In the late morning sun, Sesha Joi Moon looked at the reveal of the thick “JXN Ward” letters spray-painted on the concrete sidewalk and grinned.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” she said.
“Unveiling the Vanguard,” which began Saturday morning, pays homage to 15 notable residents of Jackson Ward who left an undeniable mark on the neighborhood and community, honoring them with their names on street signs as designations to their impact.
The JXN Project, created by sisters Sesha and Enjoli Moon, “endeavors to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Jackson Ward by properly contextualizing the origin story of the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood,” reads the project’s website.
The goal is to “excavate, elevate, and educate on the hidden histories of Jackson Ward as the ‘Birthplace of Black Entrepreneurship,’ an often under-told and overlooked story when discussing the local origins of Black excellence and enterprise in the national narrative.”
Saturday marked the latest in the project’s push to unveil the under-told story of a Black neighborhood that once prospered — and could do so again.
Nicknamed the “Harlem of the South” because of its strong African American heritage and culture, Jackson Ward in the early 20th century created a self-sustaining economy that made the area famous as the “Black Wall Street,” alive with restaurants, theaters and clubs.
“It’s long overdue,” said Katrina Entzminger, a born-and-raised Richmonder whose father did the accounting for the block’s small Black businesses and whose family is connected to Maggie L. Walker, the first Black woman to charter a bank and serve as president.
Entzminger was one of multiple Department of Public Works employees who spent Saturday morning rattling the spray-paint cans and lining the trail with the JXN Ward stencils that would help community members take a self-guided tour — either in a car, bike or on foot — of the honorary street signs through Jackson Ward, starting Oct. 2.
The route starts at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia at 122 W. Leigh St. and ends at the Maggie L. Walker Plaza at North Adams and Broad streets.
Dating to 1871, Jackson Ward was initially designed as a political district meant to keep Black people from obtaining power. The construction of Interstate 95 added to the demise and displaced roughly 7,000 Black residents.
The ongoing pandemic and recent rise in COVID-19 cases — a surge driven by the hyper-transmissible delta variant — caused what was meant to be an in-person celebration to go virtual. Many of the descendants who would have attended are older and at higher risk of contracting the virus, Sesha Moon said.
“We’ll try to do a proper unveiling next year,” she said.
But for now, a video on Oct. 2 capturing the “JXN Ward” letters and the signposts dedicated to Richmond’s Black revolutionaries would be enough.
In an interview, Enjoli Moon emphasized that the virtual setting doesn’t remove the importance of how these stories are an access point to history. Information. Knowledge.
“Jackson Ward isn’t the only Jackson Ward. There are communities all throughout the city, this state, this country that have submerged origin stories. That have submerged narratives,” Enjoli Moon said. “We hope that people understand that they, too, can do it.”
“The fact that people may not know much about that history is the exact reason why the project is necessary,” she said. “We don’t step into this space as experts. We want to just make sure that we are opening the door for more and more people to get a better understanding of Jackson Ward. ... This is a Black American story that we’re telling. That Jackson Ward is telling.”
email@example.com (804) 649-6103