To the Editor:
History of African Americans is full of tear jerking stories. There were 1.5 million African American Veterans who were denied GI Bill Benefits and VA backed mortgages. While White Veterans got education, training for skills under GI Bill and subsequently good jobs and were able to buy homes with VA backed mortgages, the African Americans received none of those benefits. Whites built up wealth with home ownership and African American Veterans languished in poverty. There is a Bill weaving its way through Congress, The GI Bill Restoration Act which would provide descendants of these veterans a transferable benefit that could be used to obtain housing, attend college or start a business.
The great highway program to build highways East-West, North-South started by Eisenhower was done with great fanfare. But when it came to the inner cities, the highways cut through Black neighborhoods indiscriminately destroying life in those neighborhoods. That is why they were racist highways.
One such neighborhood was Wiley Avenue in Pittsburgh. While the highway did not cut through the neighborhood, the city decided to build civic arena, a sports complex in the middle of the neighborhood. It was a thriving neighborhood from 1930s to 1950a where jazz music was playing every evening with famous musicians from all over the country vying to be seen on Wiley Avenue. Negro League Baseball was flourishing in the neighborhood too. Crawford Grill was the “in place” at the corner of Crawford and Wiley Avenue. As its popularity soared, “The Grill” attracted hundreds of jazz legends to its revolving stage, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, and Stanley Turrentine. In addition to jazz musicians, many actors, athletes, and politicians were known to frequent the club, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and baseball legend Roberto Clemente. The famous Playwright August Wilson grew up there and wrote Plays about the neighborhood.
But the result of the construction of the Civic Arena has been that the whole area called the Hill District is still a ghetto. I don’t know how a child born in Hill District even today can succeed in life. The opportunity is not there, the schools are improving but it is taking too long. This is a living example of what has happened to the lives of African Americans as a result of building highways cutting through their thriving neighborhoods.
Village of Belvedere
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