College Park Former Neighbors Reunite in Raleigh, NC
With the Triangle’s housing costs continuing to rise, minority and elderly residents feel displaced.
On her 111th birthday, friends from College Park gathered around a childhood neighborhood they barely recognized – its convenience stores and bungalows mostly occupied by bulldozers.
The hospital where the elders were born – the proud St. Agnes, Raleigh’s only option for blacks – stands like a stone skeleton on Oakwood Avenue.
The blocks they knew on East Lane and East Jones Street surprised them with big modern newcomers that are reminiscent of beach houses to many. For the first ward reunion earlier this month, the 30 or so gathered heard from Reverend James Davis, a newcomer to Grace AME Zion Church, but still mourning the changes.
“Pastel-colored doors,” he said. “New homes under construction looming over the whole community. Torn streets. They said they needed infrastructure to support the new housing.
At a College Park exhibit hosted by the Raleigh City Museum, guests lamented the streets visible only in black and white photographs. Representative David Price, a Democratic congressman from much of Raleigh, congratulated College Park by letter as one of the first in the city to promote black home ownership.
Memories of the neighborhood have faded so much that the meeting planners mistakenly printed College Park 101st anniversary t-shirts. As the date for the meeting approached, museum director Ernest Dollar traced the date back to 1909 to 1912, when David J. Fort Jr. purchased the first leaflets to meet demand from the rising black middle class. .
In the early years, College Park stood outside the limits of the small town of Raleigh. The streets were dirt. The elders remembered a church on every corner and enough stores that residents didn’t have to leave much.
The organizers of the meeting drew a map of the streets and asked the former residents to place a pin anywhere that evokes memories. Robert and Polly Rogers chose the 1st Church of God on Boyer Street, writing, “I have attended this church for almost 70 years.”
They recalled rarely celebrated pioneers in Raleigh:
▪ Sister Mary Gary Philpot, or simply “Sister Gary,” who hosted a gospel show on WRAL-AM, the city’s first black broadcaster with a regular schedule.
▪ Mollie Huston Lee, Wake County’s first black librarian, who founded the Richard B. Harrison branch which is still on New Bern Avenue.
▪ Olivette “The Fox” Massenburg McGill, who gave free piano lessons.
Their names drew nods of recognition from some of the white haired heads in the audience. And their memory sparked this warning from meeting organizer and Southeast Raleigh activist Octavia Rainey.
“Don’t sleep at all,” she said. “There’s not much left, and I just think we need to protect what we have. “
This story was originally published September 24, 2021 6:00 a.m.