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Newly discovered photos give us a look into Little Rock's West Ninth Street history

Now, it's known as "Lost" West Ninth Street. It used to be a booming area for the Black community and Black businesses In Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — "West Ninth Street, for over a century, was the heart of the African American community," Key Fletcher with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center said. "I always like to describe it as this big, bustling and vibrant place."

Now, it's known as "Lost" West Ninth Street. It used to be a booming area for the Black community and Black businesses In Little Rock.

It’s described as ‘lost' because the only way to see what it once was, is through pictures.

In the name of urban renewal, people were forced out of their homes and moved into other parts of the city because of I-630 construction.

Today, exhibits both online and in-person help remember Ninth Street's cultural significance and now newly discovered photos give us a look into its history.

"Often when people think about Ninth Street, they think of the businesses that were there," Brian Robertson with the Central Arkansas Library System said.

But Little Rock's West Ninth Street was so much more.

"People often called it a mini Harlem or a mini metropolis,” Fletcher said. "Anything you needed for the African American community, if you were here at that time, Ninth Street is definitely where you wanted to be.”

A hub for Black culture and Black success, Key Fletcher with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center said the wealth that existed on Ninth Street was overwhelming.

"Millions of dollars of wealth existed right here on Ninth Street and I don't think that some people know or realize," Fletcher said.

So, with all this success, what happened to this thriving hotspot?

A cluster of things had an impact — creation of big box stores, desegregation and the placement of I-630.

"Development of I-630 was not change that the African American community wanted, nor was it change that they needed,” Fletcher said. 

Businesses that had been there for decades ceased to exist.

"Definitely a loss for Black culture and the city as a whole because it was such a vibrant community," Robertson said.

That vibrant community created history since the end of the civil war, history that now is only told through memories.

"People come in and say ‘Oh yeah we remember the diplomat, but honey we called it the dip back in the day,’” Fletcher explained.

Now pictures, dozens recently found by Brian Robertson with the Central Arkansas Library System — they were right under his nose this whole time.

"I just happened to pull the box out one day and started looking through it and was like wow these are amazing,” Robertson said.

Robertson said he knew this new look at history needed to be shared.

"At that point I decided to have them digitized and came up with the idea to create the exhibit,” Robertson explained.

The exhibit uses Google Earth to look through the photos that show what was once Ninth Street. You'll see kids playing, all of the homes and the businesses. You're able to see the spirit of this cultural epicenter.

Another exhibit lives at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, you can walk through this one. 

Fletcher said her hopes from either of them are that people learn about the lost jewel and maybe developers work to bring something like Lost West Ninth Street back to the capital city.

"It’s historic because the history lives and one day, we hope that history can be revived,” Fletcher said.

   

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