Integration, while necessary, cost us more than we might have initially thought. I’m not the first person to make this statement and I won’t be the last. Simply put, the costs of integration were high. Before integration became federal law, Black people lived in tight-knit communities where they went to school with familiar faces, patronized each other’s businesses and, out of necessity, supported their own.

Once White institutions opened their doors to Black people, those tight-knit communities were diluted. Slowly, Black business owners moved their operations elsewhere and the middle class moved into White neighborhoods. And slowly, Black communities started to decline, forgotten by their own middle class, and neglected by local governments.
Nowhere is this pattern more evident than in my hometown. Houston’s Fifth Ward is where my grandparents and parents lived, learned and loved for most of their lives. Unfortunately for me, I will never know Fifth Ward the way that they knew it. I will never visit the burger joints and barbecue restaurants that made the neighborhood famous. I didn’t attend Phyllis Wheatley High School or worship at any of the historic churches.

When I drive down Lyons Avenue, gone are the theaters, juke joints, restaurants and stores.

The Corner of Lyons and Jensen, mid 1950s

We’re left only with rundown buildings and overrun lots.

Same Corner, Present

Gone are the doctors, lawyers and other professionals, and gone are their businesses.

Don’t mistake me; a few of those hallowed institutions still remain. But if you believe any of the older residents in the neighborhood, they retain little of their former glory.

My questions to you all: am I dreaming this? Or is this evident in your towns and neighborhoods as well? How do we even begin to rebuild? How do we restore the majesty of our institutions?