The West Southern Pines community takes issue with Bob Katrin’s insults to our divine intelligence.
In his recent letter to the editor (“Develop West Southern Pines,” July 15), he claims to respect us — yet he insults us in the same breath. He acknowledges the experience of rampant and blatant racism in this country and in this town, but he believes it has “clouded our thinking.”
Rather than enact a comprehensive and visionary plan to redevelop the Southern Pines Primary School into a Black Cultural Heritage Center, he recommends that we “Sell the land, stop trying to protect it from development and enjoy the riches that the sale would bring. … Sell the land to the highest bidders and cut a deal with the developers to build a multi-story apartment house dwelling for seniors.”
To suggest selling our heritage to developers, and cut a deal to build government apartments will actually turn property owners into renters.
This is a desperate attempt to keep us believing that we’re incapable of such an accomplishment — yet as a people we have built and operated successful colleges and universities, banks, Black Wall Street entities and much more.
Katrin claims West Southern Pines is a neighborhood that has lain fallow of improvement and development. First, our entire neighborhood is not fallow, nor is it blighted. Many homes and businesses are owned and well maintained. Do most need improvement? Absolutely. But why? Not because of our “clouded thinking.” Let’s examine why.
Until 2019, the Southern Pines maintenance crew was only scheduled to cut the grass along streets and curbs once a year, with the exception of West Pennsylvania Avenue and one side of the block on South Henley Street, even after residents called and complained. While things have improved, the schedule for maintenance in West Southern Pines is still every 45 days; for East Southern Pines it’s every 14 days.
Grass grows knee-high through cracks in the sidewalks. Is that our fault? We pay the same taxes. Tree branches grow over power lines, sometimes across to the other side of the street, one more example of years of intentional neglect.
It is 100-plu years of a carefully planned system that has denied us access to the resources we need for improvement — resources available to the white community. The practice of redlining our neighborhoods has denied us access to bank credit; predatory lending imposes excessive interest rates; rezoning property as “residential” prevents further business opportunities; and collecting our tax dollars without distributing them back into the West Southern Pines community ensures our declining infrastructure.
Residents of West Southern Pines had the brilliance to charter a town in 1923, build a school in 1924, own and operate a credit union, hospital, restaurants, boarding houses, a drive-in theater — ultimately over 200 different retail and service businesses. We were self-sustaining. But instead of embracing this brilliance, West Southern Pines was annexed into the larger Southern Pines municipality in 1931, our land was rezoned in the 1970s, and our economic power was erased.
Is it clouded thinking — or, in fact, a well-planned system? — that 60 percent of West Southern Pines residents earn less than $30,000 a year and 40 percent less than $20,000? Parents earning $7.25 full-time make less than $15,000 annually. We struggle with basics, so our budgets don’t include fixing a leaky roof, making structural repairs, or landscaping our yards.
Why such resistance to West Southern Pines’ efforts at self-directed revitalization? Does Mr. Katrin really believe we are incapable of achieving it? Or is it because, in the process of accomplishing this goal for ourselves, we might lose the servitude mentality intended by 400 years of oppression?
We define ourselves, and we know that we’re intelligent enough to design, build and transform Southern Pines Primary School into a world-class history, cultural and community center. Is the objection that success here might shift our financial positions from low- to moderate-income, and even to generational wealth? Or that we might even conclude that we are more than three-fifths of a human being?
Rejecting what was carefully taught to us for so long is dismissed as clouded thinking. How else could we have the audacity to request that the Moore County Commissioners and Board of Education honor the contract made with our ancestors in the original deed of 1924 that this land “shall be ever devoted to the use of negro education”?
No, our thinking is very clear. We request that the school be sold to West Southern Pines at a fair price so it can become the engine for our community to revitalize itself and create self-directed, culturally appropriate prosperity.
Kim Wade is president of the West Southern Pines Civic Club. Her opinions here have been endorsed by West Southern Pines Citizens for Change, the Rufus McLaughlin Post #177 American Legion Women’s Auxiliary and the Class of 1969 of West Southern Pines High School, one of several schools that have occupied the site of the current Southern Pines Primary School.