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Please note: Guided tours are temporarily on hiatus. 

Save the date: September 13, 2024 2nd Annual Uplift Awards

Photo courtesy: The Tuscaloosa News

Stop 13: Bluefront District 811 23rd Avenue

A cluster of successful black merchants formed the nucleus of a small African­American commercial district near the corner of 23rd Avenue and 7th Street, forming in the years immediately after World War 11. They did so because blacks were denied access to the main commercial centers in Tuscaloosa because of the color of their skin. While most black-owned business were located in black neighborhoods, this area became a small central hub for black clients who lived nearby as well as those who came to Tuscaloosa from other parts of the city and the county on Saturday to shop and socialize. These stores became an important commercial space for blacks during segregation and offered more dignified consumer environment than they typically experienced. In white-owned stores, black customers could buy clothing but couldn’t try it on before­hand; if they did they had to buy it. They could never return an item if it didn’t fit properly or proved defective. If a black was in line at a white-owned store and a white patron was also in line, the white patron would be served first. The Blue Front stood as an important bastion against the constant indignities and unfairness that characterized the experience of shopping during segregation.

It was in the Bluefront District that the Diamond Theatre was opened specifically for the African-American community. Originally built in 1910 for vaudeville shows, the New Diamond Theatre opened in 1946. Dr. Andrew D. McKenzie, an African-American doctor, and Dr. Marshall P. Gilmer, an African-American dentist, had their offices in the Bluefront District, along with the New Deal Restaurant operated by Oscar Fair.

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