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Some Residents Want 'Plantation' Removed From Charlotte's Neighborhoods

Jenn Lang
The Providence Plantation neighborhood and other Charlotte developments with the word "plantation" in their names have come under enhanced scrutiny amid racial unrest.

Neighborhoods and other developments with the word "plantation" in their names are drawing enhanced scrutiny as the country reckons with racial injustice. A debate is brewing around one development in south Charlotte that includes a sprawling neighborhood and an adjacent strip mall.

On a recent Saturday, shoppers were bustling in and out of traffic in the parking lot of the small brick shopping center on Weddington Road. It's not so different from any other strip mall in the city, except for its name, spelled out in bold, cartoony letters: Plantation Market.

Angela Jones was leaving the grocery store with her son, Joshua. Her forehead wrinkled when she remembered first visiting this shopping center two years ago after moving here from Illinois.

"When I saw it, I was taken aback," she said. "You don't see that in the midwest."

It's not just the market, either. She used to live in an apartment complex down the street that was adjacent to a large neighborhood called Providence Plantation. That also bothered her.

"I don't even understand why you would build a subdivision and then that's in the title," she said. "I mean, it could just be Providence. Why do you have to put 'plantation' in front of it?"

Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
Sandra Dickerson started a petition calling on Providence Plantation and other nearby developments to change their names.

As names of developments across the nation are coming under scrutiny, Sandra Dickerson wants the same to happen here. She moved to south Charlotte from New York in 2006.

"When I came here 15 years ago," she said, "I got to tell you when I came across houses -- and these were new houses, they weren't old, historical houses -- that were called plantation this and plantation that, I was kind of appalled. Really."

Just this week, Dickerson decided to do something to change that. She started an online petition calling on Providence Plantation and other developments to change their names. She says they just don't make the area feel welcoming.

"It kind of makes you feel like they're still suppressing Black folks, just by having a sign saying 'plantation,'" she said. "You don't get a good feeling from it, you know?"

Her petition only received about 60 signatures in the first week, but it turns out some residents of the Providence Plantation neighborhood were already discussing if the name should be altered.

Joye Baucom is a past president of the homeowners' association, and she's lived in the neighborhood since it was developed in the early 1970s.

"I've got such mixed feelings," she said. "I can't even answer to tell you what I think."

She said neighbors began discussing the name on NextDoor about a month ago, just as protests over the death of George Floyd were roiling the country.

"I never gave it a second thought until I realized how people were hurting," she said. "If there was some way that we could change the hurt that they're feeling -- make it positive."

She said she worries about the costs associated with changing neighborhood signage and property records, but she also acknowledged that the nation is in a moment of reckoning.

Credit Jenn Lang / WFAE
The Plantation Animal Clinic on West John Street in Matthews.

"I think the George Floyd incident is the perfect storm," she said. "If we don't do something now, nothing will ever get done."

The current president of the homeowners' association, Bob Hayes, declined to be interviewed, and it's unclear how many residents would support a name change, but Baucom noted that neighborhood already changed its name once before.

Originally, it was named Providence Acres. It was changed to Providence Plantation in the 1970s as a marketing ploy. Local historian Tom Hanchett said the developer likely wanted to evoke the image of mint juleps and wide-brimmed hats.

"Today, it kind of hits our ear with a thud, but I can remember growing up, not just in the South, but in the United States, where it was one of those terms from the romantic past," he said. "You imagine people wearing hoop skirts and having a lot of leisure."

Blame it on movies like "Gone With the Wind," said historian Willie Griffin.

"People love thinking about the history of the South as a bygone era that is missed," he said. "People long for that."

But that ignores the reality of what plantations were. Historically, they're defined as a farm with at least 20 enslaved people. It's an uncomfortable history that Griffin said isn't adequately taught.

"One perspective has been presented primarily throughout this country's history," he said, "and we have sort of simplified that perspective and erased other people's memories about those experiences."

Dickerson says even if her online petition gets the name changed, she knows it's not going to solve systemic racism. She says police reform is just as — if not more — important. But changing the names would at least show Black residents that they're being heard.

"It'll let people in the community know that, OK, you heard our voice," she said. "You heard something we said. That's just one little thing. We've got some other things that need to be changed. That's just the beginning."

She hopes neighbors will listen.

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An earlier version of this post said that Plantation Market is on Providence Road. Plantation Market is on Weddington Road at McKee Road.