German Americans saw their status and wealth increase in the early twentieth century and began to move elsewhere in the city. By 1900, only two German grocers remained, located at the intersection of Morris and Felix Streets. As most German immigrants left the Morris Street neighborhoods, new Russian and Chinese immigrants arrived. During the 1910s, more than half of the fifteen laundry shops operated by Chinese immigrants in Charleston were recorded on Morris Street, including the laundry service of Chinese immigrant Charlie Lum (1875-1927) located at 8 Morris Street.
Like other new immigrant populations and African Americans, Asian Americans living in Charleston had few economic opportunities in the competitive and well-established economy. With the Bureau for Emigration recently established, attendees of South Carolina’s agricultural convention debated in 1870 whether or not to encourage Chinese immigrants to move to the state as a reliable labor force to replace formerly enslaved people. One convention attendee’s reference to Chinese immigrants as “another inferior race” highlights an evolving racial and ethnic hierarchy white South Carolinians created and implemented after the Civil War. In communities saturated with German- and Russian-owned groceries and eateries, the Chinese found their niche and professionalized the laundry business, an industry generally comprised of working-class Black women. Chinese-owned laundry businesses, largely operated by men, reached their peak around 1900 with thirty-six Chinese businessmen recorded within the city limits. Unlike Germans, their assimilation was more complex with Chinese men generally being accepted as either white or Black depending on the race of the woman they married.
With the Black population mostly concentrated east of Coming Street in the early-twentieth century, a growing community of Jewish and Eastern European families dominated Morris Street west of Coming Street. From 1900 to 1925, the total population of Jewish immigrants in Charleston doubled and many owned and operated businesses such as clothing, grocery, and furniture stores along or surrounding the King Street commercial strip in the Radcliffeborough, Cannonborough and Elliotborough neighborhoods. This area became known locally as Little Jerusalem. According to Solomon Breibart in an oral interview with the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina in 2004:
By 1920, Greek immigrant Nick Hamassopoulos operated a grocery store at 80 Morris Street where he sold items such as cigars, tobacco, ice cream, and coffee, and he kept two pool tables for use. The Hamassopoulos were of one of several Greek families to settle in the upper part of the peninsula in the years following the construction of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in 1911 at the corner of St. Philip and Fishburne Streets. By the 1930s, Hamassopoulos was joined by fellow Greek merchant Andrew G. Andreatos, who opened a grocery on Morris Street near Felix, as well as James G. Xenakis at 41 Morris Street. Greece-native Zisemos Andreatos also opened the Sunshine Market at 40 Morris Street a few years later. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church building no longer survives as it was demolished for Interstate 26 in the 1960s.
As the business district’s diversity evolved with new waves of immigrants, racism remained a consistent part of its Black residents’ lives. African American servicemen returning from World War I sought jobs and housing in a competitive market where working class whites, including ethnic European whites, pursued the same. In the spring of 1919, amidst heightened social and racial tensions, groups of white mobs began indiscriminately terrorizing and killing Black Americans in dozens of United States cities. On May 10 in Charleston, white Navy servicemen terrorized the city’s Black citizens by rampaging through the city, raiding businesses and physically attacking African Americans who crossed their paths. As a white mob charged along Morris Street, they fired gunshots into a Black-owned shoe repair shop, striking and paralyzing thirteen-year-old apprentice Peter Irving. Unfortunately, the attack on young Irving was not the first or the last time white terrorists invaded Charleston’s Black spaces to violently assert themselves. However, Black Charlestonians did not relinquish places in the city, like the business district, where they demanded to feel safe carrying out their lives—shopping, seeking medical services, gathering to play, gathering to worship. The events of 1919 were terrifying and deadly, but African Americans found space along Morris Street to continue to socialize, participate in the economy, and organize activism to fight against racism they were experiencing.
Beauty parlors and barber shops along Morris Street were not only sites of commerce but also important sites of community and cultural sustainment, particularly for African Americans. In a segregated Jim Crow South, these shops served as private enclaves for sociability and political discourse. As early as 1890, Black citizen Yates Fairchild operated a barbershop at 4 Morris Street. By 1900, two additional shops opened at 3 and 92 Morris Street. Over the next two decades, the business district maintained at least two barber shops at any given time.
Beauty parlors also served as a place to cultivate Black female identity in the early to mid-twentieth century, and they offered Black women one of the few occupations available outside of agricultural, industrial, or domestic labor. Leonora F. Beard, for example, was recorded as a “hair dresser” in 1923, and she was also married to Morris Brown AME Church’s Reverend Jesse E. Beard. Beard and other African American women in Charleston were trained on the Poro System, a nationally known cosmetic school created by Annie Malone. As a Black woman, Malone wanted to provide products and hair and scalp care techniques designed specifically for Black women’s hair. Beard was one of the first to bring the Poro System to Charleston. Shortly thereafter, Ethyl Richard Brown established the Palmetto Beauty Culture School at 155 Coming Street, near Morris Street, to train women working in beauty parlors.
As car transportation and travel took hold in the early and mid-twentieth century, gas stations increasingly occupied busy city street corners. In 1938, the first fueling station was introduced to the Morris Street Business District when Robert F. Morrison, a prominent African American businessman in Charleston, opened M&H Esso Dealers on the southwest corner of Morris and Coming Streets. Morrison’s family owned the property for several generations prior to the station’s opening, and he resided in a two-story single house also on the lot. In the 1940s, the News & Courier reported that the gas station significantly aided in the “challenge for better conditions for the negro population” in the heart of the largest “negro business district” in the city.
By World War II, the demographics of the Morris Street Business District shifted. Most immigrant families moved away from Morris Street and into the city’s exclusively white suburban neighborhoods. As segregation intensified, the number of African American-owned businesses and residents on Morris Street significantly increased, and the well-established business district became more vital than ever for the increasingly isolated but nonetheless resourceful and resilient Black community.