History of the “Blocks” in Pensacola, Fla.
For the first half of the 20th century, the “Blocks” neighborhood in Pensacola, Fla., was known as the “Harlem of the South,” a thriving district west of the city’s downtown at Belmont and Devilliers Streets.
The cultural and economic heart of the African-American community, the neighborhood was lined with businesses, entertainment hubs, civic organizations and residences. Live music venues attracted national entertainers playing on what was then called the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” while businesses of all sorts thrived. Churches and social clubs helped stitch the neighborhood’s enduring fabric.
Today, that energy is recaptured in a two-day arts and culture festival known as Back on the Blocks, scheduled this year for Nov. 4-5 and timed with Pensacola’s Foo Foo Festival. Back on the Blocks celebrates the Blocks’ revival, features live music, art, literary talks, food and more.
The Blocks’ compelling history dates back to Reconstruction, when the neighborhood attracted racially diverse individuals looking for a place to start fresh. In the early 20th century, when Jim Crow laws were passed in Florida, black-owned businesses in downtown Pensacola also moved to the Blocks.
Over the following decades, the area thrived with black entrepreneurs opening a myriad of enterprises. One of the most popular destinations, the Savoy, was a music venue where locals jitterbugged until the wee hours.
The Escambia Furniture Store was a must for outfitting your home, and the famed Joe Morris & Son Funeral Home – which still operates today on N. Devilliers Street – was an anchor for families facing personal loss.
After desegregation and until the turn of the 21st century, the Blocks experienced decline and disinvestment. Many residents moved out, and crime and blight moved in. But a new effort to revive the district has occurred, with enthusiastic business owners and investors helping to restore the neighborhood’s soul. Look for colorful murals painted by African American artist Carter J. Gaston, sample some barbecue from the Blue Dot, and soak in live music and classic soul food at the Five Sisters Blues Cafe.
This Foo Foo Fest, celebrate the “Blocks” with the Back on the Blocks Festival. Click here for more!