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  Many RRHA Communities are rich in Black History


The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is proud to recognize and celebrate the rich history of the communities in which we work and live. RRHA works to celebrate and maintain the legacy of the people and places that made indelible marks in our communities, while advancing and promoting a sense of pride and transformation that will continue to move our neighborhoods forward. Here are a few notable facts of interest and history:

Charles Gilpin (Gilpin Court)

Born in Richmond in 1878, Charles Gilpin grew up at 922 St. Peter Street in Jackson Ward.  The house was later demolished for highway construction.  He was the youngest of 14 children and left school at an early age to become an apprentice at The Richmond Planet newspaper.  He would later travel to New York and Chicago to hone his skills in the theatre.  By 1920 he was in New York and was chosen to play the title role in Eugene O’Neill’s “Emperor Jones.”  Considered to be one of the first African Americans to play a leading role in a white production, Gilpin received national acclaim. He died on May 6, 1930.  In 1941, the City of Richmond’s first low-income housing development, Gilpin Court, was named in his honor.


Admiral Samuel Gravely (Admiral Gravely Boulevard in Fulton)

Virginia Union University alumnus and Richmond native Samuel L. Gravely Jr., achieved several firsts during his Navy career.  His pioneering achievements include being the first African American to command a U.S. warship in modern times and the first African American to command a U.S. fleet.  He also became the first African American to earn the rank of Admiral.  Admiral Gravely died in 2004.



Reverend William Washington Browne

(W.W. Browne House – Jackson Ward)

Reverend Brown was the founder of the United Order of True Reformers.  This benevolent society grew to become one of the largest African American business enterprises in America at the turn of the 20th century.  In March of 1888 the Reformers received a charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia to open a bank.  The Savings Bank of the United Order of True Reformers became the first bank chartered by African Americans in America.  This bank was located in Jackson Ward, once called the Harlem of the South and the Black Wall Street, at 105 W. Jackson Street, the home of Rev. Browne.  The W.W. Browne House has been restored by RRHA and its development partner, Walker Row Partnership Inc. into a single-family house.   The W.W. Browne House was listed as one of the nation’s most endangered National Historic Landmarks.


James H. Blackwell (Blackwell Elementary School & Community)

James Heyward Blackwell was an educator and businessman.  In 1880 he graduated from Richmond Institute (now Virginia Union University) and became a teacher in New Kent County, then returned to the Manchester community in Richmond.  During that time, blacks had successfully lobbied for black teachers in Richmond and the Maury School opened with Blackwell as one of the three black teachers.  He became principal in 1888.  After more than 40 years in public education, Blackwell retired in 1922. During the remaining years of his life he managed the Interstate Colored Teachers Agency and Better Service Bureau employment agencies.  He died in 1931.  In 1951 the Dunbar School became a combined elementary and junior high school.  The following year, the school board renamed it the James H. Blackwell School.  An elementary school only since 1970, the school gave its name to the surrounding neighborhood.  Today the Blackwell community is undergoing revitalization through RRHA’s HOPE VI initiative and Neighborhoods in Bloom, which have brought a new elementary school, new apartments, single-family homes, and a revitalized park.


Garfield F. Childs – (Garfield F. Childs Memorial Fund)

Garfield F. Childs, raised in the neighborhood where Gilpin Court now stands, put himself through school, earning a business degree from Virginia Union University, and became a respected businessman and chairman of the RRHA Board of Commissioners.  Mr. Childs’ focus as commissioner and chairman was to help public housing families socially and economically.  He developed many services and was an inspiration to all.  Mr. Childs was also the founder and president of Union Mutual Savings and Loan Association.  In 1981 the Garfield F. Childs Memorial Fund was established in honor of his contributions to the community and his lifelong efforts to help public housing residents.  The Fund provided educational, cultural and technical development opportunities for RRHA families.


Tucker Cottage

The home of free African Americans before emancipation, the Tucker Cottage dates back to the late 1700s. RRHA and its partner Walker Row Partnership, Inc., have moved the cottage to its permanent location at 70 Chamberlayne Parkway.  It has been restored by Walker Row Partnership, Inc.      


St. Luke Building in Gilpin Court  

This is the former Hall of the Independent Order of St. Luke benevolent society that provided services to African Americans. Built in 1902, this building is located in the 900 block of St. James Street in North Jackson Ward near Gilpin Court.  It also housed, for a short time, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, founded by Maggie L. Walker.

And we note our communities that are experiencing revitalization as a result of the City of Richmond and RRHA’s redevelopment initiatives — The Carver Community, named for the highly recognized and illustrious educator, inventor and agricultural chemist George Washington Carver. This neighborhood is home to churches and schools significant in Richmond’s history.  Today the neighborhood is alive with newly constructed and beautifully restored homes that serve as an impressive gateway to thousands who pass through Richmond on Interstate 95. Jackson Ward, once called the Harlem of the South and the Black Wall Street, is home to the Consolidated Bank & Trust Company, the oldest continually run African American bank in the country, and many other significant firsts for African Americans and the nation.  RRHA’s revitalization efforts have resulted in many stately homes being restored and plans are underway for the construction of single-family homes and apartments for the elderly with the Jackson Commons Redevelopment Project led by Walker Row Partnerships, Inc., and Robin Miller, developer.        


Source: Black America Series – Richmond, Virginia, Elvatrice Parker Belsches. Arcadia Publishing 2002.


About RRHA

RRHA plays a key role in assuring the city of Richmond’s bright future and has been at the forefront of affordable housing community development for more than 70 years. RRHA is the largest housing authority in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  RRHA serves nearly 10,000 residents and manages nearly 4,100 units through its Public Housing Program; and provides subsidized housing assistance to approximately 3,000 families through its Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) Program. RRHA also manages neighborhood redevelopment and conservation programs through the city of Richmond. For more information, visit www.rrha.com

RRHA Community Relations and Marketing Department