William Custalo was a lifelong Richmonder and for many years the proprietor of Custalo House, a well-known bar and restaurant at 702 E. Broad, the same spot where the National stands today. (Sadly, due to disrepair, the Custalo House crumbled to the ground in 1908 “with a rumble and roar that could be heard and felt for blocks around,” according to the Richmond Planet.)
The son of free blacks—Josephus, a blacksmith, and Mary—Custalo married Nancy Bacchus, who is buried alongside him at East End Cemetery; the two had no children. On an 1870 Freedman’s Bank record, his occupation is listed as “cooper,” a maker of barrels, a common 19th-century trade. While serving as an officer in the coopers’ union, Custalo and other prominent members of the Republican Party “steered the interracial Madison Ward Assembly” toward candidate for the House of Representatives William H. Mullen, according to historian Peter Rachleff in Black Labor in Richmond. Custalo‘s early and close associations with men of different races, combined with his other civic activities, may have contributed to his considerable success as a restaurateur.
Custalo was a member of Second Baptist Church and of numerous social orders, including the Masons and the Knights of Pythias, and sat on the board of the Mechanics’ Savings Bank, founded by Planet editor John Mitchell Jr. When he died in 1907, two very different obituaries appeared, one in the Planet and another, notably, in the Times-Dispatch (notable because it was unusual for the white press to acknowledge the humanity of African Americans at all). The differences in content and tone illustrate the parallel narrative set down by the black press over the decades. That narrative often ran counter to white newspaper accounts, presenting the full range of black experience.
- Born: 1840 (approximate)
- Died: 7 September 1907
- Birth Place: Richmond, Virginia
- Death Place: Richmond, Virginia
- Spouse: Nancy (Bacchus) Custalo (m. ca. 1880)
- Parents: Joseph(us) Custalo, Mary A. (Morris) Custalo
- Other Family: Joseph Custalo (brother, m. Sarah Price), Judah Custalo, Ellen Custalo, Robert H. Custalo, Cornelia (Custalo) Williams
- Occupation: Owner of Custalo House, a well-known restaurant and bar
- Church: Second Baptist Church
- Affiliations: Mechanics' Savings Bank (board member), Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Masons
- Address: 729 North Ninth Street
- Documents: Black Labor in Richmond (book by Peter Rachleff); census (1850, 1880, 1900); Freedman's Bank; obituaries; Richmond Planet
- Military Service: