Social organizations and activities unified the community and boosted black leaders' influence.The Roanoke Chapter of the NAACP was founded in 1916. Other organizations included the Freemasons, the Association of Colored Railway Trainmen and Locomotive Firemen (and its Ladies Auxiliary), Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, the Magic City Medical Society, and the Magic City Literary and Political Club. Women were also active, forming the Magic City Business Club in 1937, and establishing garden clubs dedicated to improving private properties, civic grounds, and public streets. In addition, there were branches of the YMCA and YWCA on Wells Avenue.
Henry Street was the entertainment hub from 1900 to 1960. A central gathering place was the Strand Theatre, built in 1923 as a cinema and small performance venue. Major black performers of the era, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie and the Harlem Globetrotters, gave their shows in the City's bigger segregated venues (such as the American Legion Auditorium, the Star City Auditorium, and Hotel Roanoke), but were excluded from staying in whites-only lodging. This brought them back to Henry Street hotels. Band members frequently held jam sessions and parties after hours, often with
residents in attendance.
Oscar Micheaux, one of the nation's first African-American film producers and distributors, established a corporate office and the Congo Film Company in the Strand Theatre in the 1920s. He produced at least six films from this location. His 1921 movie, The House Behind the Cedars, featured local actors and scenes in the neighborhood, including a garden party shot in the 400 block of Gilmer Avenue. Unfortunately, no print of the film survives. A marker on Henry Street highlights the Strand Theatre and the work of Oscar Micheaux.
"The Ebony Club had a great deal of entertainment going on during the late 50's and early 60's. During those days there was no air conditioning, just big floor fans to cool the building down. The side doors were also where you could find me and my friends. We had no money to buy a ticket, so we made our way to the side door and watched the show. Sometimes a door man would run us away, but we would always come back. The people inside would be dancing and wiping sweat. You could feel the heat coming through the open door. But no one paid the heat no mind. The music was good, the drinks were great, and the party was live; seemed like they danced all night."David Ramsey, Sr., recalling his memories of the Ebony Club as a child.From The Times and Life on Henry Street