Residents of Belews Street Remember Lost Community
Back in the 1950s, the kids on Belews Street would rush home from school, run out into the streets and play until the sun went down.
“We played what people called ‘ghetto games’- like ‘Simon Says’,” remembered Barbara Morris, 68, a former resident.
Morris grew up in the Belews Street neighborhood but her family was forced to move away after the city constructed Business 40 and U.S. 52 interchange right through a place she used to call home. She has lived in Winston-Salem her whole life.
On Oct. 26, the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission honored the old neighborhood by unveiling a historic marker in a ceremony that featured local politicians and former residents. Those who gathered spoke about the history of the predominantly African-American neighborhood that Linda Dark, a member of the commission, said played “an important part of the community’s heritage.”
The event was a result of Morris’ work as one of the original members of Belews Street Reunion, which led the effort to get recognition for the lost area. When Morris first spoke to the city government about getting a marker, she was questioned about why she cared if she didn’t live there right now.
“When asked if I had property down there, I said ‘No, I have memories,’ ” Morris said.
Those who helped organize the event agreed that the neighborhood was worthy of remembrance.
“It was a true community in the sense that when people needed help, neighbors helped each other out,” said Michelle McCullough, commission’s coordinator of Winston-Salem.
According to McCullough, the destruction of the neighborhood was part of a federal initiative by President Dwight Eisenhower to revitalize poorer neighborhoods and encourage cities to invest in new projects.
State Sen. Earline Parmon’s family was also displaced during the construction and praised the efforts of Morris and others who sought to honor the area decades after its destruction.
“It shows that people refuse to let the memories of their childhood community just die in the ashes,” Parmon said.
Morris remembered the neighborhood for the warmth of its residents and the closeness of the community. She said on her block alone, there were three “mom and pop shops”, run by family friends she knew very well.
“It was a special neighborhood because everybody knew everybody,” Morris said.
Morris was raised by her maternal grandmother and her paternal grandparents lived just a few houses away.
“I knew a person on every street in that area. It was like its own small town within the city.”
Because of this intimacy, there was a surplus of kids around to play with at all times.
“We had some fields where we would play softball in the neighborhood,” Morris said. “You could look out and have four or five ballgames at a time. That was our playground.”
But not all the fun was spent away from the adults.
“There was this man named Mr. Peay who didn’t have a wife or kids. On Sundays in the fall, Mr. Peay, for whatever reason, had enough instruments for us and we would all have a parade together.”
The neighborhood wasn’t all about play. They were connected spiritually as much as they were socially.
“We knew each other all week and we went to church together on Sunday,” Morris said. “My grandmother would make fudges and bake cakes for people for the holidays.”
Morris said that this ceremony was a call to remember what made the community such a special place rather than think of the tough times that followed.
“I like to remember it as a place of being safe together,” Morris said. “If I came home and my grandmother wasn’t home, I could go across the street to a neighbor’s house. There were always people you knew there to look after you.”
All that ended when construction began on the two highways through their neighborhood, which left many without a home or way to pay the bills.
“When we moved, they gave us $52 a month for two years, which wasn’t a lot because the house wasn’t worth that much,” Morris said.
Morris said that since many people rented places in the Belews Street neighborhood because of the low prices, people now couldn’t afford new housing and suffered for years. Parmon agreed, saying that many people’s lives were never the same.
“It was a thriving mixed community of businesses, homes, and home-owners,” Parmon said. “The highway split up a community and took away people’s businesses who had been successful for years without a chance of reaching that success again.”