A tale of two cities

Lindsay Sainlar

At the corner of University Boulevard and Big Red Way there sits a sign.

Cars playing top 40 hits at near-deafening decibels are whizzing by on paved roads while students wait at the crosswalk to walk to their cars.

Years ago at that same spot there was a large hill with a gravel road leading to a historical African-American community called Jonesville. There were fruit trees and farm animals everywhere intermixed with elementary schools, churches and groceries.

With the expansion of Western, Jonesville became nothing but a memory and a historical landmark sign that sits on the outskirts of the baseball stadium to those who knew it .

At one time, the land that sits beneath Diddle Arena and Smith Stadium was home to Bowling Green resident Lavinia Gatewood. She speaks fondly of the neighborhood that stretched from the top of the Hill near Cherry Hall down to the overpass on Russellville Road where a red banner now reads “The Spirit Makes the Master.”

“It was very, very sweet,” Gatewood said. “Every now and then I still dream about Jonesville.”

She dreams of the two-story house she grew up in on her grandmother’s four acre farm raising chickens and turkeys, surrounded by gardens and farms and neighbors that didn’t steal and got along.

“We lived in the good old days,” she said. “Everyone knew each other. We were a big family.”

In the 1950s, Bowling Green sought out an urban renewal program, much like they are now with the Downtown Revitalization Project. By 1968 the state had purchased Jonesville and sold it to Western. For many residents of Shake Rag, the last remaining traditional African American community in Bowling Green, the same fate could be their reality.

‘ … It means a lot to us’

When she was 18-years-old, Gatewood left Jonesville and moved next to the hospital on Second Avenue in the Shake Rag district to live with her husband, Bobby. They raised five children, one of whom was the first black Homecoming queen at Western.

With her children now scattered throughout the country, Lavinia Gatewood still lives on Second Street with Bobby, who suffered from a stroke and now has problems talking and walking. Because of that, she said she is glad that she lives so close to The Medical Center.

But that could all change with the proposed project, which aspires to expand The Medical Center, build elderly housing and enhance the downtown appearance.

A couple of years ago real estate agents came to her home and discussed the financial possibilities of acquiring her home, she said. But she hasn’t heard from them since.

However, according to the community development plan describing the strategy, Gatewood’s home is still on the possible acquisition list for properties that may be bought to expand The Medical Center. ?

“This little place isn’t anything, but it means a lot to us. It’s home,” she said. “I’m sitting on prime land, I can walk anywhere.”

Mayor Sandy Jones said that when a government wants to purchase a piece of privately owned land, they must adhere to the Uniform Relocation Act, which states that they must pay the fair market price for the property and pay for any moving expenses involved. But the city has eminent domain to obtain property for public use.

“It’s all a negotiated sale,” she said. “It’s not the government coming in and kicking them out of their homes; we can’t do that.”

She said she sympathizes with anyone whose homes and businesses are in the target development areas and insists that they are moving them to a good, if not better, location. ?

Jim Bullington, city commissioner and real estate agent, said that for now, they only plan to relocate businesses in the downtown district. The goal is to make downtown a residential area.

“The idea is if we can bring people back into downtown, businesses will follow,” Bullington said.

Jones and Bullington both said that a lot of the Shake Rag and downtown areas have deteriorated over the years.

“Most of the houses that are going to be torn down are uninhabitable,” Bullington said.

Jones said by revitalizing the neighborhood, it would give it a sense of purpose and bring back the use of that area.

A different perspective

As he sits smoking Salem cigarettes, philosophy professor Alan Anderson exhales his stories of civil rights marches. He recounts hours of labor researching and analyzing the injustices of African Americans and other minorities that still exist today.

He shares stories of marching next to Martin Luther King Jr. in Albany, Ga. and fasting in jail for a week after being booked on three charges, including disturbing the peace for kneeling before a courthouse and praying for racial equality.

“Luckily, we were arrested and not beaten or worse,” he said.

He helped organize rallies in Chicago and co-wrote a book titled “Confronting the Color Line,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Choice Award for academic book of the year. He spends his time now trying to educate his students about the inequalities that existed and still exist today.

“I can’t teach everyone a three-hour course,” Anderson said about making students aware of issues that plague Bowling Green and other cities nationwide.

For three years he has been hosting a Social Ethics research class, concentrating on housing discrepancies, and what he refers to as the color line in Bowling Green – the separation of minorities from whites.

Through research, Anderson and his students have found that 90 percent of the black, foreign-born and Hispanic populations live on the other side of the tracks, literally. The railroad tracks that virtually run Western’s border divide the community.

He said he wants his students to realize that every city in America is racially divided and becoming more segregated as the years progress.

“No one … is being neglected”

Jones said she thinks Anderson’s opinions are unfounded.

“Everyone who lives in this community lives there by choice,” she said. “No one on that side of town is being neglected.”

Jones said Section-8 vouchers can be used anywhere in the city, and adds that the city has made a commitment to clean up Shake Rag.

Anderson said centralizing the African American population will not only be bad for their success rate, it will be bad for Bowling Green’s economy.

“You see it in cities like Louisville and Nashville,” Anderson said. “As you increase the percentage of poor people in a community, the welfare rates skyrocket. It’s not in the individual, it’s in the community. Pathology takes off and has a mind of its own.”

Typically black neighborhoods are not located near jobs, Anderson said. He said the best thing a person can do for a poor family is to put them in a middle class neighborhood.

“It’s called deconcentrating poverty,” he said. “Getting them out of poverty and into the work force is good for our economy. If you don’t get poor people out it leads to increasing welfare rates, crimes and drug usage and neighborhood deterioration.”

But life goes on

Anderson has studied the work of David Rusk, a sought-out consultant for former Gov. Paul Patton’s Kentucky Smart Growth Task Force on metropolitan development issues. Rusk found that 75 percent of all poor white families live in middle class neighborhoods, while 75 percent of all poor black families live in poverty. Anderson said he is convinced that poor whites have a route out of poverty that blacks do not.

Rusk wrote, “to be poor and black is, in general, to be isolated from mainstream society.”

Anderson rejects the notion that African Americans choose to live together because of their race. He said the big argument is how much is it race and how much is it class, and concluded that when it comes to housing segregation, it is absolutely race and not class.

Bullington said the median income level is lower across the tracks. He said people live there because the housing is less expensive. Anderson said he is convinced that the current population’s understanding of race is wrong.

“Me and my students can do very little, but we can provide statistics for others to change things,” Anderson said. “My goal is less to change things myself, but to encourage development of a city watchdog to keep an eye on the city.” ?

As Gatewood sits in her home, she continues her life as always, but her name still sits on the possible acquisition list of the Downtown Revitalization Project. She gives credit to the Lord for keeping her at Second Street.

“I’m just a person who has lived in this town and I love this town and people love me and I love them. It’s beautiful,” she said. “If you really love the Lord, he’ll be your friend. I take things to him in prayer and he’s made a way for us to stay here.”

Reach Lindsay Sainlar at [email protected]