Charlotte Talks: Cornelius Neighborhood Smithville Fights For Revitalization

Feb 25, 2019

Monday, Feb. 25, 2019

The Smithville neighborhood in Cornelius is one of the oldest black neighborhoods in the county.  Created in 1908, it was settled by descendants of enslaved people.  The population there is declining, and revitalization attempts have been slow, but that may be about to change.  We talk about why and what activism may mean for Smithville.

Smithville Neighborhood in Cornelius
Credit Daniel Coston

The neighborhood of Smithville, just off of I-77 in Cornelius, is one of the oldest black neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County. It’s similar to many neighborhoods in the South, where land was granted to black people by white people to live on during segregation. Today, Smithville’s population is around 200 people, and has been dropping as people move away or as elder residents die.

The town of Cornelius is booming all around Smithville, with lakefront homes nearby going for millions of dollars, when the average home in Smithville is less than $100,000. The neighborhood has weathered many hardships over the decades, brought on by segregation, governmental neglect and gentrification. Attempts at revitalizing the neighborhood have been slow to come to fruition. Now talk of a new connector road that would go through Smithville has spurred many residents into action.

Smithville in Cornelius
Credit Daniel Coston

The Smithville Community Coalition has being working to stop the connector road that would interfere with part of the neighborhood and is working to try and revitalize Smithville. This includes working with town leaders on issues like affordable housing, and applying for grants that would help fund their efforts.

Host Mike Collins is joined by a panel of experts and residents of Cornelius to discuss the history of Smithville, its long relationship to Cornelius and a discussion of the possible paths forward.

WFAE's Finding Home Series also featured Smithville. Read about that here

Guests:

Pam Kelley, journalist and author of Money Rock: A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race, Ambition in the New South. She wrote a piece called “The Fight To Save Smithville”

Willie Jones, Cornelius resident, affordable housing expert. He’s spearheading the revitalization plan by the Smithville Community Coalition.

Mayor Woody Washam, mayor of Cornelius

Lisa Mayhew- Jones, president of the Smithville Community Coalition.