For millions of Black Americans across the U.S., historically Black neighborhoods have served as a cultural foundation. They were created to serve as safe havens from racism and violence, and blossomed into thriving spaces that helped people build sustainable lives while being Black in America.

Settlers founded many of these towns and neighborhoods between the late 18th century and early 20th century. In these places, residents cultivated customs and traditions that Black Americans still celebrate. They were spaces where they could be their whole, authentic selves and live in peace.

Although history books tend to overlook these communities, the preservation of Black spaces is essential to telling the story of America’s past. Below, find three neighborhoods that embody Black joy, success, and excellence.

Oklahoma was once part of a movement to be an all-Black state, counting more than 50 all-Black towns. Boley, Oklahoma, is one of the 13 that remains today, and is remembered as the largest and most prominent.

The town of Boley was owned by a formerly enslaved woman named Abigail Barnett McCormick. Founded in 1903 and incorporated in 1905, McCormick inherited the land from her father, James Barnett, a Creek Freedman.

Bolely is named after J.B. Boley, a white railroad official with Fort Smith and Western Railway who believed Black people could govern themselves. McCormick invited formerly enslaved people looking for better opportunities to come and settle there.

Black luminaries often visited the town, such as educator and civil rights advocate Booker T. Washington. While there in 1905, he proclaimed Boley to be one “the most enterprising and in many ways the most interesting of the Negro towns in the United States.” 

Residents were self-sufficient by creating their own goods and services without the interference of white people. 

“They used their dollars, economic resources, and whatever skills or talent they had,” explains Marcus Young, the geographic information specialist for Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office. “They aggregated together. They didn’t have to worry about racism, discrimination, and working with no white person to look over their shoulder constantly.”

Recently, residents have started work on a new community garden in the area and continue to host the nation’s oldest African-American community-based rodeo. Boley is still majority Black, and residents are actively working on plans to revitalize the town. 

Tremé — New Orleans, Louisiana

In the heart of Tremé lies a lively history where vibrant music, energy, and culture once filled its streets.

Situated near the French Quarter in New Orleans, Tremé, also known as Faubourg Tremé, is the oldest Black neighborhood in America. Even during slavery, it had the largest community of free Black people in the Deep South. By 1841, Black people owned 80 percent of the land in the neighborhood.

Many historical moments took place in Tremé during the mid to late-1800s, such as the first civil rights movement to fight for desegregation and the launch of the first Black daily newspaper, “The Tribune.” It’s also the home of the country’s oldest predominantly African-American Catholic church, St. Augustine’s Church. Jazz has strong historical roots in the neighborhood, too, since many claim that New Orleans’ Congo Square, located in Tremé, is the birthplace of the musical genre. 

Despite its rich history, the liveliness of Tremé has gradually disappeared. Transportation projects, gentrification, and natural disasters have changed its landscape as a community. The memories and neighborhood’s soul still live on in residents who help keep its cultural identity alive. 

Conant Gardens — Detroit, Michigan

Conant Gardens became highly populated by Black people around the 1920s, due to the success of the automobile industry. Soon after, it became the most affluent Black neighborhood in the city. With a population of over 500 Black people, Conant Gardens had the highest median income of all of Detroit’s Black neighborhoods by 1950, and 60 percent of its residents owned their homes

Orlin Jones, 89, has lived in Conant Gardens all of his life. In his opinion, it was a fantastic place for young Black people. He said it was simply the greatest neighborhood to grow up in during those days.

“It was a community of 14 inner streets and four boundary streets,” Jones explains. “It was just tightly knitted, and we all knew each other.”

A neighborhood storyteller, Jones reminisced about some of the prominent people who once lived in Conant Gardens, like track and field gold medalist Jesse Owens, Malcolm X’s brother, Wesley Little, and Neal Vernon Loving, the first black pilot and the first double-amputee to qualify as a racing pilot. Tuskegee airman Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson is also among other notable people who have ties to the neighborhood.

“The older Black people that helped build this neighborhood, I’ll never forget them,” Jones says. “They were really just kind to me. I was a paper boy in the neighborhood and I delivered two Black newspapers, the ‘Michigan Chronicle’ and the ‘Pittsburgh Courier’ Detroit edition in Conant Gardens and the Sojourner Truth homes.”

The neighborhood’s tight-knit community is likely part of the reason Conant Gardens remains majority Black today.

Boley, Tremé, and Conant Gardens are just a few examples of the prosperous Black communities in the U.S. They were Black utopias that served as symbols of Black pride, happiness, and unity. Despite dealing with societal battles such as economic justice, civil rights, and urban development, these communities gave Black people solace where they could embrace and uplift each other freely. These places should not only be honored during Black History Month, but every day of the year.

Brianna Rhodes

Contributor

Brianna Rhodes is a journalist and entrepreneur who writes on various
topics including Black culture, diversity and inclusion, race, and
social justice. She is also the founder of a creative agency called
Brianna Rhodes Writes.