I know you have heard the old expression, “Money talks.” Well, the city of High Point had an epiphany regarding slums and blight when it discovered a cash cow called the Urban Redevelopment Authority Act.
Wikipedia defines urban renewal as “a controversial U.S. program of land re-development in areas of high-density urban land use.”
James Baldwin gave it the name, “Negro Removal.” I called it the “Re-deployment of black folks.” City government called it “free money.”
In 1961, the city established the Redevelopment Commission of High Point. This commission and High Point’s city planners initiated a study known as “Study Areas.” The purpose was to ascertain whether two black communities were eligible for urban renewal.
According to an August 1961 article in the local newspaper, the 519-acre “Study Areas” consisted of “The Leonard Street Study Area” and the “Gordy Street Study Area.”
Now this is what makes my blood boil: Rather than dealing with relevant facts that addressed the need to revitalize the aging and decaying parts of the black communities, the first survey dealt with things such as the percentage of convicted felons and venereal disease in High Point.
Since the incorporation of High Point, folk have included crime and venereal disease in studies — not as a tool for change, but as a means of stereotyping black residents.
Some time later, the city planning office decided to add data from the 1960 census report, which was much more relevant.
This census reported that “In both areas, dwellings were owned by occupants in only 30 percent of the cases.” In the Leonard Street area, 70 percent of the residents were black families, and in the Gordy Street area, it was 72 percent.
In the Leonard Street area, 57 percent of the houses were substandard, and for Gordy Street it was an unbelievable 80 percent. Using the 1949 City Directory, I counted 1,642 blacks living in a home or some type of apartment. Of those 1,642, only 447, or 27 percent, were living in a home they owned or someone in the family owned. During an 11-year span, black home ownership has risen only 3 percent.
Whenever you have 70 percent rentals anywhere, you have a community on a fast track for failure, or should I say on the way to becoming a slum?
These figures alone should indicate black folks in High Point have had an uphill struggle jumping over hurdle after hurdle to survive the evils of segregation. When will it end?
On Dec. 10, 1962, the City Council adopted several resolutions instrumental in implementing an urban renewal plan in High Point. One was an anti-discrimination policy and agreed to acquire irregular parcels for project No. N.C. R-23.
The original document had plenty of “whereas” and “resolve” but I want to share just two that explain all the legal jargon:
1. Whereas, pursuant to said Urban Renewal Plan, the Redevelopment Commission of High Point has submitted to the Housing and Home Finance Agency, Urban Renewal Administration, an application for financial assistance under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949, as amended, for the purpose of placing said Urban Renewal Plan into execution.
2. Therefore, be it resolved by City Council of the City of High Point as follows:
The City of High Point agrees to acquire at fair value from the Redevelopment Commission of High Point any and all irregular parcels of land remaining in the ownership of the Redevelopment Commission of High Point as a result of developing or realigning any public streets within the said project area, and the Mayor and City Clerk of the City of High Point are hereby authorized to execute for and in behalf of the City of High Point an amendment to the Cooperation Agreement heretofore entered into by and between the Redevelopment Commission of High Point embodying the foregoing agreement on the part of the City of High Point to acquire the said tract of land.
When urban renewal and the Redevelopment Commission became part of High Point’s vernacular, I was in Charlotte, attending Johnson C. Smith University. If I had been living in High Point at the time, I think the idea of overhauling parts of my community would have impressed me.
But when I graduated in 1963, moved to Washington and returned home to visit, I saw changes that didn’t seem right. Yes, I have written about the need to eradicate poverty and despair, but I never expected “progress” to come at such a high cost.
A sense of neighborhood was replaced with promises of a better tomorrow. This massive uprooting and displacement of black folk was nothing more than redeployment, and we fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Of course, those who found employment with these agencies would disagree with me.
Urban renewal increased a city’s power of eminent domain, allowing it to seize property for slum clearance and prevention.
The increased power also introduced “write-down,” which permitted the city to convey such property to private developers at its greatly reduced “use” value.
Rules such as these allowed hundreds of black families to be uprooted, homes demolished, and streets covered over and realigned.
My people were so desperate to rid our community of blight that we never looked at the negative impact urban renewal would have on our community for years to come.
Hasn’t it been this way since someone first coined the phrase “core community?”
One only has to look at the percentage of homeownership on the Southside —less than 20 percent in 2008 — to realize that our black communities have always been nothing more than pawns in a game that those with the power always win. Checkmate!
Glenn Chavis researches and writes about High Point’s black history. Contact him at Storytime40@aol.com