Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert R. Sampson, October 9, 2002. Interview R-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sense of inevitability about losing land to government project

Sampson remembers Greensboro's 1959 urban renewal plan. He describes the process through which the city or state would take residents' land, and the residents' sense that losing their homes and businesses was inevitable.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert R. Sampson, October 9, 2002. Interview R-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANGELA HORNSBY:
Going back to the first renewal plan. Once the plan was announced, in about '59, I guess—.
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
—in about '58, '59, along in there—.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
This is something in other interviews I've tried to get from business people—is what type or types of resistance there might have been on the part of business owners in protesting the plan. Do you recall any type of organized—?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
No—.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
No?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
I don't think the businesses had much of a choice. The city decided that's what they were going to do. I think if some of the people didn't want to sell, they would get three appraisals on the property going back, and they'd have to move. The city has a law, I think, where they can condemn the property, then have I think it's two or three bids on it. Then they can buy your property for what it's worth, whether you want to sell it or not. It's just like over on the lower side of A&T, there's a lot of houses over there that people lived in. The city, state, or somebody—I think it was the state— where they had to sell their homes at the price that they said was the fair market price, and then they had to move elsewhere. All those houses now have now been torn down where A&T can expand.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
So did you get a sense then from other business owners and the relationships you fostered with them, that they, too, were skeptical about what might happen? Was there any way to gauge what other people were thinking about?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
The ones I talked with were skeptical also, very much so. Because they figured if they went out of business and are going to be relocated, they'd never get a chance to come back to Market Street in that particular area. And where I had the drugstore, that's where that big post office is, up the street there now.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
The reason I ask about this resistance question is because I was speaking to a professor at A&T University. He was in his teens during the "Heyday", as you spoke of. He was pretty involved in racial politics and activism at that time, and he said he remembers that there was organized resistance made on the part of some residents and a core of A&T students and Dudley High School students to try to save that area. And that there were mass meetings at area churches, like at Shiloh and things like that. It obviously wasn't successful, but that there was this sort of movement there. But you don't recall that?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
No, I don't recall that. There might have been. A lot of things were going on then. [unclear] pretty fast. I don't recall that, it could've been.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
But if it did, you weren't a participant in that?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
No.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
So how quickly did things start to roll?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
I think it was '61 or '62, along in there, when they really started tearing down everything. That Brown's Funeral home, that big funeral home up here, was on this side of Market Street, but he was in the way for the post office. And his building was relatively new. So the city bought a lot across the street, tore this building down, and he built a building (the same building— right across the street, where they could have space for the post office. And you know when they put a post office in there, these people who have been displaced can't come back in. But that's the way they did it.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
So was there a feeling on most of the business owners that there was really nothing that anyone could do to sort of stop the process?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
That was the feeling that I [unclear] a lot of people I talked with—that that's what they were going to do and nothing you could do about it.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
And for people who had been on that street longer than you'd been, how did that effect them from an emotional standpoint? How did that effect you from an emotional standpoint?
ROBERT R. SAMPSON:
Well, I hadn't been there very long, and I was renting. But the people who owned their businesses, they were the ones that was really upset about it. And I guess they fought as much as they could, but there won't much they could do about it.