Barney Blakeney, Charleston City Paper, March 12, 2008
Another participant in the discussion suggested that integration has led to what many consider stagnated economic progress in the black community. The premise is one I’ve heard many times. Before integration, black-owned businesses flourished, the guy said. In the past, Morris Street in downtown Charleston, along with Spring and Cannon streets, was a vibrant center of activity for black business. Those businesses flourished because blacks were unwelcome in many white-owned businesses.
A classic example of how integration caused the demise of many black-owned businesses is the former Dee Dex Snack Bar. During the late 1960s and 1970s, integration opened the doors of fast food restaurants like Piggy Park on Rutledge Avenue and the Patio on Spring Street. Until then, Dee Dex Snack Bar had been the premier fast food restaurant for blacks downtown.
The business was originally located on Calhoun Street where Gaillard Auditorium is now. The auditorium’s construction displaced the snack bar and drugstore owned by the late Deward Wilson and scores of black families. When the business relocated to Spring Street, its business continued to flourish, but its days were numbered.
The old Brooks Motel, formerly located on Morris Street, is another example of how integration has contributed to decreasing numbers of viable black-owned businesses. Built prior to the signing of the Civil Rights Act into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, the motel accommodated most of the civil rights leaders when they came to Charleston, including Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Today, there’s no sign of the motel or Brooks Restaurant, across from the motel on Morris Street. Both were demolished to make way for condominiums, which have displaced not only businesses but also families in the traditionally black neighborhood.
While integration has contributed to a reduction in the number of black-owned businesses, I’m convinced that our failure to fully implement integration is the greater culprit. America has never fully integrated its society, and that has left many would-be black entrepreneurs out of the economic loop.