There was one group of African-Americans in Charlottesville who were clearly members of the black middle class. They were known as the Four Hundreds. According to local legend, after emancipation, a group of African-Americans educated themselves and were able to get jobs that paid well. They had enough money to buy land, and each plot cost $400. Thus, the name Four Hundreds.
The Four Hundreds were not a social club that had regular meetings-instead they were certain families who were not only more well-off than the others, but fashioned themselves and were "looked to as leaders" within the African-American community. Members of the Four Hundreds included "teachers, principals, and business owners." Some Four Hundred families included:
A prominent businessman, John West, was born a slave in Charlottesville and freed at the end of the civil war. Using inherited assets and his earnings as a barber, West purchased his first property in 1872. West purchased hundreds of acres of land during his lifetime. As the first to buy costly land he is called the first of the Four Hundreds.
Charles E. Coles owned a construction business which he advertised in the 1934 Charlottesville city directory. Their company was Charlottesville's largest African-American owned construction business. Not only did they build homes, but they were hired by the University of Virginia to make renovations.
J. F. Bell was the owner of J. F. Bell Funeral Home, which is still in existence today. Like Coles, he advertised in the Charlottesville city directory. He was also a frequent advertiser in The Reflector.
As principal of Jefferson School from 1895-1917, Benjamin E. Tonsler exemplified the spirit of the Four Hundreds, as he was truly a leader within Charlottesville's African-American community. Not only was Tonsler a leader in Charlottesville, but he was associated with leadership of African-Americans on the national level, also. He was a personal friend of Booker T. Washington.
Originally trained as a teacher, George P. Inge owned the Inge Grocery Store on Main Street in Charlottesville. He, too, was a political leader, as he was chairman of the Charlottesville Republican party in 1900, and by 1904 became a committeeman. Like other Four Hundreds, his family was involved with Social Clubs, as Gertrude R. Inge was a member of The Lucky Thirteen Club.
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