Essence Magazine published a remarkable article in its September 5, 2023 issue, “Why the Destruction of a Black Neighborhood Matters to Me – And Should Matter to Everyone” by Brandi Kellam.
The story’s author was a student at Christopher Newport University in Virginia and unearthed the painful history behind the Campus’ location. The college in a statement acknowledged that the residents of a well-established neighborhood were displaced by decisions made about the location of the university.
The Black neighborhood was known as the “Shoe Lane area.”
The article states: As debate rages over the reality of historical and present-day discrimination, the Shoe Lane saga illuminates a long-standing aspect of the African American experience: the confiscation and destruction of Black neighborhoods for higher-education facilities in the post-World War II period. A federal program that provided financial incentives for university expansions was responsible for displacing nearly 20,000 families in the U.S. between 1959 and 1966, according to University of Richmond professor Robert Nelson, who has compiled an online database on the topic. While working-class white residents were also dislodged, roughly 40% were Black families, about four times the Black proportion of the U.S. population at the time. Local and state programs expelled thousands more Black families, like the Shoe Lane homeowners, for higher-education programs.
Eminent domain seizures by universities exacerbated the racial gap in homeownership and the widespread loss of Black-owned properties, resulting in “the loss of wealth by African American communities and individual African Americans,” Nelson said. Even those residents who found better housing “still lament the fact that their community and their neighborhood was destroyed.”
“If you wanted to, you could find pretty much any neighborhood blighted,” said James Burling, vice president of legal affairs at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in lawsuits against what it considers government overreach. “There was very little thought about what was going to happen to the people that lived there.”
Across the country, government agencies acquired Black neighborhoods through the use or threat of eminent domain, often for less than market-rate prices. A study y the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, shows that two-thirds of the 1 million people displaced by eminent domain and urban renewal projects between 1949 and 1973 were Black.
Today, only five Black households are left in the Shoe Lane area. One sits between sorority and fraternity houses and a residence hall; the only street access is through a university parking lot. A dorm and a student center occupy land that the Johnsons hoped to develop.
Civil rights leaders posed the question that it was more than coincidental that with hundreds of undeveloped acres in the City, the sites chosen by the City for condemnation are sites owned by Negros.
The prejudicial selection of Black owned properties still occurs throughout the country.