The racially integrated working-class neighborhood known as the Hump, named for the high ground at its northern boundary, once spanned three blocks, centering on the 800 block of Montgomery Street. The Hump was first settled in the decade following the Civil War. After the nearby Alexandria Canal was abandoned in 1886 and the railroad tracks along Henry and Fayette streets were closed in the early 20th century, inexpensive housing in this marginal area attracted European immigrants and African Americans, descendents of free and enslaved black Alexandrians, including the thousands of African Americans that refuge in the city during the Civil War. Many residents were employed by the railroad, at Portner's Brewery, and a several local glassworks. Notable among the Neighborhood occupants in the early 1900s were African American educator John F. Parker and Reverent Robert Robinson.
"It was so cold that you could go to bed and see the moon shining (through the walls). The snow'd come through them cracks on your feet...Ice'd freeze on the washstand...It'd freeze in your bedroom...We had to go to a pump to get water to wash with. The pump was right in the street on just 'bout every corner—great big old wooden pump." —Henry Johnson, a neighborhood resident in the early 1900s, from oral history recordings owned by the Alexandria Library.
Considered one of Alexandria's several historic African American neighborhoods, the Hump appears to have remained ethnically diverse and was characterized by wide open spaces that were utilized for agriculture, public refuse disposal, and social life. In the 1950s many of the homes and small businesses in the neighborhood were razed as part of urban renewal.
"We're talking about 1915...We played baseball because there were plenty of open spaces. We could build a baseball diamond any place. We played marbles in the street. Played spin tops in the street...there was open lots for blocks and blocks. No houses whatever." —Buster Williams, a neighborhood resident in the early 1900s, from oral history recordings owned by the Office of Historic Alexandria.
Vacant lots on these blocks were used in the 1940s and possible earlier by the African American-owned and -operated traveling tent variety show, Silas Green from New Orleans, which toured th South by rail between 1904 and 1957.
Part revue, part musical comedy, part minstrel show, Silas Green became one of the longest-lasting tent shows in American show business history an featured well known performers, including Bessie Smith, the legendary blues singer. It was enormously popular among both black and white audiences and offered a segregated seating arrangement with a section reserved for whites only.
"... there used to be a Silas Green show and that was a very entertaining show under a tent. They would come to town with a tent and they would have entertainment. We never paid, we just kind of looked under the tent and watched...." —James E. Henson, Sr., a neighborhood resident in the mid-20th century, from oral history recordings owned by the Office of Historic Alexandria.