Since writing about the legacy of Five Points and its relationship to Gibbons Street, I have had many individuals reach out to me. Some in support of the statements and others not supportive. Some were calling for additional information on people who need to have their names mentioned because of the role they played in the business development of this community, especially Five Points.
Gibbons Street represented the cultural district of the Black community in North Rome. All of the 40 or more businesses were located in the same area and even a senior citizen could walk from one to the other to get service and not get tired. It had everything necessary for a thriving community. I mistakenly said that it had everything except a U.S. Post Office. I was wrong. One of the main businesses missing was a financial institution for banking.
Rome’s Five Points was one of many Black communities in the country that were targeted as blight and placed on the list to be displaced.
I have no intention of pitting one street against another, but many citizens remember the excitement of Maple Street in East Rome. There were stores up and down that street. Eating places, a service station, beauty shops, barber shops, grocery stores, the Boys Club, and Girls Club and Mary T. Banks Elementary were in the area.
People felt very strongly about Maple Street because one could find happy people sharing laughter. It was not a hub, but there were some outstanding leaders located there. One could leave East Rome and make his or her way to South Rome, where businesses were scattered various places — but not in a hub like the ones on Five Points.
Hardy Avenue was a place of memorable times for many and there were businesses spotted in various places in South Rome. However, all of the businesses on Five Points were owned and operated by Blacks and most all of them were frequented and supported by Blacks. This was not so for the ones in East, South, and West Rome.
I previously mentioned that Urban Renewal did its part in helping to remove the 40 plus businesses at the Five Points hub. Most of the business owners did not seek legal advice and truly believed that this takeover was all for the common good. Very few, if any, of the owners moved to other locations. They could not afford to.
Those in charge were supposed to provide “just compensation” to the property owners. That stipulation was not carried out. For that main reason, only three of the oldest businesses that began in the late 1950s and early ’60s are still in existence. Wright Memorial Mortuary is operated by Joe Wright’s family, since he has since deceased. James Wright’s Furniture Co. is still operated by Mr. James Wright himself, who stated that he knew from the beginning that the “Urban Renewal” was not what locals believed it to be. He knew that the people in the driver’s seat had no desire to be fair with the Black business owners and stood almost alone against the settlement. The third business, Riverside Garbage Collection Co., is operated by Mrs. Mary Finley out of the West Rome area.
One of the main promises of urban renewal was to create new pedestrian zones and reclaim underused or deteriorating areas by blending them into a city’s historic fabric. With the Rome takeover, that did not happen. Urban renewal was a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative, with the purpose of fighting poverty and racial injustice by renovating impoverished communities across the United States.
Urban renewal and redlining tore apart many Black neighborhoods, along with their promises of progress and economic freedom. At one time, when one travelled on East First Street he would encounter a combination of businesses and family homes all mixed together. Delpino Cleaners, Mc-Lyons Grocery Store, Luther Johnson’s home, Amanda Lynn’s restaurant, Monroe Stevenson’s home, The Holly Tree Inn, Pop Logan’s clothing store, Dr. Houser’s dentist office, Bud’s Barber Shop, Wright’s Service Station and Taxi Cab Co. ... and the walk or drive would lead all the way to Peggy’s House. The Black Five Points hub had it all: the good, the bad and the in between.
This initiative lasted about 10 years (1950-60) and had devastating consequences on Black businesses. It also displaced more than a million people from their homes. In each of the communities that it touched, no one can measure the social and emotional and financial cost that fell on poor people of color.
Some were so hurt by the “so-called renewal” that they refuse to speak about it even today for fear that pain will be too severe. Many went for the “Rope a Dope,” as Mohammad Ali would say, and ended up on the wrong side of history.