No matter how long you live in a place, you can be erased and ignored

May 11, 2020
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No matter how long you live in a place, you can be erased and ignored

No matter how long you live in a place, you can be erased and ignored

“My great-great grandfather, Mike Houston was born in Stockton, Alabama in 1863, and moved to Magnolia Springs with his mother, a sharecropper, after Emancipation. He worked as a caretaker for a family in Point Clear that taught him business skills. He became a prominent businessman and land broker, and the area along Twin Beech Road where he owned the majority of the land became known as ‘Houstonville.’

I recently retired with my husband from the Air Force and returned home to raise our young sons in Houstonville. I married a Caucasian man and we moved to Fairhope to give our boys the childhood I had around our family on our land. We have chickens and share eggs with cousins, aunts, and uncles. They give us their fruit and vegetables and a lot of love.

I also see Fairhope through the eyes of my parents and grandparents. In the military, I lived all over the world, but Fairhope is the only place I feel uncomfortable for being black.

I am filling notebooks with stories that my family passes down. Stories from the beginning of Fairhope when black people, mulattoes, and other nationalities owned land on the beachfront that was taken from them by those moving in.

My grandmother talked about her mother and grandmother being strong in their community, but if a white man said he was going to buy your land at this price, you accepted it and moved. These were sharecroppers coming from slavery who had been trained to accept the authority of white men. My grandmother and great-grandmother didn’t like to talk about those times and would say, ‘We are past that’.

The black community knew they weren’t wanted in Fairhope except to work, and learned to keep to themselves. My family said they knew to get out of Fairhope before sundown.

History is repeating itself today. No longer the small and quaint town on the bay, Fairhope is growing fast, and the only land left to expand is in the black neighborhoods. Once again the black families are getting pushed farther out.

The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) is building a large development behind our family property. The owner prior to RSA acquired the property but didn’t know our family lived on the hillside. It wasn’t until RSA started the survey that they noticed structures on the land.

My grandfather was informed of what portion he could have of this parcel of land his family lived on for over 100 years. His children wanted to put up a fight, but being born in 1925, my grandfather’s mindset was he didn’t want any trouble. So he accepted what was offered to him.

Some of the land gets sold by younger generations that move away and are never coming back. They pay the taxes and just want to get rid of the land. They agree to the low price suggested by the Realtor because of the location. But they have been gone so long they don’t know what is happening here. As the land sells and one white person buys in, the land is worth double. Some of my family sold their land like this.

Developers aren’t building affordable housing on this land or helping the people in the communities they buy into. These should be homes for first-time buyers, but developers make as much money as they can. One day it will be just the rich people living here, too.

Where is left for us to go? As they clear-cut the trees, they destroy the history. They cover the creeks where black families got their water and washed their clothes. Developers say the dirt roads that have been here for generations aren’t roads, then put up fences to block roads from being used. Fences the neighborhood has to keep taking down.

No matter how long you have lived in a place, you can be erased or ignored. Just because a road is unpaved doesn’t mean it is unimportant or unused in our community.

Years ago, the city tore down the basketball court and park in the black community. They should build a nice place for kids on this side of town that everyone would want to use. We can start building relationships and trust. We can use the land at the Anna T. Jeans school at Section and Twin Beech, the crossroads of the black and white communities, for outdoor movie nights and fish fries that bring us all together.

There are things Fairhope can do better. Invite other races into the Mardi Gras krewes. Show black and brown faces in the magazines, in crowd pictures from events, or even on the dentist’s website. Mentor minority students at local businesses or let them know about opportunities in arts organizations.

Someone has to take the first step because our kids are growing up in Fairhope and not seeing images of people who look like them. Imagery matters and I want to help make Fairhope a place where all kids feel wanted.

We simply don’t matter to many people in Fairhope. The only thing that matters is our land.”

This is Clarice Hall-Black’s story from a “Tale of Two Histories” about the two histories of Fairhope. The one we walk about, and the one we don’t. Here is the link to the story: https://www.lynnoldshue.com/home/2020/5/10/a-tale-of-two-histories

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