FOURTH AVENUE - BIRMINGHAM
A Black business district formed in Birmingham just after 1890. In a pattern characteristic of Southern cities found during Reconstruction, black businesses developed alongside those of whites in many sections of the downtown area.
After the turn of the century, Jim Crow laws authorizing the distinct separation of “the races” and subsequent restrictions placed on black firms forced the growing black business community into an area along Third, Fourth and Fifth Avenues North, from 15th to 18th Streets. Segregation and discrimination created a small world in which Black enterprise was accepted and to which Blacks had open access. This area served as the business, social and cultural center for Blacks with activities similar to those in the predominantly white districts. Businesses located in the area included barber and beauty shops, mortuaries, saloons, restaurants, theatres, photographic studios, and motels. These Black businesses and their successors continued to do well throughout the 60’s.
The Black business district had a thriving nightlife. On Friday and Saturday nights, the streets were filled with crowds of people visiting bars or just out for a stroll. Live entertainment made the district “the place to be.” Monroe Kennedy, a blind bookie, made sure that Fourth Avenue got its fair share of the “Big Swing Bands.” This seven-story building was designed by Black architects, Taylor & Persley and built by Windham Brothers Construction Company, another Black-owned business. Not only was the Masonic Temple used for entertainment, it housed Black professional offices and was the state headquarters for the Masons and Order of Eastern Stars.
Today, many of the long-closed buildings have reopened as new businesses. Fourth Avenue District is once again home to several Black-owned restaurants that keep it real. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, & 16th Street Baptist Church are also part of the district. The old Carver Theatre is now home to both the Carver Performing Arts Theatre and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame where exhibits include a look at the jazz legends from the area. Eddie Kendrick of the Temptations was born in Birmingham in 1937 and never forgot his Birmingham roots. He returned to Birmingham for his finals days, before passing on in 1992. In 1999, Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park with a statue of Eddie singing and original Temptations was dedicated.