Eagle Street the Mecca of Black Businesses

By Henry Robinson

Packed inside a one-half city block area, a body of energetic entrepreneurs stepped out on faith in the late 1800’s with their goods and services, to compete in the world of business.

Most of them were the sons and daughters of former slaves, but despite the odds, they persevered – turning Eagle Street into the mecca of black businesses.

Between Biltmore Avenue east, to South Market Street, approximately 26 black owned businesses were located in this area. A portion of South Market Street also contained a number of businesses including two black owned drugstores, and a hotel.

John Darity, owner of Darity Cab Co., (far left), stands with his fleet of Plymouth Coup cabs, and drivers. This photo was taken in front of the Phillis Wheatley YWCA on East College Street, close to what is now the 240 East bypass.

businesses flourished prior to the Great Depression. The late A.C.
Mitchell was one of many examples of this as he owned a gymnasium and a
newspaper. Mitchell believed that the businesses were successful
because there is a sense of familiarity between the shops and the
patrons. “Prior to the 1960’s, black businesses were successful because
black people had no other outlets in which they could feel
comfortable,” Mitchell said in a 1982 interview.

“Take Candyland
for example,” Mitchell said. “We felt very comfortable going in there
buying candy, but when you went up town to the white-owned candy shop
you could feel the pressure of being different.” Candyland was a
popular place of business on Eagle Street during the 1930’s and 40’s.

“In those days,”
Mitchell noted, “everyone went dressed, you didn’t have bums hanging
around this area at all, and dope was a thing you hardly heard of, but
you could get a good drink of corn whiskey!”

Prostitution was
not tolerated in the business section. “You had it on the lower part of
Eagle Street, known as “Black Bottom,” Mitchell said. “There were a
group of houses in that area occupied by ladies, who were receptive to
company,” he said.

Another black
business pioneer was the late John Darity, who owned a fleet of cabs,
which he operated under Dairty Cab Co. Darity was known for his clean
cabs and efficient service.

At an early age,
Darity moved with his parents to Pennsylvania. He return to Asheville
at age 16 and began earning money playing piano at house parties across
Asheville for a fee of $5 per four-hour performance.

 He saved his
money… and at the height of the Great Depression, when few men or
women, black or white, had more than a dollar or two to spend, Darity
placed a $400 down payment on a 4-cylinder, 4-door Plymouth that sold
for $500 at Sawyers Motor Co. In 1933, Darity, driving his 4-cylinder
4-door Plymouth automobile, entered the cab business that led to a
45-year career.

A flashback of 1890 shows that black people had already settled in with a variety of businesses on Eagle Street.

Some of the
early pioneers included: T.C. Hamilton Barbershop at 3 Eagle St.; Jonas
Hayes’ Restaurant, 7 Eagle St; Bill Collins’ Restaurant, 8 Eagle St.;
T. Oglesby Barbershop, 11 Eagle St.; and Charles Reynolds,
Cabinetmaker, 12 Eagle St.

The Great
Depression caused the closing of some of these businesses during the
1930s, but the majority of them survived and continued to do well
through the 1940s and 1950s.

Henry Robinson,
(retired) is one of the first African-American journalists employed
with the Asheville-Citizens Times, Asheville, NC. He presently enjoys
his retirement and leisure time lecturing on Black History nationally,
and educating our local citizenry on the rich African-American History
of Western North Carolina.