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6 Renowned Black Businesses to Know in Birmingham

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Green Acres is a popular restaurant in the 4th Avenue District in Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo by Mark Almond)
Compiled by Sym Posey

Like Davenport & Harris Funeral Home, a number of Black Birmingham businesses have served residents for decades and are still going strong. Here are a few.

  1. The Birmingham Times

Founded in 1964 by Jesse J. Lewis Sr., The Birmingham Times is a weekly newspaper dedicated to serving the city’s African American community. Lewis’ motivation for starting to paper was to give the local Black community a greater voice during the Civil Rights struggle. Lewis wanted to provide an alternative to the Birmingham News and Birmingham Post-Herald, and even the Birmingham World, which Lewis felt only focused on discrimination and not enough on the positive day to day affairs of the Black community. Today, only the Times has survived. Lewis stated that he wanted the Times to be “committed to covering the fullness and totality of life, not just the controversial and political.

The paper was sold to Lewis’s son James in 1998. In 2016 the paper was sold to The Foundation for Progress in Journalism (FPJ), a non-profit created honoring Lewis, with the aim to promote minorities advancement in journalism. The Times turns 60 years old this year.

  1. Eagle’s Restaurant

Founded in 1951, the family-owned restaurant got its name because the owners, Mr. and Mrs. W.M Owens, wanted their business to soar like an Eagle. The eatery continues to be one of Birmingham’s premier soul food restaurants. Known for its oxtails and neckbones, it also serves more familiar fare like baked chicken and dressing and beef tips and rice. The tradition has always been to offer delicious food at affordable prices and emphasize the sourcing of the highest quality ingredients, meats, and produce available.

In 1974 Owens, whose health was beginning to deteriorate looked to sale the restaurant. Many wanted to buy Eagle’s and change the name, to something representing their family. Good friend Joseph E. Rucker of Birmingham, Alabama understood that Owens wanted the restaurant to keep the name Eagle’s and promised to do so.

While working full time at AMERICAN (Acipco plant) Rucker bought Eagle’s and in 1993, at the age of 60, sold it Delores Banks of Birmingham, mother of his and her youngest son, Ahmad Jamal Rucker. The restaurant has remained true to its roots and offers fresh soul food daily in a relaxed environment, nestled right in the heart of the North Birmingham Acipco community located at 2610 16th Street North Birmingham, AL 35204.

  1. Etheridge Brothers

Founded in 1970, Etheridge Brothers Barber & Style is a family-owned chain of barber shops and beauty salons founded by Willie Etheridge Sr and his brother Joe.

The brothers started cutting each other’s hair as children on a farm in Safford, Dallas County because they didn’t like the way their dad cut it. Willie moved to Birmingham in the 1950s and worked briefly as a timber hauler. He went to get his hair cut at the Jones Valley Barbershop and soon began working there. After Joe joined him in the city they worked together until opening their own shop in 1970. Joe began opening the shop early to accommodate laborers. Two other brothers, John and Theodore also began working as barbers in other shops, later joining the family business. At its peak the chain had 11 locations in Birmingham. The family also owns a carwash and detailing business in downtown Birmingham and a catering company under the same Etheridge Brothers name.

  1. Green Acres Café
Green Acres is a popular restaurant in the 4th Avenue District in Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo by Mark Almond)

Founded in 1946. As one of the largest commercial sectors for Black-owned businesses in Alabama and across the Southeast, Green Acres Café has been a constant in the city’s downtown for more than 60 years.

Originally started in Chicago, Illinois, the iconic eatery is a popular draw in the middle of Birmingham’s Fourth Avenue Historic District, which grew out of the city’s segregationist past and remains a promising part of its future.

In 1958, Charles Gratton took his life savings opened his own location downtown Birmingham, across from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Charles’s café closed for a year in 1962 and relocated several times before 1990, when it landed at its current location on Fourth Avenue North. After decades of success in one location, his father considered investing in a major fast food chain franchise.  But Greg, Charles’ son, understanding the value of history and food that Green acres offered, convinced his father to begin his own franchise.  After doing the research and paperwork himself, Greg opened the first Green Acres franchise in 1994.

Charles Gratton, passed away in 1999. Now Greg Gratton owns the eatery, and it’s just as popular as ever. The place serves hamburgers and fries, catfish sandwiches and plates, pork chop sandwiches and plates, chicken gizzards and chicken livers, fried green tomatoes and fried okra and more.

Most of the customers are there for one thing: “They want chicken wings!” Gratton says. “All the way! That’s ketchup and hot sauce, salt, and pepper.” Specifically, “all the way” will get you wings served on a bed of fries, drizzled with that sweet-spicy sauce and topped with a piece of white bread. Those who know often order the “Managers Special,” which is five wings and fries plus fried green tomatoes for $8.40. This food comes on a cardboard tray in a brown paper bag, and that bag will sport a small grease spot. That’s on purpose; it’s part of the presentation.

  1. JB’s House of Fashion

Founded 1981, located in Birmingham on 3RD Avenue, JB’S House of fashion has served the community for more than 40 years. Today, JB’s House of Fashion is exclusively for men, offering formal, professional, and casual wear. JB’s also sells garments for clergy, and nearly half of the shop is devoted to the store’s extensive line of footwear—JB’s House of Shoes.

Born and raised in South Alabama near York, owner, Ernest James Brown moved north after he finished school. In the 1970s, he worked in the entertainment industry in Ohio, ran a recording studio and booking agency, and worked as a promoter and talent manager. He worked with actors like Jimmie “JJ” Walker, who starred on the “Good Times” television series, and musicians like Isaac Hayes and The Ohio Players. But just as Ohio’s rubber industry began to decline, Brown grew weary of the entertainment business. In the late 1970s, Brown moved to Birmingham and decided to venture into the world of fashion.

  1. Poole Funeral Home

Since 1936, Poole’s Funeral Chapels has provided caring and comfort to families. Founded by James “Jim” Poole and his sons, Ernest and John, Poole Funeral Home began operations in Birmingham in a converted two-story house located at 1113 Seventh Avenue, North. The business continued at this location until May of 1952 when it was relocated four blocks east to its present site. The building, one of the first in the area constructed as a funeral home, was air-conditioned, and boasted twin chapels, each seating approximately two hundred people. This was a marvel in its day. The business was incorporated at the time of relocation as Poole’s Funeral Chapels, Inc. They offered funeral services and an ambulance service as well. They set out to provide funeral and ambulance services not only to families located in Birmingham, but also to underserved outlying areas such as mining camp and farming communities.

It was well known that they provided more than just funerals. They also provided funds and other resources for activities that benefited the community. The Pooles sponsored youth baseball teams, gave people rides to and from doctors’ offices, bought shoes and schoolbooks for needy children, and sponsored gospel programs. In addition, funeral home facilities were used for community meetings, gospel singing group’s practices, community programs, and church services for several local congregations. Young people in the neighborhood were allowed to practice music lessons on the piano and organ.

During the turbulent days of the Civil Rights era, the funeral home, was involved in transporting Black leaders to various destinations, as well as transporting injured protesters and demonstrators to hospitals. It is little known that one of the protesters was mobbed and beaten at the Birmingham Terminal Station in March of 1957. He barely escaped with his life and was hidden in the funeral home while hundreds of angry whites roamed the streets of Birmingham looking for him. After a few days, he was smuggled out of the city on a flight to Washington, D.C. In September, 1963, Poole’s Funeral Chapels conducted the funeral for two of the girls murdered in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Today, the granddaughter of Jim, with Poole family support, continues to keep the dream alive.