Monday, December 8, 2008

Cal Johnson Building

This is the Cal Johnson building on State Street downtown. It looks pretty sad with boarded up doors and raggedy broken windows, but underneath all that neglect is a vital part of Knoxville's history. The structure, originally a clothing factory, was built in the 1880s by Cal Johnson, a former slave who became a successful businessman. In fact, he was Knoxville's first millionaire of African American descent. And a million dollars had a lot more value in the 1880s than it does today.
Cal Johnson made his fortune through owning several saloons, a racetrack, and real estate. He also served as a city alderman and donated property in 1906 for the city's first black YMCA. This building is a part of his legacy to Knoxville, a physical reminder of the many contributions made to this city by the African American community. It's a shame to let it crumble.

4 comments:

Leedra said...

You sure must study Knoxville's history. I knew the Cal Johnson in relation to Knoxville, but did not even know he was African Amercian.

Hope said...

Wow! This post is so very interesting! I've lived in Knoxville all my life and have never heard this history. Thanks for keeping all of us informed!

babooshka said...

It's scandalous to let such a place die. He sounded like quite a bloke.

Jim said...

Hopefully the buildings strucure is in good shape and some day it can be restored.