THOMASVILLE— History in Thomasville continues to be framed as the city prepares to make more developments to West Jackson Street.
Before 1970, the area of West Jackson Street referred to as "The Bottom" was a lively area filled with African American businesses and some Greek American and Jewish businesses. The area began to decline in 1970s but now, with the efforts of local businesses and the city of Thomasville, the area is being transformed to a place of memories.
In addition to the 38 business memorial plaques that already fill the 300 block of West Jackson Street, Sherri Cain, public outreach manager for the City of Thomasville, said that there are immediate plans for the commemorative wall located at the corner of West Jackson Street and Stevens Street.
“There are going to be large plaques that will be mounted on the wall and those are actually in production, so we’re really excited about those. We’ve been working on those for several years now," she said. “As soon as the production element is complete, which we’re hoping will be in the next couple of months, those will go up.”
There are also plans to place 40 more business memorial plaques on the 200 block of West Jackson Street.
Jack Hadley, curator and founder of the Jack Hadley Black History Museum, said he got the idea to use plaques to commemorate old businesses from the Black Wall Street plaques in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which commemorate businesses destroyed during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“My takeaway from that is to let the people know that there were powerful Black people in Thomasville that had booming businesses going,” he said. “That piece what we’re doing today makes me feel great because of the idea that we’ll be able to leave that legacy for the next generations.”
The city formed a creative district plan in 2014 to revitalize West Jackson Street by creating a more appealing area for residents to visit with new businesses and the new Ritz Amphitheater.
By 2018, the streetscape was completed, which Cain said improved sidewalks and walkability safety. A trail system is being added to the area but Cain said it’s still under construction.
One of the last things the city hopes to accomplish on the project involves an interactive walking tour and putting story boards in the Ritz that tell more history. Cain said that to successfully accomplish this goal the community has to help as well.
“We are looking for pictures because when we started this project, we realized that we didn’t have a lot," she said. "Our hope is that people will dig in their attics and their closets and see what they can find."
There is still more work to be done on the project, but Cain said revitalizing West Jackson Street was important to the city because it meant preserving history of that area.
“As we were going through the whole street project, we just kept hearing so many stories and good memories of people who had grown up there. We realized that if we didn’t record that history for our community that it was going to be lost,” she said. “It (the project) really turned out to be an awesome collaboration between a lot of business organizations and individuals. Of course, we want it for ourselves, but we want it for future generations as well.”
For more information about the West Jackson Street Project or to submit photos and videos please visit Thomasville.org.