September 22, 2017

Urban Street Church: A Symbol Of Winston’s Neglected Urban Core

I drive by the old Urban Street Baptist Church, at 2315 Urban Street from time to time. It holds some sentimental importance to me. I attended church there when I was a kid in the early to mid-1980s.

The physical building and the neighborhood around it have both deteriorated over the decades. Recently, the City of Winston-Salem boarded up the place after vandals knocked out many of the church’s windows and open a couple of its doors. Probably so that local drug addicts could do all manner of unholy deeds in the old church building.

The neighborhood of Easton around Urban Street was constructed in years following World War II. Easton was originally an all-white neighborhood, with relatively simple and uniform homes funded by the G.I. Bill. It’s very similar to the Levittown houses that were built in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania during the post-WWII housing boom.

But as the homes in Easton aged and became less desirable to own white folks fled in droves. Many of them relocated to Davidson County. That’s where Urban Street Baptist Church went.

Constructed in 1955, Urban Street Baptist Church was once symbolic of a proud neighborhood. When the neighborhood started to hit the skids, the church bought property in Wallburg and started having some of their services there in the 1980s. In January 1991, the white congregation severed all ties with Urban Street and officially changed their name to Vernon Forest Baptist Church.

They sold the church property to another congregation, but that congregation has long since abandoned the building. Driving past 2315 Urban Street one might think that the building and neighborhood have always been blighted.

But there was a time when plentiful blue-collar manufacturing jobs sustained Urban Street and the entirety of the Easton Community. The old Western Electric plant on Old Lexington and the former McLean Trucking headquarters on the corner of Old Lexington and Waughtown each employed thousands of workers.

But Western Electric and McLean Trucking, two employers that used to provide thousands of jobs for workers with only a high school diploma are gone. They both shut down operations in the 1980s, around the same time that Urban Street was transitioning to away from Urban Street.

When Goodwill opened a retail store on nearby Waughtown Street in 2013, Councilmember James Taylor was so excited. But a Goodwill store is no substitute for factories.

The jobs that Winston has managed to bring to Winston through incentives aren’t being located in its urban core, where they are most needed. Instead, businesses are relocating to suburban business parks or downtown, depending on their needs.

The Urban Street Church is a symbol of our nation’s cruel indifference to urban problems. It’s also a symbol of Winston’s neglected urban core, the many problems, and challenges that are going largely unaddressed.

It may be a harbinger of things to come if Winston does find ways to bridge the socioeconomic gap between East Winston and the rest of the city.




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