Columbus' near East Side was among a growing number of communities of relatively affluent African-American populations across the northern and Midwestern U.S in the early-to-mid 1900s.

Columbus' near East Side was among a growing number of communities of relatively affluent African-American populations across the northern and Midwestern U.S in the early-to-mid 1900s.

Recognition of a history of cultural and artistic richness in and around what we now call the King-Lincoln District is increasing in present-day Columbus, if still lacking in detail and appreciation.

"People have gotten it, that this area has this heritage," said Jack Marchbanks, Lincoln Theatre Association board member and host of WCBE's "Jazz Sunday." "They often don't know why or exactly how. That's what we hope to do."

The LTA will host "Columbus' Cultural Harlem," part of the association's Community Conversations Series, on Wednesday, March 30. Marchbanks and Dr. Ted McDaniel, professor of African-American music at Ohio State University, will discuss the African-American artistic explosion that crossed genres and helped create a new social and cultural landscape in Columbus in the first half of the 20th century.

"It is not overly grandiose to suggest that this area was Columbus' Harlem at the time of the Harlem Renaissance," Marchbanks said, a cultural boom that was "not just in Harlem, but was happening in stable, relatively well-off black communities across America."

In the early 1900s, blacks were attending and graduating from colleges and universities, and relocating to different parts of the U.S. in search of economic opportunities. In many cases, housing laws created artificial restrictions on where blacks could reside, meaning that most settled in neighborhoods with other African-Americans. Approximately 20,000 African-Americans settled on Columbus' near East Side in the years following World War I, Marchbanks said. The current-day King-Lincoln District is a bit smaller, Marchbanks said, than the larger East Side community at the time, which was bordered by Washington Avenue on the west to Nelson Avenue on the east, and from Main Street on the north to Mount Vernon Avenue.

These communities developed largely self-sustaining, robust economies due to resourceful entrepreneurs. Local businesses included grocers, tailors, optometrists and the like - even a hospital operated by blacks. However, the boom was decidedly provincial.

"A dollar that came into that community between the '20s and the '50s stayed in that community, and changed hands an average of eight times before moving back out," Marchbanks said.

The stable economy meant residents had leisure time and the means to support it.

Long Street, from Washington Avenue to Taylor Avenue, Marchbanks said, was called the "Million-Dollar Block." Clubs, including the Club Regal, Lincoln Lounge, the Pythian Theatre (now the King Arts Complex) and the Ogden Theatre (renamed the Lincoln Theatre around 1939) hosted the top artists of music and vaudeville - names such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Lionel Hampton. Sammy Davis Jr. made his first, unofficial public performance on the Lincoln Theatre stage at age 3.

"[People] couldn't go to white theatres, so what you had was this hotbed of art and music that was within the neighborhood," Marchbanks said.

The Lincoln was an official site of the Theatre Owners Booking Agency, colloquially-known as the "Chitlin' Circuit." The hall's popularity among African-American entertainers was both a consequence of and contributor to the community's ongoing prosperity, Marchbanks said.

Touring artists not only stopped here, but the community became an incubator for local artists as well, many of whom went on to have significant impact and success. These include jazz trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, noted jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and singer Nancy Wilson, who was discovered by jazz great Cannonball Adderley at the 502 Club in the late 1950s. Singer/actress/teacher Anna Bishop, photographer Kojo Kamau and renowned American artist Aminah Robinson also came from this community.

The community's decline in the 1960s, due in part to the construction of Interstate 70 through its heart, continued until recent years, as there has been an influx of new, young residents of many cultures and ethnicities, and attempts at revitalization, including the renovation and reopening of the Lincoln Theatre itself in 2009.

"It still has a significant place in the city's cultural life today," Marchbanks said. "But we still have lots to do."

These Community Conversations programs are designed to foster an understanding and appreciation of the area's history, but also to ignite dialogues about its present and future, as well as the importance of culturally conscious African-American artists. Lincoln Theatre General Manager Suzan Bradford said the initiative is one of six formal programs that contribute to this mission.

"We have a very unique set-up," she said. "We are a presenting theatre for CAPA, and also we offer artist support programs for our local community. Our mission is to be a steward for this landmark but also an incubator for artists in the community,"

There are also seven resident arts organizations that call the Lincoln home, Bradford said.

The March 30 presentation will include videos, live music and reenactments, along with a discussion led by McDaniel and Marchbanks.

"It's important to know our history and also to have a conversation about how we can bring the art and culture back," said Marchbanks, who calls the King-Lincoln District home. "We need to let people know that this area is ready for another Renaissance."