Subarus smattered with Bernie Sanders bumper stickers, moms coming out of yoga in peace sign shirts and little boys running around Weaver Street Market in princess dresses; the slogan of the Town of Carrboro reads “feel free.” Local food markets pride themselves in being co-operative organizations — built on a sense of community, and powered by the unity of all people. A mural that depicts the United States as a “Nation of Many Colors” adorns a brick wall in the city center; it’s easy to see Carrboro as a community that respects diversity.
However, everything changes when citizens return home. As the appearance of integration and inclusivity attracts more rich white liberals to new urban developments, Carrboro’s historic residential communities face the threat of eviction. The gentrifi cation of the town of Carrboro is slowly erasing historically black communities — the very communities that built the town.
The future of historically black neighborhoods, according to the website of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, is important to preserve. The Jackson Center focuses on stabilizing and improving the most historic neighborhood in Carrboro: Northside. Northside originated as a “service community” comprised of free blacks after the end of slavery, many of whom were contracted to do hard labor by the University of North Carolina.
After desegregation, many black businesses were replaced by the primarily white-owned businesses that now reside on Franklin Street. Even local teachers were struggling to find work as the recently desegregated schools hired almost exclusively white teachers. This disruption of infrastructure financially crippled Northside’s residents, and its effects can still be seen when comparing its median household incomes to those of white neighborhoods. Northside’s battle against gentrification in Carrboro has been a long one, and it is still not over.
The town of Carrboro took steps to recognize Northside as a Conservation District in 2004, but this did not stop the displacement of its residents. The U.S. census indicates that the African American population of the Northside area has declined more than 40 percent since 1980, as the boundaries of the neighborhood continue to shrink under recent “urban renewal” plans. In 2008, a former black business district near Northside was replaced by a condominium, housing, almost exclusively wealthy, white students attending the university. Even today, despite continued work to preserve the neighborhood, its black population dwindles;, slowly being overtaken by an influx of affluent white families and college students.
As Carrboro continues to market itself as a town with a basis in social consciousness, it must take concrete steps to meet that commitment. An inclusive community must include the needs of minorities, and if Carrboro continues to neglect the sustainability of the historically black neighborhoods, it is neglecting the sustainability of its people. If the Northside neighborhood continues to shrink, so too does the historical perspective that built the town of Carrboro.