Education was a gateway through which African Americans could secure opportunity in a segregated society. It is not surprising then that the two original anchors of Danville's Holbrook-Ross neighborhood were the Danville school, founded in the 1880s as the city's first public school for African Americans, and the Danville Industrial High School (destroyed by fire), established in the 1880s by the Presbyterian Church to provide education for African Americans in the surrounding county.
Residences for African American professional and working class citizens, churches, and businesses followed as Holbrook-Ross became a center for education and for religious and community life during segregation. In the twentieth century, the Westmoreland School complex, consisting of Westmoreland School and Langston High School, grew up on the site of the old Danville School; one former resident estimated that in the 1950s as many as forty-five to fifty African-American teachers lived in the neighborhood, boarding in the houses on Holbrook and Ross streets and the intersecting cross streets.
Like many neighborhoods in the South, Holbrook-Ross was home to a cross-section of classes, from African-American professionals--teachers, ministers, lawyers, postal ckerks, dentists, and physicians--to bricklayers, laborers, and tobacco and textile workers. By the twentieth century, Holbrook-Ross had acquired a reputation as "Danville's foremost black residential address", according to the National Register of Historic Places marker at the neighborhood's entrance. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the cadre of leaders in Holbrook-Ross often represented the black community in negotiations with the white power structure.
During segregation, the large, imposing churches of Holbrook Street--Calvary Baptist Church (1896), Holbrook Street Presbyterian Church (ca. 1910), and Loyal Baptist Church (1924)--provided much more than a place for Sunday worship; there were dozens of church-based societies and organizations for civic, religious, and social purposes. Graduation for Langston High School was held at Loyal Baptist Church for many years, for instance, and one of the NAACP youth groups that met there waged a 1960 challenge to the segregation of the all-white Danville Memorial Library and city parks.
The congregations at these churches are smaller now, schools are integrated, and African-American professionals in Danville often choose to live in the suburbs. But despite the cruel realities of segregation, some older residents of Danville still remember Holbrook-Ross with nostalgia as a place of community and caring, where teachers not only conveyed information about their subjects, but also lessons about life; and where everyone took care of not only raising their own children, but also everyone else's. "Everybody on the street was our mother and father," one resident recalled.
Geographical and Contact Information
200-400 blocks of Holbrook and Ross streets; cross streets of Maury, Roberts, John, Doe, and Gay.