Residents at odds over future of neighborhood

by Jordan Green

Some of the elderly residents of the historic Warnersville neighborhood had gathered in front of Greensboro College to voice their displeasure with the college’s plans to develop the property around JC Price School, long an institutional anchor of the African-American community established after the Civil War.

On a practical level, some of the residents find the college students who leapfrog Lee Street to practice sports on the school grounds, which the college purchased from Guilford County Schools, to be a nuisance. “They come up in your yard to get their balls, step up in the flower bed,” said 79-year-old Margaret Pinnix, who purchased her home on Whittington Street in 1969. “They won’t say hello. I’ve had my fence post pulled loose from them jumping over the fence.” Like Otis Hairston Jr., a professional photographer whose late father served as pastor of nearby Shiloh Baptist Church and who has led the neighborhood resistance, Pinnix sees only one solution — for Greensboro College to surrender the property. She suggested that the public school system might buy JC Price School back and reopen it as an alternative program for youngsters from the nearby Hampton Homes public housing community. Pinnix made it clear that her grievance isn’t strictly a matter of the Greensboro College students being a nuisance; there are clearly also cultural dimensions. “If I have to listen to some noise, I’d rather listen to it from some school kids than a football player,” she said. “I’d rather pick up their trash too.” Jean Williams grew up on nearby Florida Street, and remembers when the city installed water and sewer lines. Like Pinnix, she bought her home in Warnersville in 1969. “We’ve been shoved around,” said Williams, who graduates from NC A&T University in December. “We fought to get a piece, and crosses were burned. Now we’re fighting to keep our place, and they’re coming with bulldozers. I’m going to stay until God calls us home, and God will save JC Price School. With the chaotic situation, all the killing and drugging and families being broken apart, all they care about is a sports-plex?” The proposed downtown greenway, which is part of the $134.1 million transportation bond before Greensboro voters in November, also promises to knit Warnersville, which has the feel of a suburban enclave, into the city’s urban core. A map posted online by Action Greensboro shows the planned route cutting through the heart of Greensboro College’s campus and across Freeman Mill Road and West Lee Street before rounding a corner behind the houses of Warnersville residents. Elderly residents mourn the loss of black businesses during the urban renewal period of the 1960s. Forty years later, new changes are afoot: New student housing built this summer near the northwest intersection of Freeman Mill Road promises to bring a more youthful character to the area. The residents had planned to take their protest to JC Price School that evening, but the college’s president asked for a meeting. And so President Craven Williams met with the residents in the fellowship hall at Shiloh Baptist Church instead. Across the hall, church members were holding their own meeting to evaluate their pastor, the Rev. Willis Johnson, a transplant from Indianapolis who has held the job for more than a year. Judging by decibel level alone, the exchange between the Warnersville neighbors and Greensboro College was the less contentious of the two meetings. Johnson, some of whose parishioners live in the Warnersville neighborhood, said opponents of Greensboro College do not represent all the residents. “We need to work together to encourage each other to be good contributors to the community,” he said. “When you look at community development issues, it’s no more fair to challenge the investors than it is the residents. In talking to President Williams, there’s been some effort to build a relationship…. The maximum development of more green space in Greensboro is of benefit to everyone.” Reporters had been prevented from attending the meeting. After about two hours when they were allowed in the conference room, it was evident that Williams had done a lot of listening but offered few concessions. The college president said he hoped he had cleared up some misunderstandings. For example, Greensboro College, with it’s enrollment of about 1,100 students, is a Division 3 school, compared to larger institutions such as UNCG and A&T that fall in the Division 1 category. “They think of college athletics, UNCG, A&T, that kind of crowd,” Williams said. “We’re a Division 3 school. It’s very low-key. It’s the players’ girlfriends and parents attending games.” Williams said the college has made no definite plans for the brick-and-mortar structure that once educated African-American students, or for any new athletics facility to be built on the grounds. He declined to discuss specific options. “There are a lot of things we are considering that would make the community proud and honor the memory of Dr. JC Price,” he said. Opposition to Greensboro College is far from monolithic in Warnersville. “I think it will benefit our community,” said 46-year-old Keva Gant, who moved into the neighborhood at the age of 7. “It will help the pee-wee kids to have a stadium to play in instead of the Warnersville Community Center. Greensboro College has promised us tuition for our kids.” Her neighbor, 43-year-old Angela Harris, estimated that a quarter of the residents were opposed to Greensboro College, a quarter were opposed to the opponents, and half didn’t have a stake in the fight. The two women belong to a neighborhood organization called the Warnersville Historical & Beautification Society that is focusing on reducing crime and revitalizing Shalonda Poole Park, named after a girl who was brutally murdered there in the early 1990s. They view efforts to drive out Greensboro College as a distraction. Pat Cole, 57, grew up in Warnersville andattendedJC Price School. Her family was forced out because of urban renewal.She now lives on Randleman Road. “He heard the people’s cry,” she saidof the Greensboro College president. “It’s never settled untilwe’re happy. This school belongs to us. He’s an outsider.” Lest anyoneget the impression that the residents are neatly divided alonggenerational lines, 51-year-old Linda Waddell said the legacy of JCPrice School doesn’t necessarily have to clash with the future ofGreensboro College. “I matriculated from JC Price School in1969,” she said. “I want to see the building put to use in a differentmanner. I don’t want to see it remain vacant and get knocked down. Igraduated from Greensboro College in 2004. I want to see the JC PriceSchool legacy preserved. The main hall at least should remain standing. Back in the day, games were played on the field. The marchingband was marching up and down the field. It was lively. I don’t see anydifference between that and them playing sports on it now.”

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A proposed downtown greenway rounds a southwest corner near the site of the contended JC Price School. (courtesy of city of Greensboro)