The historic Evens-Howard Place neighborhood in Brentwood was home to generations of middle class African-American families for 90 years. More than two dozen former residents of the neighborhood and many others came to hear Brentwood resident, Beth Miller, host a discussion on life in the neighborhood.
Miller spent two years getting to know some of the former residents in a study, and brought a panel of them together at the Brentwood Recreation Center on Sunday to talk about their life in the neighborhood.
The former residents testified about the strength of the neighborhood; how everyone looked out for everyone else, and everyone else’s kids.
The neighborhood began in the early 20th century as a company town for the Evens & Howard Fire Brick Company. Miller said at that time the houses (“sheds”) had no electricity or plumbing, but were an improvement from what the residents had left in the South.
Many said that race wasn’t an issue in the neighborhood or at the public schools. Allison Reed said her mother didn’t teach color so it was easy for her family in the neighborhood, but found a different situation at Brentwood High School.
“I’m not saying it was easy when we got to high school, and one of my friends would say, ‘you can’t come over because my dad doesn’t like black people.’ But everybody was able to come to our house,” she said. “How do you connect with all these other parents? As my mom said, we didn’t move out because of that; is was all the flooding.”
Ed Holt said the neighborhood allowed him to lead a middle-class life. He was a postman for 30 years. He brought up the topic of the buyout. He said it was different from other buyouts because the residents agreed to it before it was forced on them. Highway 170 was threatening to go through the neighborhood at the time.
Miller said the houses were worth $35,000 – $40,000 and they got three to four times that in the buyout, in 1996-97. Residents who owned several lots left the neighborhood well-off. One was able to buy a house on Yorkshire Lane in Brentwood for $500,000 cash, it was said.
There was friction, though. Former resident, Cynthia Golden, asked Holt in the meeting who authorized the buyout and he wouldn’t answer.
“I would like to know what was the determining body that authorized the buyout,” Golden said after the meeting. “I grew up in that community. I was there in the 50s and 60s, and I’m curious. No one in that room would be able to tell you, except the person that skated past it might be one of them. I’d like to know who said, ‘sell it.'”
Another former resident, Gregory Carr, said after the meeting that “the target was already on our back” from the beginning.
“You have to understand how did the neighborhood get there in the first place. Brentwood zoned its Negroes,” he said after the meeting. “Put us all up against the backdrop of 40. And when my parents came from Kentucky — ‘don’t look over there, this is the only place you can buy’ — that’s what we were told.”
Reed said in spite of everything it was still their home town. “I want people to know that it’s a neighborhood that didn’t disappear. We’re still here. We’re human just like the next person.”