GDOT Targets Historic Black Macon Community for Highway Expansion (UPDATE 1)
(APN) MACON –The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has two I-75 widening projects in Macon, Georgia. One project is still in the planning stage and will build “truck only lanes” starting somewhere around I-475 the Macon by-pass and goes 40 miles to McDonough.
Pleasant Hill is designated as a national historic district, and is struggling on several fronts to preserve its historic African American ancestral heritage.
“Per square foot there is no place in the country that has produced more historic iconic African American leaders than Pleasant Hill,” Dr.Thomas Duval, a historian told Atlanta Progressive News during this reporter’s research trip to Macon.
Many know that “Little Richard” Penniman, the architect of Rock and Roll, who was born and began his career in Pleasant Hill.
But few people know all the other historic iconic African American leaders who are from Pleasant Hill. Dr. Duval took APN on a tour of Pleasant Hill and shared the stories of prominent leaders from that community. Here’s a few who overcame racism to achieve greatness.
William Sanders Scarborough, who went from slavery in Macon to become the president of Wilberforce College.
U.S. Rep. Jefferson Franklin Long, the first elected African American to serve in the U.S. Congress from 1870 to 1871.
Lucy Craft Laney, who founded the first school for African American children in Augusta, Georgia in 1883.
L.H. Williams, who founded the Academy for the Negro Blind (ANB), which was located where MCA is today. Ray Charles attended ANB.
John Oliver Killens, who co-founded the Harlem Writers Guild; his politically charged novels earned two Pulitzer Prize nominations.
Sgt. Rodney Maxwell Davis, who posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Vietnam War.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, with too many people to name in this article.
Today, GDOT plans to widen I-75 through this historic neighborhood.
In a video prepared for the public, GDOT paints a rosey picture about how lovely the widened highway will look. Toward the end of the video, it begins a section of Mitigation Measures, without ever really saying what they are mitigating.
GDOT describes how placards and signs will tell the history of a community that once existed and thrived, and also, by the way, that 26 homes will be moved.
In the 1960’s, Interstate 75 split the Pleasant Hill neighborhood in half without any regard for or input from the community.
“They did it with reckless abandon… people were told your house is in the way so it’s got to go,” Peter Givens, President of Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group, told APN, remembering what happened some fifty years ago.
A portion of Linwood Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Pleasant Hill and Macon’s prominent African American citizens, was taken for I-75 over fifty years ago.
“There were atrocities done in the sixties… bodies were not exhumed, they were just bulldozed over picked up and put in a dump truck and dumped who knows where,” Givens told APN.
That is why the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group has been working with GDOT since 2005 to make sure such atrocities don’t happen again.
The Neighborhood Group has already been successful in one phase, with the 26 houses that are going to be moved to another location in Pleasant Hill.
“Those people were paid for their homes above fair market value because they would have to purchase another two bedroom home today at a higher rate. You could not do that at a fair market value, so we got them to offer more money,” Givens said.
The mitigation plan was written by the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group and this is what GDOT is supposed to honor to reduce the damage to Pleasant Hill with the highway widening.
It includes the following projects:
- Create two new parks in Pleasant Hill.
- Move “Little Richard” Penniman house to another location and turn it into a Community Resource Center.
- Replace and upgrade the David Lucas Pedestrian Bridge that crosses over I-75.
- Improve sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and create a walking path for a heritage tour.
- Transform an open drainage ditch into a grass covered culvert.
- Construct noise and visual barriers.
- Move and fully restore up to 26 historic properties.
GDOT has purchased all the twenty six homes and fifteen alternative lots for those houses to be moved on.
“None of the mitigation plan has been acted on physically. It’s been a lot of paperwork and back and forth with GDOT. It’s an ongoing project and we are constantly meeting with GDOT to work out problems. It hasn’t been easy and you never know…. but we are working to make it come to fruition,” Givens said.
However, some say that the State of Georgia does not have to widen the highway in this manner, and that there are viable alternatives that could protect Pleasant Hill.
Ted Terry, the new State Director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, wants to see more commuter rail and high speed rail between Atlanta and the rest of the state.
“At some point we have to recognize that… we keep widening roads and putting our tax revenues into an infrastructure that may be harmful to the long term health of the environment,” Terry told APN
“The Sierra Club is interested in environmental justice to protect Georgia’s environment but also how we do it in a way that marginalized communities don’t suffer at the cost of growth and development,” Terry said.
“Commuter rail and high speed rail will benefit the environment and the economy… and will stop marginalizing minority neighborhoods that tend to be most impacted by these mass projects like the pipeline and truck routes,” Terry said.
UPDATE 1 and CORRECTION: Following receiving an email from the Georgia Department of Transportation, Atlanta Progressive News has corrected the first paragraph of the above article and added a new second paragraph to clarify that there are actually two transportation projects being planned – only of which would result in the removal of homes from the Pleasant Hill community.