One block from Maurice B. Holland Jr.’s modest 1,500-square-foot frame house, a new development is springing up in the town of Aberdeen. Out his front window, he can see the construction under way on houses that will cost $250,000 to $300,000. Moore County, home to the world-famous Pinehurst golf course and luxury housing, shopping and recreation facilities that have sprung up around it, is an attractive place to live.
But Holland doesn’t live in Aberdeen; his house sits on the other side of the tracks in a neighborhood called Midway. Residents thereabout 70 mostly African-American familiesdon’t have water or sewer service, garbage pickup, street lights or police protection. Some of their roads are paved; others are gravel. As residents of the town’s “extra-territorial jurisdiction,” they are subject to Aberdeen’s planning and zoning rules, but since they’re not residents, they can’t vote in its elections.
“We’re surrounding them, but we’re not included,” Holland says. “We have no input or leverage, so we have to rely on conscience as to what’s right.”
Conscienceand a lot of hard workare beginning to show results in neglected Moore County neighborhoods that have been fighting for basic services for years. When the U.S. Open Golf Tournament came to Pinehurst in June 2005, community activists from Midway, Jackson Hamlet, Waynor Road, Monroe Town and Lost City took advantage of the national limelight, which helped jump-start efforts to secure federal grants and convince local leaders to respond to inequities.
Just prior to the U.S. Open, UNC-Chapel Hill Law School’s Center for Civil Rights and the local group Voices for Justice released a report titled “Racial Exclusion in Moore County,” which documented an astonishing contrast in black and white. Abutting the pristine fairways of the world’s largest golf resort were African-American neighborhoods lacking basic sanitation services, relying on septic systems that frequently failed, flooding their yards with raw sewage. The report explained that Moore County is a particularly stark example of “underbounding,” a form of residential segregation created by the land-use policies and practices of larger, wealthier and predominantly white municipalities that draw their boundaries in such a way as to keep those neighborhoods out. Underbounding is a growing national phenomenon, though particularly prevalent in small Southern towns where African Americans historically settled just outside municipal lines.
Those settlement patterns date back to slavery and the early industrial era. In 1895, Pinehurst was built by the labor of African Americans who weren’t welcome in town. Today, state law has created a Catch-22: Towns and cities can annex only neighborhoods that provide municipal services or have a plan to do so within two years. Those new subdivisions aren’t a problem, since the developer installs water and sewer up front, then adds the cost to the sale price of the houses. But the historically segregated black neighborhoods must fight their way through the system.
UNC’s report and the activists’ efforts were documented in the Independent (“In the shadow of the U.S. Open,” May 4, 2005, www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=24213) and eventually caught the attention of the national press, including The New York Times.
That opened eyes even within Moore County, Holland says.
“There were reporters who’d lived here their whole lives, who had no idea Midway existed.”
Holland is president of the Midway Community Association, which recently became a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
“We’re trying to get communities that have been neglected for 100 years brought up to date, up to code, up to 21st-century standards,” he says.
Since the U.S. Open, activists have been lobbying local governments with modest, but encouraging, success, according to an updated report published in August by the UNC Center for Civil Rights. “Basically, I would say we have a partial victory,” says Anita Earls, director of advocacy at the center. “I would say it’s not over yet, but we have had some important successes.”
Moore County’s board of commissioners was not especially responsive. “These areas, surrounded by municipalities, have comprehensive needs for municipal-level services that county government is neither designed nor legally authorized to provide,” County Manager Steven D. Wyatt wrote in his 2005-06 budget report. So the neighborhoods set their sights on the towns.
Aberdeen secured a $750,000 federal Community Development Block Grant to provide sewer service in Midway.
Town Manager Bill Zell says he expects construction to begin this spring after the Army Corps of Engineers completes a study of the impact on nearby wetlands.
“We’ve made an achievement there,” Holland says. “It gets rid of one of the obstacles to annexation, which is an ultimate goal.”
The kids in Jackson Hamlet call Carol Henry “Nana.” A substitute teacher in the local middle school, she is also president of the Jackson Hamlet Community Action Program. She says life has improved for the 500 residents in Jackson Hamlet since the U.S. Open. “They have been working on the roads some, and we’ve had a little more police patrolling.” Pinehurst is applying for grants to provide sewer service. “We’re really positive about what’s happening,” Henry says.
She’s especially proud of the newly renovated community center. Last year, the building was uninhabitable. “It was in bad shape,” she says. But foundation grants and sweat equity from the residents gave the building an extreme makeoverheat and air, bathroom, refrigerator and stove, tables and chairs, even donated computers.
Not only does this mean a place for community meetings, it means the neighborhood childrenincluding her own grandkidshave someplace to go.
“This year we had something for the children at Halloween, so they wouldn’t have to be outside,” she says.
Midway’s community center is also being renovated.
Earls says the centers are “an example of the ways in which these communities are putting in a lot of hard volunteer work to improve their conditions, as well as trying to get local government to help them.”
“Yeah, I feel we’ve made progress,” Holland agrees. He hopes the community center will keep residents motivated, even as their goals seem abstract or far-off. “If nothing else, the community has learned the value of pulling together. They’ve seen that if they stick together and voice their opinions and be consistent about it, the court of public opinion will work for them.”
Hopefully by the time the U.S. Women’s Open comes to Southern Pines in June 2007, there will be more good news.