Commercial Districts: The Avenue

August 30, 2011 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a tour of an Eastside commercial district formerly known as "The Avenue": A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.

During it's heyday, this strip was known as "the Avenue."  In the height of Jim Crow-era Jacksonville, the Avenue was a center of commerce for the Eastside's black community.  It was the place to see and be seen.  Things would change in a 1969 event involving a white cigarette salesman and a bullet in a black man's leg.

The 1969 Riot

During the 1960s, two major events negatively impacted businesses along the roadway: Hurricane Dora, in 1964, and the Race Riot of November 1969.  Hurricane Dora was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mile per hour winds that eventually caused $1.5 billion worth of damage to the City. A. Philip Randolph Boulevard suffered damage to buildings, as well as looting of businesses.

The Race Riot of 1969 was sparked by a shooting of an African-American man, Buck Riley by a white truck driver on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.  Buck Riley intended to rob the delivery truck driver when the driver was handed a gun by the storeowner and began shooting.  The thief ran into a group of school children and the truck driver shot into the crowd. This angered many of the residents and began the riots that eventually led to the closing of A. Philip Randolph by Mayor Hans Tanzler and the creation of a 100-member Task Force on Civil Disorder.
Source: East Jax NAP.PDF

Racial tension was building and something was bound to set it off. Turns out it was a white cigarette salesman who said he was told a black man was pilfering his truck.

The salesman ran outside and fired two shots, hitting the black man once in the leg, according to news accounts at the time.

The neighborhood, and people from across the city, fought back. They flipped the salesman's truck, threw rocks through windows and set buildings ablaze.

And it wasn't just white business owners that were targeted. Black owners suffered damage, too.

Johns Furniture Store burned to the ground. Looters smashed the windows of Bill's Clothing and stole from the store. Same for Jax Liquors and a handful of other businesses.

If not for heavy rains, more damage would have been done, fire officials said at the time.

"After you destroyed their business, you had nowhere to go," said Vernon McLendon, 57, who grew up visiting family off the Avenue .

Charges were eventually dropped against the salesman and the accused thief, but the damage was done.

"It broke Florida Avenue down," said James Palamore, 57, just after ordering up a fish sandwich on a recent day at the Avenue Grocery.

Eventually, businesses rebuilt - just not on the Avenue.
Source: Florida Times-Union 9/6/09 ('The Avenue ' RACE RIOTS IN 1969 BEGAN UNRAVELING A VIBRANT CORRIDOR THAT HAD IT ALL)

A. Philip Randolph Boulevard Today

The A. Philip Randolph Boulevard corridor offers a unique opportunity for future infill development.  Today, the corridor's environment consists of a mix of historic buildings, thriving businesses and vacant parcels.

Florida Avenue was renamed A. Philip Randolph Boulevard in 1995.  Randolph was a well known labor organizer and civil rights activist who grew up in the neighborhood in the late 1800s.

A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park was constructed in the 1990s.
This park is named after A. Philip Randolph who grew up in Jacksonville and became one of the most important figures of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Randolph’s efforts eventually led to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which resulted in a meeting with President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A life-size bronze statue of Olympic Gold Medallist and Dallas Cowboy star, Bob Hayes, was added to the park in November 2002. Hayes grew up in Jacksonville, less than a mile from the park. Park amenities include playscapes, an amphitheater, picnic tables, benches and restrooms.

In 2005, the City of Jacksonville opened the Jacksonville Children's Commission's headquarters across the street from A. Philip Randolph Heritage Park.

Although the City of Jacksonville invested $2.7 million in a streetscape project from Bay to First Street, as a part of the Veterans Memorial Arena construction, redevelopment has been slow to return to "the Avenue."

Spot-Rite Cleaners is one of the few remaining businesses along the corridor that date back before the 1969 riot.

Pat Lockett Felder Obelisk.

The Avenue is located just north of the Sports District along Philip Randolph Boulevard in Jacksonville's Eastside.

Article by Ennis Davis.