(Reprint from The Savannah Tribune, August 2010)
One Saturday back in December 2005 members of the Savannah (Georgia) Chapter of The Links, Inc. presented “When West Broad Street Was King,” an Educational and Entertainment Awards Luncheon celebrating and recognizing the legacy and longevity of several African American professionals and businesses, as well as educational, religious, and entertainment institutions that have been located along the West Broad Street corridor (now Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd) and have brought prominence to Savannah during an era that spanned more than 70 years from the early 1900’s to the 1970’s, and even into the present time.
This was one of the first efforts by a community organization to highlight the glorious past and future potential of this historic community. The afternoon was filled with entertainment and education about West Broad Street during the time when it was “….as busy as Broadway” and when “West Broad Street Was the Main Drag.”
Prior to Urban Renewal in the 1960’s, West Broad Street was the center of industry, trade, entertainment, culture and religious development. Small businesses flourished, and West Broad Street was a melting pot for African American, Jewish, Greek, Italian and Chinese entrepreneurs and consumers who had mixed incomes. West Broad Street was also popular because famous African American entertainers and classical artists from across the country graced the stages of entertainment centers and church sanctuaries located on the street.
Professionals and institutions were recognized at the annual luncheon that have a history of longevity on West Broad Street, especially during the period “When West Broad Street Was King.” The honorees selected for this initial awards luncheon were those who presevered despite Urban Renewal.
The following is a listing of the professionals and institutions recognized in the categories of Businesses, Medicine, Religion, Education, Entertainment and Sociocultural institutions. Their representatives were special guests of The Savannah Chapter of The Links at the luncheon.
The honorees in Business were Bynes and Royall Funeral Home (founded as Royall Undertaking Company in 1878); Toomer Realty Company, established in 1923; Carver State Bank, established in 1927; Beaver’s Barber Shop, established in 1945; and The Savannah Tribune, founded in 1875.
In Medicine: the Savannah Pharmacy, founded in 1915; the Dr. John William Jamerson legacy in Dentistry (3 generations of practice which began in 1905); and the Dr. Herbert Lee Cooper legacy in Medicine and Dentistry (3 generations of practice which began in 1911).
In Entertainment: the Pekin Theatre, in operation from 1909-1929 ; Star Theatre (1913 – 1939): and The Dunbar Theatre established in 1921.
Educational institutions that were recognized included The West Broad Street School, established in 1872 as the first public school for African Americans and the Cargo School of Beauty Culture, established in 1928. Religious institutions included churches that were originally organized and remained on West Broad Street, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church (organized in 1876) , Bolton Street Baptist Church, organized in 1865; and St. Philip AME Church, designed and built by an African American architect and builder in 191l. The Socio-Cultural Institutions included The Guaranty Insurance Building (now the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum); McKelvy Powell Hall (now the Community Family Resource Center Complex ); and the Savannah Branch of the NAACP.
According to Dr. Lester B.. Johnson, Jr., West Broad Street “… was a street that was alive, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year.” The Links wanted to recreate this atmosphere at the luncheon, so attendees were invited to adorn themselves in their best fashions from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, come and enjoy “Club Links,” and reminisce about West Broad Street when it was the Mecca of business and entertainment for African Americans.