The Past: 1968
Around the country, it’s an explosive year. In Charlotte, tension simmers. But the city never erupts, and years of prosperity follow. Here, we recreate the story of 1968 through the eyes of an average Charlottean
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Brooklyn. They called it a slum. In some spots, that was true. Near the Little Sugar Creek bottom, narrow, clapboard houses were packed tightly together as children played in muddy, unpaved streets. Some of the houses had no indoor plumbing.
But farther up Stonewall Street toward Brevard were black-owned shops, a movie theater, and houses for black doctors and lawyers and the preachers of two dozen churches. For James Ross, taking the bus to Brevard Street as a boy in the 1950s was like stepping “out of segregation and into freedom.” But that’s mostly gone now or soon to be gone. Only a handful of houses and the still-segregated Second Ward High School remain, replaced by car dealerships and the Charlottetowne Mall.
Seventy-seven-year-old John Mobley is the neighborhood’s last resident. He refuses to move from the shack on Bell Court he owned for decades until he gets the $2,000 he says it’s worth. “If they paid me, I’d be gone.” Problem is, he doesn’t own it anymore. He fell behind on taxes a few years back. A couple of city police officers bought the land for $1,000, then sold it back to the city’s urban development authority for $5,000. Someone got paid.
The water’s been off for a year. Mobley carries empty cartons to fill up at a church each morning. Even his lawyer says he doesn’t have a case.
Back in the late 1950s, politicians and the newspapers promoted “slum clearance” as a good thing. Brooklyn was too dense. Too old. Too rundown. Too black. For folks like Mobley, it was home. Now the 1,000 or so families and 216 business owners scramble for new places to stay. They fan out to First Ward and Belmont and Biddleville. The whispers start in white neighborhoods on the north and west sides: “They’re coming; sell while you can.” Realtors see dollar signs. They plant black families in vacant houses and wait for their panicked white neighbors to sell at steep discounts. Then they advertise the suburban dream to the same black families and their friends—at a steep markup, of course.
Brooklyn’s demise leaves a bad impression among many. Urban renewal is nothing but black removal, they say. There is hope amid disappointment, though. Charlotte dentist Reginald Hawkins is running for North Carolina governor in the Democratic primary—the first black gubernatorial candidate in the 20th century.