Black Residents in a South Carolina town are renewing their push to throw up a roadblock to the state’s plans to literally pave over their neighborhood.
Officials at the federal and state levels are still moving forward with the planned Conway Perimeter Road, a four-lane throughfare that as currently imagined would demolish at least six homes and bisect the small, majority Black town of Sandridge. That’s despite the South Carolina NAACP filing a complaint with the Federal Highway Administration a years ago arguing that the road will displace several elderly residents. Now, residents are speaking out, and the whole episode is a reminder of the decades of damage done to Black communities via the building of the nation’s interstate highway system.
“I didn’t think I’d ever have to leave that land,” Bobbie Anne Hemingway Jordan told the Guardian this week. “All the memories I’ve got, all the love, the things that happened on that property – they couldn’t pay me enough for that.”
The money she was offered for her three-bedroom home is only enough to purchase a one-bedroom apartment in the nearby community where she moved earlier this year.
“They are destroying everything that was given to us [...] by our parents and for parents, who just wanted to give us a community, to give us a place to call home,” Rev Cedric Blain-Spain, who advocated against building the roadway, told the Guardian. “Our legacy, it means nothing to them.”
In 1965, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act, unleashing a wave of new infrastructure projects. While the highway system crisscrossing the United States is viewed by many as a shining achievement, a quick peek below the gravel reveals a much darker story.
For decades, the United States highway system has been built on the ruins of Black homes and communities. In Montgomery, Alabama, a member of the Ku Klux Klan intentionally routed I-85 through a Black neighborhood that was home to civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, as a form of punishment. And in Miami, I-95 was directed through the once-booming Black neighborhood of Overtown, displacing tens of thousands of residents.
While white suburban communities thrived in the wake of the interstate highway boom, Black communities were left to pick up the pieces. And while all of this might sound like ancient history, the same cycles have continued to repeat themselves.
The Biden administration has made connecting Black neighborhoods destroyed during the 50s and 60s a public part of their infrastructure strategy. But stories like the one out of South Carolina are a stark reminder of how easy it is to go backwards.