My Cherry neighbors and I are fighting to reclaim a piece of Charlotte’s Black history

·3 min read

I am a fourth-generation resident of the 130-year old Cherry community — and a proud supporter of the fight to reclaim the historic Morgan School in Cherry.

Cherry is one of Charlotte’s oldest communities and one of the few remaining historically African-American neighborhoods. It sits adjacent to uptown and was platted in 1891 as the first community in Charlotte created to provide home ownership opportunities for laborers and working-class Blacks.

As I’ve watched Charlotte change, I’ve seen Cherry change too. Two-car garages now sit where two-bedroom affordable homes once stood. The same “missing middle” housing the city now supports is the same affordable housing — duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes — replaced by 3,000 square foot homes in Cherry after a Charlotte City Council rezoning decision.

For many of my old neighbors, their physical departure from Cherry was not a thoughtful decision — it was their only option. Through decades of redlining, urban renewal, and land use matters, many in my neighborhood and city were left with no choice.

Change is inevitable, and can be good. What Charlotte must recognize though is that loss is not good. We talk often about those who are moving into Cherry, but what about those who’ve left? Conversations about our future must not leave out the significance of our present and our past.

This isn’t just a Cherry issue. Cherry was forced to watch its sister communities disappear, to watch Black presence and history erased. We watched Brooklyn, First Ward, Second Ward, Third Ward and Fourth Ward fall in the path of bulldozers — sometimes operated by smiling local politicians. The Earle Village, Piedmont Courts, Double Oaks, Fairview Homes communities have fallen to the same treatment.

Our homes, land and lineage were taken away from us. Now, our neighborhood school — the Morgan School — is at risk of being taken too.

Established in 1925 to serve the children of Cherry, the Morgan School thrived when many schools did not. Little Black boys and girls who sought education and an opportunity to follow their dreams found it at Morgan School. When the city extinguished its vision for Morgan School, Cherry’s vision for the school was ignited. For more than half a century, our vision, passion, determination for the school has never dimmed.

The historic Morgan School in Charlotte. The school was built in 1925 to serve as an elementary school for the African-American neighborhood that surrounds it.
The historic Morgan School in Charlotte. The school was built in 1925 to serve as an elementary school for the African-American neighborhood that surrounds it.

Though our claim is rooted in connection, commitment and history, that is not enough for many. Nevertheless, we are committed to the fight.

The Gospel of Matthew speaks of the broad road versus the narrow road. In many ways, this dichotomy is relevant to our story. And so, it is a “‘time for choosing.”

Will CMS and city leaders take the broad, well-traveled road — the path of organizations with dollars, cents and an enduring sense of entitlement? Or will CMS take the narrow, but right road: The road that goes against the grain of national gentrification, displacement and erasure of Black history?

I am encouraged by the school board’s decision Sept. 14 to put the Morgan School on the CMS Surplus Properties List for Sale. This was a necessary step in Cherry’s efforts to purchase Morgan School to make it a community learning and resource center. I am hopeful that CMS will continue down the narrow and right road — the road that leads to Cherry.

Mylon Patton is fourth generation Cherry resident who is now a senior at The University of Chicago. He is double-majoring in political science and economics, with a minor in human rights.

Mylon Patton is fourth generation Cherry resident who is now a senior at The University of Chicago.
Mylon Patton is fourth generation Cherry resident who is now a senior at The University of Chicago.
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