Raleigh, NC – Today, Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh is known for eclectic shops, local restaurants and hangouts.
Little to many people, this old section of building was once the isolated business district and cultural hub of the Black Community in Raleigh – known as Black Main Street.
To highlight part of the lost story, Raleigh Arts worked with artist TJ Mundy to create a series of murals that explore the important stories along Hargett Street.
The public art series marks four buildings that played an important role on Black Main Street.
The Delany Building: Wake County’s first public black library library
For the past decade, the Delany building is probably best known for holding the Remedy Diner – the building with the faded butterfly mural on the side.
However, the building, also known as the Delany-Evans Building, was founded in 1926 by Raleigh’s second black dentist. In 1935, it also housed Wake County’s first black public library – founded by Mollie Huston Lee, Raleigh’s first black librarian.
“The Delany Building is one of only two remaining commercial buildings built on Black Main Street prior to World War II,” according to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.
It was created by Dr. Lemuel T. Delany, who was also the first black surgeon to practice at St. Agnes Hospital. His father was the well-known Bishop Delany, who laid the first cornerstone of St. Agnes, the highest quality separate hospital between Washington, DC and New Orleans.
In short, this building, which still stands today, housed many of the “firsts” in Raleigh’s black history.
The Lightner Arcade and Hotel – Cultural hub for Raleigh’s Black Community
During its heyday in the roaring 1920s, the Lightner Arcade and Hotel was the cultural hub in this secluded part of Raleigh. It was built by Calvin Lightner in 1921 and, according to the mural, was “one of the few places for black travelers of that time”.
“It served as the main social hub of Raleigh’s Black Community,” says the mural.
The multi-purpose building also housed medical practices, lawyers, a pharmacy, a barber shop and the Karolinische Zeitung. It was known for holding music and dancing.
Unfortunately, the magnificent brick building burned down in 1970. Today nothing is left of this popular cultural center – however, the area still serves as a hub for travel and is home to the GoRaleigh station.
Hamlin Drug Store – Raleigh’s oldest drug store
The Hamlin Drug Store has served downtown Raleigh for over a century. It is the oldest Black-owned pharmacy in the state.
It was opened by James Hamlin as the People’s Drug Store in 1904. Three years later he changed the name to its modern incarnation.
In 1921, Hamlin moved it to the newly built Lightner Arcade, just a few doors down. They later moved to a building next to the arcade.
The store survived the “mass exodus” of downtown shops in the 1960s when many people stopped coming downtown to shop and instead opted for malls and malls. It celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago – but like many other stores that were once part of thriving Black Main Street, it has sadly closed its doors for good.
The next time you stroll down Hargett Street, be sure to check out the public art project that shows the rich history of Raleigh’s Black Main Street.
WRAL’s Hidden Historian explores Black Main Street live
Would you like to see for yourself? WRAL’s Hidden Historian takes us on a livestream tour of Black Main Street and the new murals.