The street in Salisbury where Angel Pittman tried to start her business is named Celestial Drive.
Her experiences there have been anything but heavenly.
More to the point: Pittman’s life on Celestial Drive has been hell.
In February, Pittman paid off the balance of the $10,000 for the plot of land she had purchased.
This month, Pittman put the land up for sale after someone spray-painted “F—— You N—— B——” on one of the three buses she parked on the property and damaged the other two and after her next-door neighbor acted in a most unneighborly fashion when he told her to “get the fuck out of my front yard” while brandishing a black handgun.
“It looked like a Glock,” Pittman says.
From the time she was a teenager, Pittman had dreamed of transforming an old school bus into a mobile hair salon. She was inspired and encouraged by her dad, who owns a food truck.
When Pittman learned that one of her clients sells old school buses in New York for $1,000 each, she bought three of them. She wanted to repurpose two of the vehicles into tiny houses and transform the third into a hair salon. Land is expensive in Charlotte, where Pittman lives with her parents. So her mom, Darlean Hopes, who is a realtor, found the grassy lot buttressed by a stand of trees for sale on Celestial Drive.
“The grass was pretty high, but it was cut when I purchased it,” Pittman says. “It was a nice little parcel of land.”
Pittman and her parents drove the three buses to the lot. About a week later, in September, Pittman returned to Celestial Drive with her dad, Michael Pittman Jr.
“As soon as dad pulled up in the truck, we saw in big letters the word ‘n——’ on my bus,” Pittman says. “They had wrote ‘b——’ and ‘f—— you’ on the [hood of the bus].”
Pittman says she “immediately started recording” with her phone camera. But she and her dad were hesitant about getting out of the truck, thinking the vandals may have set booby traps in the grass.
The passenger windows had been sprayed black. Someone had knocked the bumpers off the vehicles. The glass door had been smashed on one of the buses. Windows were shattered.
“It’s like they had a party out there and destroyed my buses,” Pittman says.
Her nearly three-minute recording of the destruction went viral, with about 5.1 million views on TikTok and 3.4 million more on Instagram. The snapshot of racial hatred was picked up by the national online news site The Root and even went across the pond, where it was reported in an edition of The Guardian in London.
Pittman’s grandmother later told the INDY that “a lot of people have reached out to [Pittman]” after viewing her video of the racist vandalism of her buses. One of the people who reached out was NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who told her “not to worry” because “they have her back.”
Full disclosure: Pittman’s grandmother is my aunt, Barbara “Coo” Pittman. She and my uncle Michael were sweethearts since ninth grade in the 1960s. They have been married for more than 50 years and reside in Guilford County. My aunt Coo is a sweet, devout, and unfailingly polite woman. She endured Jim Crow; witnessed the beginnings of the civil rights movement while growing up; and was a junior in high school in 1969, when schools in Richmond County integrated, 15 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools.
My aunt Coo has never stopped believing in the American Dream, and when it comes to her granddaughter Angel, she believes in what former First Lady Michelle Obama once said: “Every girl, no matter where she lives, deserves the opportunity to develop the promise inside of her.”
After observing the damage to their buses, Pittman and her dad called 911 and waited for a law enforcement officer to arrive. They got back into their truck and drove slowly down Celestial Drive.
Pittman says she saw for the first time a Confederate flag flying high in the yard of the home in front of her grassy lot.
“I had never seen that before,” she says about the traitorous, deeply racist flag.
Pittman also noticed “three or four statues.” Someone had outfitted the garden gnomes in Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods.
She also saw a “swastika symbol on the trailer” that sat on the left side of her property.
“That was not there before as well,” she says. “When we came before, I didn’t see any of that stuff, and we looked around when we first came here.”
“I was thinking, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” she says. “It was like [her neighbor] had all types of ‘I don’t like Black people’ stuff taped to his whole house.”
It got worse.
Pittman says her armed neighbor whose yard featured the Confederate flag and KKK gnomes stood on his porch and asked, “Can I help you with something?”
Pittman says her dad told the neighbor no and that’s when he replied, “Well, get the fuck out of my yard, and get them fucking buses off my land.”
“That’s when he showed us a gun,” Pittman adds.
Pittman shared videos of the incident that shows her vandalized buses and the gaunt, bearded white man with tattoos on his forearm and a black pistol in his hand.
Pittman says her dad backed the truck up onto their grassy lot and waited for the police. It was about an hour and half later, at 11:53 a.m., when Rowan County sheriff’s deputy C.J. Blackwell arrived at the 1000 block of Celestial Drive, according to an incident report obtained by the INDY.
Blackwell reported that the three 2006 Chevy Express buses were targets of vandalism.
The incident report did not state whether the damage done to the buses was a hate crime. And Blackwell closed his investigation without making an arrest.
Pittman says that after surveying the damage Blackwell said, “Oh! They do this all the time,” and the culprits “didn’t like their new neighbors.”
“They let us know how they feel all the time,” Pittman recalls Blackwell telling her.
Capt. J. McDaniel recently told the INDY that the sheriff’s office had received calls about Pittman’s neighbor prior to her move into the neighborhood, but he says Blackwell told him the Confederate flag and KKK gnomes were at the home months before her arrival.
Not so, says Pittman.
“When we arrived to close [on the sale of the land] there were no signs of hate toward Black people,” she says. “None of the flags, statues, and symbols were there.”
No arrests have been made in the case. An armed, irate neighbor notwithstanding, maybe those racist gnomes did it. And whoever did it will likely disregard the no-trespassing signs the sheriff’s office advised the Pittmans to erect on the property.
Given the rash of shootings by armed, tense, and fearful men across the country, Pittman and her family should feel fortunate.
“We’re looking for a lawyer,” she says.
Still, the racist destruction backfired. Pittman set up a GoFundMe page to remove and repair the buses and so far, thousands of people across the country and abroad have donated nearly $120,000.
The KKK-robed garden gnomes won’t see a dime.
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Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.