Warnersville at odds over college sports park

by Jordan Green

Warnersville at odds over college sports park

The Warnersville Community Coalition unveiled a proposal on Nov. 20 to transform the historic JC Price School, which is owned by Greensboro College, into a “life enrichment and cultural center” that would include a senior center, youth performing and visual arts facilities, a historical museum and a business incubator.

Greensboro College President Craven Williams, who was reached the following day, said he had not seen the proposal and could not comment on it. The press conference at the Warnersville Community Center was attended by community residents, along with Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston, NC A&T University economics professor Larry Morse and others. A photo display showed images of founding members of the community, once-thriving businesses and stately homes that have since been torn down in this neighborhood founded by freed slaves during the Reconstruction era. Opponents of Greensboro College’s plans to develop a sports park in the neighborhood presented a survey of 111 residents, 101 of whom they said did not support the sports park. Roy Moore, a longtime Democratic Party activist, embraced the plan. “This might be the beginning of what the whole country needs to be doing,” he said. “Some of your outstanding universities started in the black community: Columbia University in New York, the University of Chicago, the University of Southern California. What are they doing to raise the standard of living in those communities?” Moore pointed to a yellowed photograph of a two-story clapboard house in the display. “My mother was born in this house,” he said. “My grandparents built this house in 1868. She came here to Greensboro under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church to start education among blacks.” Opponents of the sports park expressed objections to the college’s embrace of a rival community organization, the Warnersville Historical & Beautification Society. Fannie Thompson, who identified herself as a JC Price School alum, said in a prepared statement: “Greensboro College has chosen to listen to the voices of the Warnersville Historical & Beautification Society, whose agenda is the same as theirs. Again, the exploitation of black Americans is trapped in the age-old strategy of pitting one group against the other in order for a designated body to accomplish its goals.” James Griffin, president of the Warnersville Historical & Beautification Society, said the college has made significant compromises with the neighborhood. “The coalition for the last few years has been stating that they don’t want the school torn down, and it’s not going to be torn down,” he said. “They don’t want the football stadium, and they’re not building the football stadium. They’re giving us more, and they don’t have to give us anything.” Site plans unveiled by Greensboro College show a soccer field, softball and baseball fields, indoor tennis courts, multipurpose fields and parking lots curling around Warnersville residences on Tipton Court and Bilbro Street. Griffin said the college has also agreed to establish a museum within the school building, to be renamed the JC Price Lyceum, to commemorate the history of the neighborhood. The college pledges to allow neighborhood children to use the college’s tennis courts and to offer full-ride scholarships to a Warnersville residents. Griffin said he is a member of an advisory committee set up by the college to help guide its development of the property. He declined to name other members, as did President Williams. “This would be up to them to self-identify,” he said. “When we put it together I said, ‘I will not be announcing who is a member of the committee.’”

Otis Hairston Jr., a leader of the Warnersville Community Coalition and a professional photographer, said the differences between the two organizations “might be a generational issue that younger people don’t appreciate our history.” He went on to allege in the press conference that “the person who’s president of that organization does not live in Warnersville, and does not even live in the city of Greensboro.” Guilford County property records list Griffin, who is president of the Warnersville Historical & Beautification Society, as the owner and occupant of a house on Doak Street in the Warnersville neighborhood. “I have several houses,” Griffin said in response to the charge. “Sometimes I stay in Warnersville and sometimes I stay in Mebane. It just depends on how I feel on that particular day.” Both Griffin and Hairston have deep family roots in the neighborhood.

Hairston’s father, the Rev. Otis Hairston Sr., was a longtime pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church on South Eugene Street. “My mother was director of the community center for thirty years,” Griffin said. “My family has been in Warnersville since the late 1800s continuously. My grandfather used to own most of Doak Street. When redevelopment came, my grandfather sold most of his property and moved down the street to just two lots. The baseball field was named after my mother. If that doesn’t qualify me to have a voice in Warnersville, I don’t think nobody should have a voice. I coach basketball at the community center. I’m in the community every day.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.

Warnersville residents, led by Otis Hairston Jr. (fourth from left),put forth an alternate proposal to Greensboro College’s plan to includea historical museum in the renamed JC Price Lyceum. (photo by JordanGreen)