Roanoke’s Urban Renewal and Healing Systemic Racism

On Thursday evening, August 22, around sixty people filled the Gainsboro library’s meeting room to attend the League of Women Voters of the Roanoke Valley’s program: Roanoke’s Urban Renewal and Healing Systemic Racism. 

Jordan Bell delivered an excellent presentation about how Roanoke’s urban renewal projects destroyed black communities and businesses. He first described the prosperity and successes for the black Gainsboro neighborhood. Bell explained what Richard Chubb meant when he said Roanoke had “neon”. Gainsboro had the bright neon lights of a successful city like New York and Philadelphia. A black person didn’t have to leave Roanoke to find success or to attend a star studded evening.

Bell has spent countless hours listening to the elders describe how Gainsboro used to be before urban renewal. Roanoke didn’t have only one urban renewal project like most other cities. Roanoke had several urban development projects over several decades. He defined systemic racism and illustrated how the government’s projects targeted the prosperous black communities. The urban renewal projects cheated black families out of their homes that were already paid for and prevented them from passing on their hard earned wealth to their families.

During the question and answer portion of the evening, Theresa Gill-Walker asked about gentrification and how developers were trying to pressure her and others to sell their homes in the Evans Spring neighborhood. Some of the families had previously moved out of Gainsboro due to an urban renewal project. Bell explained the difference between urban renewal (a government project) and gentrification (private developers’ projects). The audience engaged in a discussion on how to protect Evans Springs and other communities from losing their wealth while protecting their neighborhoods.

Richard Chubb attended the program along with Council members Anita Price and Bill Bestpitch. Charles Price, from the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, also attended the event.   

Linda Garvelink, League of Women Voters of Virginia Treasurer, drove down from northern Virginia to attend the event with her husband. Garvelink was excited to see the new LWV of the Roanoke Valley League taking the initiative to learn about Roanoke’s past and their dedication to doing the work to eliminate systemic racism.

Freeda Cathcart, a Board Member of the League of Women Voters of the Roanoke Valley (LWVRV) , invited people to join the newly chartered organization. Cathcart told people about the League of Women Voters (LWV) commitment to being inclusive. LWV is an organization fully committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in principle and in practice. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to the organization’s current and future success in engaging all individuals, households, communities, and policy makers in creating a more perfect democracy.