original buildings in The Block remain, the district is ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places. However, in 2011, the Charleston Historic Landmarks Commission named the area to its local district of historic places.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.