I had mixed emotions about the planned apartments for the undeveloped portion of Gibbons Street in North Rome, and I believe there are many others with mixed feelings.

For many years, even after moving to Cave Spring, I have been disheartened by how the Black hub of North Rome has deteriorated. A development plan is needed not just for the Gibbons Street area but that whole area — including Gordon, Watters and Grady all the way back across to Ross and Smith streets.

Several efforts have been made to improve Gibbons Street but because the heart for the residents was not central in the plans, the residents are now wary. They deem the motive for a plan a selfish one and believe it will not be to their benefit.

The first family that I became a part of after moving to Rome were residents of Gibbons Street. Capus and Robbie White, along with their family, took me in as their own. The first night I spent in Rome was on Gibbons Street and, as a result, over the early years I met most of the residents. Mrs. Gertrude Dukes, Guy and Beulah Welch, Mrs. Perdetha Thomas and her family, the Gordons and the Fords.

That first family invited me, along with Martha Patton and others, to their home every Sunday morning for an eight course breakfast fit for kings and queens. And being new to town, the invite was always accepted by us. The main items on the breakfast menu that were tempting to most of us were fried corn, fried fish, bacon, biscuits and coffee.

The Gibbons Street community was a community of families with the spirit of unity, fellowship and comradery. The families did not let the spirit of unity cause them to close the doors to outsiders. There was always a welcoming friendly spirit, which created a wonderful atmosphere for those of us from other places.

The year of my arrival in Rome, nine new fresh-out-of-college teachers settled here and became a part of Main High School’s faculty. All of us had great relations with various families on Gibbons Street, which was an integral part of the Five Points hub of friendship and fellowship.

The Welch, White and Thomas families always had their doors swinging open on welcome hinges. It was a time of fellowshipping and socializing when we were at Beulah’s house. There was never a dull moment with the Welch family.

Beulah Welch was always the life of the gathering. She kept us abreast of the social going-ons and Guy talked business — especially about mutual funds. He was never seen without his satchel, ready to sign up anyone who wanted to invest. We would say “Oh here comes Guy Welch, wanting to talk business,” and after a hard day at school that was the last thing on our minds. We thought our little $500 monthly paycheck was going to cover us the rest of our lives. Most of us did not see the value in what he was doing at the time. Now, as we reflect on that part of our past, we feel a sense of shame.

With me not being a lifetime resident of Rome, seeing the reaction of the locals who are connected to Gibbons Street makes me more aware of the importance of holding on to meaningful people and places that add to the legacy of our history. It is only when something is being taken away, or after we have lost a person, that we realize how important they were to us. We must begin to look around in our community and build upon what is meaningful to us as a people.

We turned Main High School over without a whimper. We gave Five Points away with little or no resistance. Those of you who are lifelong residents of the area can think of many other important places, things and ideas that we let go because we believed that turning them a loose was going to make things better for all concerned.

The legacy of Gibbons Street is wide, deep and far-reaching. Families with roots started on Gibbons Street are now reaching all across this country as well as the four sections of Rome, GA.

You almost lost what you unknowingly held close and dear to your heart. There are enough of you to decide what you would like to see done with the undeveloped property and get it done. See if you can get wall to wall support for something to be placed on that site that will benefit the community. Try calling another meeting and discuss the issue at hand and after the discussion take action.

What will it be, Charles, Hugh, Iris, Bobby and the rest of you?

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright, founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award recipient. She can be contacted at artsnow2019@gmail.com.

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