The Douglas Block takes its name from the Douglas Building which is prominently located at the corner of NE Main Street and East Thomas Street. It is the anchor building for the Douglas Block and was the catalyst for the emergence of the Douglas Block as the African American business district during the segregation period. The building was constructed around 1916 and expanded between 1917 and 1922 when two additional bays were added on the north side to the original four bay building. For many years, Dr. Junious Douglas, a pharmacist, operated the Douglas-Armstrong Drug Company in the first bay of the Douglas Building. There were many other businesses and professional services that occupied the first and second floors of the Douglas Building throughout the decades, contributing to the vitality of the Douglas Block commercial district.

Other historically significant buildings figured prominently in the history of the site. These include the Manhattan Theater (c. 1940; 122 E Thomas St.), the Booker T. Theater (c. 1910; 130 E Thomas St.), the Burnette Building (c. 1924; 138-40 E Thomas St.), the Stokes Building (c. 1924; 200-10 E Thomas St.), and the Thorpe Building (c. 1905; 201 E Thomas St.).

During its golden age, the Douglas Block was brimming with economic activities and entrepreneurial spirit. It was the heart of the community. On Saturday afternoon you could find everything from clothes to doctors, food to entertainment, dancing and plenty of jazz, and see all your friends along the way. It was a community full of spirit, diversity, and an incredible hub of commerce, culture and entertainment.

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The Douglas Block Oral History Project is a key part of the City of Rocky Mount’s broader Douglas Block Revitalization Project. This oral history project will capture the history of an area that once was a hub of economic and social activity for the African American community in Rocky Mount and use that history to help stimulate, guide, and promote current efforts to restore and revitalize the Douglas Block.

The City applied for and received a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council to fund the oral history project and now volunteers are collecting oral histories from area residents that recall activities in the Douglas Block from its construction in 1923 to the present. After all the oral histories have been gathered, the Project Scholar will review them and match them with historical pictures of the Douglas Block to produce a slide show presentation with oral history narration.

Information gathered from the oral histories will be included in determining alternative scenarios for future use of the buildings in the Douglas Block.

Interested citizens can help ensure the success of the Douglas Block Oral History Project by providing copies of photographs of the Douglas Block or other Douglas Block memorabilia; volunteering to collect oral histories and participating in public forums.

See the Douglas Block, Then and Now:

Paul Joyner
Rocky Mount-Edgecombe CDC

Merland Wright
Rocky Mount-Edgecombe CDC

Alan Matthews
Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce