Charlotte named a road after former mayor Stan Brookshire, but in 1969, if he had voted a different way, we might have Brookshire Fence rather than Brookshire Freeway.
Thanks to a recent visit to Elmwood and Pinewood cemeteries and the tutelage of the Mecklenburg Historical Association and its volunteers , I walked through a gate to my Charlotte past that I never knew existed. It's the kind of past that had me shaking my head and saying, “really?”
If you never heard this story, it’s worth knowing and repeating, now that we have moved from an era of tearing down walls - thank you Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev - to an era of building them back up - you know who I’m talking about.
The Charlotte fence was built in the 1930s as a Jim Crow construction project. Wooden slats were selected and nailed to poles to separate black from white, between two cemeteries of all places. Pinewood Cemetery is where Charlotte blacks were buried. Elmwood was reserved for Charlotte whites. It was as if the white supremacists in charge of this brilliant project thought they could keep black and white souls separate and apart, even after death.
Like all things Jim Crow, the fence was a disgrace when it went up and a disgrace in 1969. But even then, the Charlotte City Council tied 3-3 on a motion to tear it down. And this is where former Mayor Stan Brookshire stepped in and avoided having a fence named after him. He broke the tie, and the fence came down. A wooden symbol of bigotry ended up in the city dump, where it belonged.
This ancient Charlotte story has absolutely nothing to do with a border wall, right? I mean, seriously, we need to keep out the illegals. Keep them in their places. Protect our borders.
We do, of course, need to protect our borders, but the wall our president wants to build is more than a poorly built fence that won’t keep the neighbor’s dog out. It’s a symbol akin to the first-come-first-be-served mentality that permeated Jim Crow. And like the fence that separated two cemeteries and the wall that separated two Berlins, the border wall won’t age gracefully and one day, it too will come down.
Fences separate people. Roads do just the opposite. They take people to new places. With hope for what lies ahead.
Stan Brookshire ended up with a freeway, not a fence. What will your legacy be, Mr. President?