The Harlem of the South, Black Wall Street, the birthplace of Black capitalism—these are just some of the monikers of Richmond, Virginia’s Jackson Ward. The downtown neighborhood was the place for African Americans to settle and establish roots in the late 1800s. It was also the place for economic independence and freedom (including six Black-owned banks), as well as entertainment, attracting names like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. While the neighborhood experienced struggles in the 1940s and 50s, it’s now a downtown destination that appreciates its strong legacy, all while embracing the present and an exciting future.
Things to See and Do in Jackson Ward
There's plenty to experience when you pay a visit to this part of Richmond. Below are the top attractions and activities to consider for your trip.
Visit the Maggie L. Walker Museum: Maggie L. Walker might not be a household name for everyone, but she’s a well-known Richmonder. Walker chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903, making her the first Black woman in the U.S. to charter a bank. Today, the home she spent 30 years of her life in is now a national historic landmark and the location for 30-minute tours. Walker also has a 10-foot bronze statue at Broad and Adams Streets that’s surrounded by inscriptions of the work she’s done, from her Civil Rights activism to her publishing days.
Spend Time at the Black History Museum: The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia has been in Jackson Ward since 1991, and in 2016 the location moved to the Lehigh Street Armory, that dates back to 1894 (it gave Black soldiers their own armory). Children can experience interactive features and exhibits on the lower level, including a racing game that highlights the achievements of Nascar trailblazer Wendell Scott. And it’s hard not to marvel at the statue of tennis legend and Richmond native, Arthur Ashe. The museum uses photos, art, and artifacts to tell the struggles and achievements of African Americans through history.
Tour the Art of Jackson Ward: Richmond is home to more than 100 pieces of street art, and you’ll find a lot of it in Jackson Ward. There are literally murals everywhere you turn. And they range from highlighting local legends like Maggie L. Walker to more contemporary pieces from Hamilton Glass’ Mending Walls, which pairs artists to collaborate on a single piece. Although it’s possible to walk around and take your own self-guided tour, a company like Bike and Brunch also hosts Jackson Ward art tours that begin with a tour of the art and end with a delicious brunch.
See the Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Monument: In 1973, Richmond erected its first statue dedicated to a Black man. And the man being honored was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The entertainer was discovered while waiting tables at the Jefferson Hotel and he famously went on to star in films in the 1930s with Shirley Temple. The aluminum statue is at the intersection of North Adams and Lehigh, where Robinson paid to have a stop light installed so school kids could safely cross the street.
Where to Stay Near Jackson Ward
If Jackson Ward is your main destination in Richmond, stay at one of these hotels near the neighborhood. Or use the area as your base to explore other areas of the city as well.
Quirk Hotel: It doesn’t get any more adorable than a stay at the Quirk Hotel. As soon as you enter the airy, colorful lobby, it’s clear you’re in for a treat. The former department store has everything from a lobby bar to a beautiful rooftop and even an art gallery next door. The rooms aren’t too bad either and the high ceilings are a direct reflection of the space’s past life. The windows are large and the beds are made from salvaged floor joists from the original building. There’s single guest rooms and even bilevel loft suites.
The Jefferson: For a truly regal stay, try the Jefferson Hotel. The doors of the historic hotel opened in 1895. Although the hotel experienced devastating fires and a change of ownership, the 1980s ushered in a rebirth, all while maintaining its original charm. At least 13 U.S. presidents and numerous celebs have called the place home. Maybe it’s the marble staircase in the lobby, the guest rooms with chandeliers, or the up to 1,400-square-foot suites, but the entire property has a vintage charm that’s hard to resist.
Hilton Richmond Downtown: Yet another former department store turned hotel is the Hilton downtown on East Broad Street. Although the space features original marble floors, this hotel also has tons of modern amenities, including an indoor pool, fitness center, and access to meeting areas. The guest rooms range from standard to executive suites with ample sitting room and can accommodate four guests. There’s no shortage of restaurants in Jackson Ward, but the hotel also conveniently has La Grotta, serving up Italian dishes, or Thirst and Fifth for cocktails and bar bites.
Where to Eat in Jackson Ward
Jackson Ward is home to a growing food scene, featuring Southern comfort food, fusion cuisine, and more.
Urban Hang Suite: Urban Hang Suite isn’t just a coffee shop, but it describes itself as a social cafe. This is the place to grab a drink, a bite to eat, and just hang for a few. Breakfast sandwiches are sold all day, and you can’t go wrong with the chicken panini. And that drink doesn’t have to be limited to a soft beverage; the spot also sells beer and has a curated selection of vino from RichWine.
Southern Kitchen: You’ll want to come here hungry because the portion sizes at Southern Kitchen are no joke. The menu ranges from po boys and catfish and turkey wings to half- and full-sized portions of hearty salads. The sides are the usual southern faves like collard greens, yams, black eyed peas, and the most perfectly seasoned and breaded fried okra.
Mama J’s: Mama J’s has been a Jackson Ward staple since 2009 and since then, they’ve served up some of the best soul food in the 804. The family run business has received tons of accolades (including a James Beard nomination), and the food backs up the praise. The entrees include fried chicken, ribs, catfish, and more. The only problem is choosing between the equally long list of sides to accompany your entree. While waiting for a table, you can always head to the bar and get one of the signature drinks. There’s Cousin’s Red Berry Koolaid (Ciroc, grenadine, sweet and sour) or go for Mama’s Pink Lemonade (Smirnoff, Triple Sec, and lemonade).
Soul Taco: Soul Taco has two locations, but the Jackson Ward location is on North 2nd Street or The Deuce, a major hub for Black entertainment back in the day. The restaurant combines southern and Latin flavors to bring you unique varieties like country fried carne asada, chicken tinga jambalaya, or hush puppy nachos. The dining room is just as colorful as the menu.