Dec 15, 2021 - Development

Restoring a park once central to Black life in Charlotte

The entrance to the renovated Pearl Street Park. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Pearl Street Park was the first park officially built on land purchased by the city for Black residents.

Kenneth Manago looks up the hill from Pearl Street Park, toward the home he grew up in before it was destroyed.

Several decades have passed since then, but on Tuesday Mecklenburg County reopened the renovated park, which sits on the first piece of land the city purchased to build a park for Black residents.

  • Today it’s in what’s considered Midtown. But back then it was Brooklyn, once the largest Black neighborhood in Charlotte, which was demolished in the 1960s and ’70s through an urban renewal program that displaced businesses, churches and thousands of families.

Manago remembers gathering in the park as a teenager to play horseshoes and basketball. There were cookouts and after school arts and crafts activities. And then there were the older men who had returned from World War II who would impart wisdom on the young adults.

  • “It’s amazing, just looking around seeing what it was and what it is now,” he said.

Details: The county invested $4.75 million to reconfigure the park, according to Liz Morrell, senior management analyst with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. Nearly four years after work started, county leaders celebrated the official reopening on Tuesday.

The 11-acre site includes:

  • Basketball and pickleball courts, a multi-use lighted field, fitness equipment and a playground structure.
  • An open air performance pavilion.
  • A restored creek bank.

Flashback: The park is located on land purchased by the city in 1943 from an orphanage. During segregation, Black residents couldn’t use parks meant for white people, such as the nearby Independence Park.

  • Because Second Ward High School didn’t have athletic fields, the baseball and football teams practiced at Pearl Street Park.
  • But the construction of I-277 isolated the park, Morrell said.

Context: The revamp connects the park to a wave of development occurring around it. Developer Pappas Properties is building apartments, a hotel, retail and offices, on a seven-acre site next to the park, along Kenilworth Avenue.

Honoring history: The park also features interpretive panels that tell that history, and a sculpture with quotes and stories engraved on it from former Brooklyn residents.

  • The stainless steel and bronze sculpture, “Brooklyn Stories,” by sculptor Cliff Garten, was a collaboration between the Second Ward High School Alumni Association, Levine Museum of the New South, Arts and Science Council and the county.
  • It’s located on the axis of the former residential Pearl Street, for which the park is named after.

Personal stories: Dot Wise-Douglas, 71, grew up in First Ward. But she went to Brooklyn for school and pretty much everything else, she says, because it was the pulse of Charlotte’s Black community.

Still, plaques and memorials can only do so much to repair the lasting harm caused by government policies like urban renewal, that uprooted families.

“The remembrance is beautiful,” says Wise-Douglas. “But it’s just a token.”

Here’s a look around the new park.

Interpretive panels tell the story of Pearl Street Park. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.
Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.
The sculpture engraved with quotes from Brooklyn residents. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.
The playground. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.
Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios.

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