Fact Friday #38 - Eminent Domain and the Government Plaza


Happy Friday everyone!

If you follow politics closely, then you’ve undoubtedly seen the numerous mentions of GOP front runner, Donald Trump’s use of eminent domain to his advnatage in his real estate developments. As a result, I thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight what eminent domain is for those who might be unfamiliar with the concept, and cross reference it with how it was used Charlotte in the 1960s and 70s as the basis of one of the city’s most deliberate and controversial decisions in its history.

Charlotte’s Second Ward neighborhood stretched from South Tryon eastward to South McDowell Street, and was home to the city’s largest and most vibrant African American community. Originally know as Logtown after newly freed slaves flocked to its inexpensive shantytown housing in the late 1860s, Second Ward began to be called Brooklyn in the early 1900s. Named after the more famous Brooklyn in New York, it was the home to a thriving area of businesses, schools, movie theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, and churches, and it also contained the first free black library in the South. Brooklyn was home to a broad specturm of residences, from the poorly drained shanties of the Blue Heaven district to the elegant middle-class homes on South Brevard Street, such as that belonging to medical doctor and U.S. consult to Sierra Leone, John T. Williams.

In this photograph (above) from 1960, Brooklyn’s unpaved streets and frame houses provide a stark contrast to the modern city skyline rising behind them. Visible in the distance is the First National Bank Building on South Tryon Street. 

From 1880 to 1950 Brooklyn was the heart of Charlotte’s African American community, but by the 1930s it had already started its decline. The all-white Charlotte Planning Commission rezoned Brooklyn as an industrial area in 1947, and this shift, combined with the difficulty of obtaining property loans due to racially discriminitive (and now illegal) federal ‘redlining’, discouragd capital investment in the neighborhood, despite its proximity to center city. By the 1960s Brooklyn’s growing impoverishment and its prime location uptown led Charlotte’s Redevelopment Authority to target the Second Ward for its first federal urban renewal project. Between 1960 and 1970, based on eminent domain and mostly federal funds secured from the Federal Urban Renewal Administration via the Housing Act of 1949, most of the community’s businesses, homes, and social institutions were demolished and replaced with Charlotte’s Governmental Plaza and Marshall Park. More than a thousand families and 216 businesses were displaced. Most of the businesses never reopened elsewhere. This urban renewal displacement is the explanation of the high concentration of African Americans in the western and northern sectors of the city to this day. The irony is that Urban Renewal’s orginal stated goal was to improve housing for low-income Americans by tearing down slums with government money, then selling the land to private developers at greatly reduced prices, enabling them to erect affordable new housing. Charlotte leaders had other goals in mind.

The above photo, from the middle of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Courts Building Plaza, gives an idea of how extensively urban renewal has reconfigured uptown streets and buildings. 

Until next week!

Chris. 

Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!

Information taken from:

Charlotte Then and Now, 2013, Brandon Lunsford.

Sorting Out the New South City, 1998, Thomas W. Hanchett.

Additional commentary added.

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass