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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Urban renewal in Charlotte, North Carolina

Wright again addresses some of the various ways in which race had affected local political developments in Charlotte from the late 1950s into the early 1970s. Again noting the impetus for desegregation of local business, Wright shifts to a discussion of urban renewal.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
I think that from the beginning of desegregation, really, going back to some of the leadership in the Chamber, some of the leadership in some of the larger churches in Myers Park, other groups of that sort…businessmen who even at that time could see at that point, too, an advantage beyond the city limits of Charlotte. The real impetus, for example, in the desegregation of the public accommodations in Charlotte during the summer of the riots in the streets of Birmingham, and the real reaction inside that situation was "we don't want that mark on this town." Among other things, "It is bad for business." You can talk about all the morality you want, but you can't sell suits if guys are marching up and down the streets in front of your store, whatever your problem is. And there was a lot of reaction there. I think it's fair to say that the average well-to-do family in Charlotte has had for a number of years a fairly strong moral streak. There's a lot of church-going in Charlotte and all that sort of business and a lot of people, while not taking all of this seriously every day, they somehow take parts of it to heart. I suspect that there are a number of people now who ten years ago never foresaw such things as busing, only saw a situation in which a "few black children would come to our schools" kind of thing, might be having some second thoughts, but that's another story. But I think that there has been, in local issues, I think there has always been a good bit of what you would find in the normal definition of the liberal point of view, certainly on race. Not withstanding the fact that they have consistently elected a Republican congressman since 1952. You know, voted for a Republican president…
WILLIAM MOYE:
It's sort of strange.
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Yeah. Voted for Governor Holshouser in the last election.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Is it, you reckon, because there is sort of a carry over of that same sort of thing, that it's sort of good for business, I mean, if you consider in education, or if you consider in downtown urban renewal, bonds, something like this, it's good for their business and maybe the blacks see that their jobs in some of this, and maybe some of that orientation doesn't carry over, they don't see quite the same things in state and national elections?
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
I think that's part of it. I think there is a fair amount of realization, for example, on issues like urban renewal, that blacks are able to see, the utlimate outcome would mean more jobs, maybe not the most high paying jobs in town, but more jobs than they are exposed to at the moment.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Having talked a little bit then, about Myers Park and the blacks, and then you mentioned something about North Charlotte and West Charlotte, do they sort of feel left out in a lot of this, I mean, the hospital went sort of to the southeast and it seems that there is something of a coalition between the blacks and the upper class white neighborhoods. Some of the lower class whites…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
More along liberal-conservative lines. The interesting thing about North Charlotte and West Charlotte is that that is where the natural coalition in terms of lack of services and the common demands for improvement of local government ought to be, but those two areas have almost never been able to form an alliance of any consequence I don't know whether it's a function of the inability of the lower income whites to do political business with blacks yet in a town like Charlotte…I guess that's part of it, but they just never do see themselves, it seems to me, as having what to my mind would be the natural alliance. Take the section running from North Tryon Street around through West Charlotte and the black communities, and then on down to Wilkinson Boulevard, West Boulevard, as far down as Clanton Park off York Road, all that there now is fairly solidly black and what is not black is lower income white and then that either black or lower income white characteristic now runs back up South Boulevard and over into some of the peripheral sections of the old Dilworth Community, from which at least a few blocks were taken for the urban renewal section to the high rise housing for the elderly. So, that's a fairly good hunk of the town.
WILLIAM MOYE:
You mentioned this Abbie Pearson and all, the low tax, you said it was in sort of the western part?
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Uh-huh.
WILLIAM MOYE:
But they never have been able to get up with Fred, or Kelly or whoever the black…
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Not really, no.
WILLIAM MOYE:
… the organizations to get together.
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
And Fred has managed publicly, and I don't in any sense accuse him of doing it deviously and all, he managed to identify himself with enough of the basic causes of the white community, urban renewal being one of them, and other kinds of things of that sort, that he would not be benefited politically by doing business with that group.
WILLIAM MOYE:
His constituency then, and the one he really tries to build up, is pretty much entirely the blacks.
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
Plus that Myers Park type.
WILLIAM MOYE:
Just sort of one thing, there are those who see, not necessarily a conspiracy, because it's historically based, but a definite sort of policy in which urban renewal fits into a sort of a "keep the blacks as much as possible across Tryon Street." I'm wondering if you saw anything, through the zoning, or though the placement of the public housing and that sort of thing, to kind of keep the blacks in sort of a restricted residential area?
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
I really don't think that was a conscious result of that situation. I think there were some people who feared it might happen and obviously, a good bit of it did. But I would have to argue that that was simply a function of the overall economics of the community, the availability of housing and income and so on, rather than a design. The real thrust for urban renewal was based on, you know, "tear the shacks down and put up some businesses that will pay taxes." Since then, we've built a Board of Education and an ABC Warehouse and a church and other kinds of things on urban renewal…
WILLIAM MOYE:
Urban renewal didn't extend the tax base.
L. M. WRIGHT, JR.:
But there are some other things that will pay there. But I don't think you could say, I certainly was not aware of a conscious effort to either get blacks out of there because they were blacks or when they got out, to put them someplace else. One result was that the Greir Heights section, which is kind of a little segregated enclave out Randolph Road, increased substantially. If you go and look at the housing there and the few apartments that have been added and all, a lot of that was people moving out of the Brooklyn section. So, that would be one thing that I think would argue against any deliberate effort to keep everybody in one quadrant of the town. The blacks who now live in the Revolution Park area, I think are largely the result of moving out, if not the first time, the second time kind of moving out of Brooklyn.