How ‘urban renewal’ decimated Black communities in North Carolina

The policy in the city of Asheville displaced Black Americans, hurting their health, employment opportunities and more. It’s now discussing how reparations will be provided to descendants of slaves.
8:45 | 09/18/20

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Transcript for How ‘urban renewal’ decimated Black communities in North Carolina
Reparations, the act of making amends. Why is it so controversial, and why are so many people calling for it now? To examine that, we have to go back in time. 1526, the Spanish bring 100 enslaved Africans to what is now the Carolinas and Georgia. They were the first known slaves on American soil. We know what happened next. For the next 350 years, Africans were enslaved, beaten, tortured and killed. They built the white house. They fought in wars. Their labor built the American economy. And then came the civil war and freedom. Promises of 40 acres and later on a mule. They were free, sort of. There were black codes, allowing black people to be arrested for things like being out at night or not working at a servant. And then there was Jim crow. A set of laws that denied African-Americans all sorts of rights. If you violated them, it could get you arrested or even killed. Then, there were housing discrimination laws, and a practice called redlining, where federal and local governments denied black people home loans. Since this country's beginnings, an incomparable number of black lives have been lost. So the question is, can it be repaid? There's something about living in the mountains. It's a sense of serenity. Actually, it's like a postcard. What doesn't come to mind when people think of Asheville. Black folk. You don't think of African-Americans being in Asheville. I don't think people know of the rich black history here. They don't know because pretty much the history has been erased. Urban renewal forced my family, along with others, to move out. It was urban removal. The removal of black people from their land. Reparation is owed. My family has been here, now, six generations. This box has Asheville's black history. Mainly the history of my community, south side. A whole community filed away. In this box. Rich history. Filed away. Closed until I decide to open it. And talk about it. I grew up in the '60s. At the time I was growing up, larger Asheville was segregated. We had everything we needed from the cradle to the grave. Black-owned hopes. Black-owned businesses. It gave me a sense of pride. At 477 south rich broad I lived in the apartment with nine other people. Just where that pole is, is where I lived. So you had all of the homes that were up and down this street. And as you can see, it's empty. Urban renewal was implemented. So that forced us to have to move out. And we relocated to public housing. People were told this was all temporary. But we're looking at four, five, six generations of people having lived in it. This didn't come out of nowhere. This came out of explicit policy that was designed to confine the descendants of those who had been enslaved. We must make sure that every family in America lives in a home of dignity. The intent was meant to improve the living conditions of African-Americans. The actual outcome of urban renewal, that was another story. With the city, with the county, with the federal government not keeping its word to rebuild the neighborhoods. What's here? What's here? Just the grass. Wherever urban renewal took place, we saw the decline of living standards for African-Americans. Higher unemployment, poorer health and academic achievement. My grand parents' house, Libby and Jesse Smith, at 13 velvet street would have been in this area. Behind us is the public works building. Prior to being the public works building, it was the back yard that we played in. So, in 1984, this is the paperwork where my grand parents granted our land to the city. When I say granted, it's because on this document it says grantor, but I don't think that my grand parents had a choice. That's the whole point of imminent domain. It wasn't just the loss of their homes. It was the loss of what could have been generations of wealth for our family. Since World War II, the primary source of wealth of middle class America is the ownership of a home. Well, if your home is destroyed, you've lost a primary pillar for middle class standard. It is enraining, and I almost get a little bit of fuel from it as well, because I do believe that the day of reckoning is coming. Say his name! George Floyd. George Floyd helped catlize a movement, a new civil rights movement that not only do you see confederate monuments come down but also reparations for black Americans and our citizens locally. City council of the city of Asheville apologizes and makes amends for carrying out an urban renewal program. Our black residents need to be made whole? In so many areas. When you say that you are wanting reparations, that we want teeth behind it, we don't want to see just words on a paper. I hear people say that's something our forefathers did. That's not the point. Forefathers may have done it. But you? In some cases reap the benefits. Growing up as an a little girl, I had no sense that that one day would all be gone, that I would walk in my neighborhood and see it completely gone. I have the memories, and that's part of why I tell my story, to preserve that history. I'm preserving that pride. I will preserve it until I die.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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