Editor’s note: Mark-Anthony Middleton submitted this op-ed in response to yesterday’s story in The News & Observer, in which a GoTriangle report accused Duke University of not operating in good faith in light rail negotiations. 

I have heard about the transformative nature of light rail and of the potential corrective effects it can have on the historical deliberate and systematic destruction of black wealth in Durham.

I have heard about the jobs that light rail will create and attract.

I have heard about the vast amounts of money that have already been sunk into this project.

I have heard about on-going good faith negotiations with Duke University.

I have heard and read allegations of Duke moving the goal post each time one of their concerns was addressed in a substantive way.

Finally, I have heard that time is running out.

In light of all of this, what I find strange is what I have not heard. Why hasn’t the specter of using eminent domain to obtain the land needed from Duke been publicly raised? If light rail is truly all it is billed to be, then how can we allow it not to happen? How can the very economic trajectory of our region be determined by one wealthy, private landowner? Is this consistent with the moniker of being the most progressive city in the South?

Let’s all be clear—the same power that was used to destroy Hayti and to build 147 still exists today and is now purportedly in far more enlightened hands. Any leader (including me) that extols the virtues of light rail should also be vigorously advocating for the use of every tool in the government’s toolbox.

A few weeks ago, I cast an affirmative vote to rezone land in close proximity to an age-specific community for a Rail Maintenance Operations Facility in service to a project that seemed to drip with promise and inevitability. Parcels of the land I voted to rezone were acquired through eminent domain from private landowners.

What makes Duke University so different? The overwhelming public good that light rail portends was so utterly convincing that eminent domain was used to secure the ROMF. Has the case for light rail become less compelling now that Duke rather than the residents of Culp Arbor is on the other side of the table?

I don’t want to hear any more bellyaching from GoTriangle, nor prompting or cajoling from public officials about black folk going hat in hand to Duke begging for our economic future while not boldly and redemptively using the power that made us beggars in the first place. We’ve heard the case; now show us how serious you really are.

Welcome to the unsexy part of the actual work of racial equity.

I respectfully call on my friends and allies in the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Durham CAN, People’s Alliance, North Carolina Central University, Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, and the Durham Housing Authority to use the next press event to not only make the case to those behind the gates in gothic towers, but to also ask those of us entrusted with immense power where our land-grabbing, tunnel-digging resolve has gone?

How dare we look the heirs of Hayti in the face after a decade of raising expectations only to once again dash hopes by mortgaging our city’s future off to a powerful private institution?

Duke has been and will continue to be a beloved partner in Durham’s future. They should not, however, determine our future. If light rail dies, it won’t be because Duke killed it. It will be because Duke was allowed to kill it.

The author is a Durham City Council member. Respond to this op-ed at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

3 replies on “Mark-Anthony Middleton: If Duke Doesn’t Want to Play Ball on Light Rail, Let’s Take the Land By Eminent Domain”

  1. Sorry Mark Anthony, you try taking land, Duke has powerful lawyers. I don’t believe Durham can afford any more lawsuits right now.

  2. Maybe you should educate yourself on these boondoggles all over the country! They are all but useless in most areas, promote crime and never come close paying for itself! Maybe you libs will figure this out but a doubt it since your low IQ is all about socialism!

  3. ” If light rail is truly all it is billed to be, then how can we allow it not to happen? ”

    Light rail would be great, if it connected Durham and Raleigh and RTP and RDU.

    As designed, it basically just serves Duke, UNC, and NCCU, over a winding and slow route.

    Yes, Duke sucks tremendously. But Durham doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We need Raleigh, we need Cary, we need Wake and Orange, we need the state of North Carolina, for this to work.

    For personal reasons I’d love to see eminent domain against Duke, because I can’t stand any of them. But it’s not a smart decision.

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