Tearing down Brooklyn, a Black community in Charlotte, has caused generational wealth to be lost

WBTV’s news partners at Axios Charlotte have been able to give us some new perspective.
Back in 1965, WBTV did a special that highlighted a renewal plan designed to ensure Charlotte would grow and prosper.
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 9:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Later this summer, Charlotte City Council will vote on the proposed Unified Development Ordinance.

It lays out the vision for how the city should grow in the years ahead.

Back in 1965, WBTV did a special that highlighted a renewal plan designed to ensure Charlotte would grow and prosper.

Old buildings would come down and new ones would go up.

What the special doesn’t get into is what started about five years earlier.

Related: ‘Brooklyn: Once a City Within a City’ Museum exhibit tells story of historic Charlotte neighborhood

The southeast corner of Center City Charlotte, known as Second Ward, was a Black community named Brooklyn.

Not much fuss was given to the urban renewal that was already well underway there.

Brooklyn in Charlotte back in the 1960s
Brooklyn in Charlotte back in the 1960s(WBTV)

“The Brooklyn community is a bitter discussion, if you will, in our city of Charlotte, it consists of over 1000 homes and over 200 businesses. And it was a city within a city because, during those years, we know that the African Americans did not have the ability to connect with the white sides of town. And so they took that opportunity to create their own system ecosystem if you will, here within our city and it was a very thriving area.”

Quantifying that loss of general wealth is hard. WBTV’s news partners at Axios Charlotte have been able to give us some new perspective.

Greater Bethel AME Church was once in Brooklyn before being forced out. It was given $62,500, plus some interest for its property.

In today’s dollars, that’d be about a half-million.

That sounds like good money, except when you look at what that area is worth today, which is the area of Marshall Park.

The value is almost $32 million.

WBTV met with the reporter, Axios Charlotte’s Danielle Chemtob, who took the deep dive on this topic.

Jamie: Danielle, I appreciate you talking to us. If we went back in time, 60 years, and we’re walking down this area right now, what kinds of things would we be seeing?

Danielle: Yeah, so right up there. There used to be the Brevard Street Library, which was the first library built to serve black people in all of North Carolina. You also would have had a few blocks down. Alexandria funeral home just right down Brevard street up there, of the Mecklenburg investment company building, which of course is still around, but you would have had businesses in their thriving businesses. And in addition to all of those businesses, there were more than a dozen churches. There were 1000s of residents, homeowners and renters.

Jamie: You know, Danielle, we all know sort of in the abstract, right about the generational wealth destruction that happened because of urban renewal. But how hard is it to put a dollar figure on it?

Tearing down Brooklyn, a Black community in Charlotte has caused generational wealth to be lost
Tearing down Brooklyn, a Black community in Charlotte has caused generational wealth to be lost(WBTV)

Danielle: Yeah, it really is impossible to put a full dollar figure on it, because in addition to the property that was lost, which is easy to look at, and relatively easy to look at in terms of historic records, but you have to think social capital is such a big part of what was lost, you have the ability to move up, socioeconomically by looking around you and seeing successful black families. Of course, this was the era of segregation. So certainly there was not the ability to about as much as white families, but within that context, there were people like the Alexander’s JT Williams successful black entrepreneurs.

Jamie: So give me an example of what was paid for the property back then maybe what would it be worth even today?

Danielle: Yes. So the Alexander family was one of the most successful black families at that time, very active in the civil rights movement. They lived just down basically a block or so that way along with Stonewall, now, Brooklyn Village Avenue, and their house, they received $13,000 for it back in the early 60s, now that this whole property and granted they owned a chunk of it, but this whole property is worth almost $200 million. So you can see. And we ran, you know, an inflation calculator on that $30,000 figure, it’s still only 125,000 in today’s dollars.

Jamie: To get federal approval for the Urban Renewal Plan. You had to show that this was us active slumps were these slums back then?

Danielle: No, in fact, it was a mixed-income community. You had people living in shotgun homes and in houses that were rented out. And those did have some issues with being kept up. But that was because they were owned by absentee landlords. But the homeowners who lived in this neighborhood and about half of the neighborhood were homeowners. They kept up their homes.

Jamie: A couple of years ago, Mayor Lyles apologized for urban renewal. Are there some who said that’s not enough?

Danielle: People you know, have different opinions on what that means, is it direct payments? Is it housing for former Brooklyn residents? This issue really emerged over the redevelopment of the Brooklyn Village area that’s actually a little bit further from where we are right now. But a few blocks away. There’s a developer who wants to redevelop the area around Marshall Park and call it Brooklyn village. And that was once part of the course, not the whole neighborhood but part of the neighborhood and they’re saying, you know, let’s have more of the advocates are saying let’s have more affordable housing in this development. Let’s create space for black-owned businesses. Let’s create space specifically for people and their descendants who were displaced.

Related: Exhibit tells legacy of Charlotte’s Brooklyn community

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