The ghosts of urban renewal

“Most Forsyth County residents don’t know it,” wrote Journal reporter Annette Fuller in today’s front-page story, “but when they travel Business 40 at U.S. 52 — the county’s busiest intersection by far — they are driving right on top of the old Belews Street neighborhood.”

Before Mr. Eisenhower’s audacious interstate system came to town, Belews Street was a small but thriving black neighborhood. The story that unfolded in Winston-Salem — the razing of a community in the way of modernization and urbanization — is a familiar one that played itself out in black neighborhoods all around the country.

“Urban renewal means Negro removal,” writer James Baldwin famously said.

What was to become Interstate 40 started in 1958 as the Downtown Expressway. It was one of the earliest stretches of I-40 (now Business 40).

The Belews Street families scattered, but they stayed in touch over the years, gathering mostly at funerals. Eventually some of them decided to start an annual reunion, and now they’re lobbying for a historical marker.

Journal photographer David Rolfe spent some time with Barbara Morris, one of the main organizers of the reunion. She showed him the spot from where her grandmother’s house was moved, and she shared some remarkable old photos. David turned them over to me for this little video.