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Let Me Tell You What the New York Times Gets Right in the 1619 Project

Not far from my home used to stand an old dilapidated house everyone referred to the “half-house.”

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s as the all white Georgia Department of Transportation began mapping out where to pave I-75 through Georgia, the usual suspects got in on the action. Counties insisted on steering roads through small segments of their land just so they’d are eligible for federal dollars.

Some politicians made sure the roads ran across their land so they could get compensated and that “fair” compensation was always a high value. Others bought land, often through bullying, to steer the road their way. Some made sure the road avoided their land altogether.

In urban areas, as I-75 went through, the all white Department of Transportation steered the road mostly through black neighborhoods. Many of those neighborhoods had sprung up after the Civil War. Some were, by the 1950’s, thriving middle class communities. But they were mostly black and the land was mostly cheap compared to the wealthier white neighborhoods.

In Macon, where I live, the DOT steered the interstate through Pleasant Hill to avoid the white enclaves in Shirley Hills and Ingleside. They didn’t want to even impact the white neighborhoods, so they cut straight through Pleasant Hill, dividing the neighborhood from itself.

At one point, they didn’t need the full property of one of the black resident families, so they took half the house. They paid only for half. They boarded up the usable half and left it. It served as an emblem for a racist DOT that treated black families as expendable.

Pleasant Hill had been home to both Little Richard and James Brown. It had been a thriving middle class community. It became cut off from itself — taking years even for a pedestrian bridge to be built to reconnect parts of the neighborhood.

The middle class moved out. The poor moved in. The neighborhood is now one of those places where you can hear gun shots at night and see the residue of drugs on the street during the day.

This happened across the South as the interstate came through. The New York Times is right about that. It is right that the interstate system got shaped and twisted to avoid white neighborhoods. Yes, a lot of it had to do with property values. But in Macon, it was also seen as a malicious act when the powerful people could bulldoze through the middle of a neighborhood.

While I am deeply critical of the 1619 Project. Conservatives should not paint a more rosy picture than is appropriate. It is appropriate to point out why the interstate is as it is in many urban areas through the South.

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