Municipal segregation: African-American community sues for the right to vote

They've been knocking at the door for decades, but nobody answers:

A predominantly black unincorporated community is suing an adjacent North Carolina town after a decades-long fight for annexation. The Winston-Salem Journal reports the 73-household Walnut Tree Community Association and four individuals filed a lawsuit Thursday against the predominantly white town of Walnut Cove, alleging racial discrimination.

K&L Gates Law Firm, which represents the plaintiffs, says the lawsuit is an attempt to accelerate annexation so Walnut Tree community members can participate in town elections and receive the benefits and services available to town residents, including reduced water-sewer service rates. The town rejected a formal petition for annexation in January. K&L Gates says repeated denials of annexation since the 1970s violate the North Carolina Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

There is so much wrong with this situation I don't know where to start. The community was originally formed with Federal loan assistance, designed to help more African-Americans become homeowners. And most of them originally lived in Town, meaning they had the right to vote in municipal elections before they bought their new house. They didn't intentionally give up the right to vote to secure a home loan, they were under the impression their new community would become part of the Town:

The Walnut Tree subdivision was developed in the early 1970’s, with mortgages offered by the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) as part of an effort to encourage rural economic development and African American homeownership in the South. Many of Walnut Tree’s first homeowners previously lived in rental housing within Walnut Cove’s town limits, and moved into their new homes with the understanding that they would soon be included in the municipality. However, the Walnut Cove town board has denied multiple annexation petitions filed by Walnut Tree residents since the 1990’s. Meanwhile, the town has annexed several predominantly white areas in the past twenty-five years.

That's pretty cut-and-dried, straight-up racism right there. I'm sure they fashioned some technical excuses for excluding this neighborhood, to be murmured by Town staff prior to rushing through a "No" vote. But it stinks to high heaven nonetheless. But what really pisses me off about this setup has to do with environmental justice. If you'll recall, one North Carolina township authorized a "test" fracking well to be drilled a few years ago, and everybody was sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the results, which might portend whether fracking was going to become a problem in North Carolina. But what you probably don't know (I didn't), is that Walnut Cove forced the unincorporated Walnut Tree community to be the site of this well:

While Walnut Cove has continually refused to annex Walnut Tree, the town exercises significant power over residents in the community. Walnut Cove began providing water and sewer service to Walnut Tree in the late 1990’s, after the FmHA suspended lending for new construction in the community because of significant water quality issues. Today, these water quality concerns remain unresolved despite the fact that Walnut Tree residents pay nearly double the municipal water and sewer rates paid by in-town customers. Walnut Tree is also within Walnut Cove’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), leaving the community subject to the town’s municipal land use regulations even though residents cannot vote in municipal elections.

In 2015, Walnut Cove’s ETJ power enabled the town board to approve core sample drilling in Walnut Tree, an initial step in determining whether fracking is viable in the area. Concerned Walnut Tree residents, all the more worried given the community’s proximity to coal ash ponds that serve Duke Energy’s Belews Creek Steam Station, were left with little recourse as the town board approved the drilling in the neighborhood over their objections.

That little fracking stunt may be (should be) the straw that breaks the bigoted camel's back when this case is dealt with in court. Such blatant disregard for the health & well-being of these citizens shows that Walnut Cove's majority white government has degenerated into nothing more than feudal overlords, and something needs to be done to rectify that.

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Comments

This sounds eerily familiar...

We have a similar community just north of town here in Ramseur. The folks there have been trying to get annexed for years, while others were. This is probably a thing in at least one community in every county in this state.

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"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Unfortunately, you're probably right

A lot of these communities began in the first place because racist landlords and government leaders made living in white neighborhoods impossible. The fact that hasn't changed much in fifty years makes me want to break something.