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  • Writer's pictureChristie A. Cruise, PhD

LINES /līn/s: an agreed-upon approach; a policy

“They were tearing down his house because San Francisco is engaging, as all, most northern cities now are engaged in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out. It means negro removal; that is what it means.” James Baldwin, A Conversation with James Baldwin, Perspectives: Negro and the American Promise, 1963


In my travels across the United States, one thing has become increasingly clear: the pervasive nature of urban renewal and gentrification. These processes often involve displacing economically disadvantaged populations to make way for wealthier residents, leading to a cycle of rising property values, increased rent prices, and the alienation of long-standing Black communities.


As an academic with a background in higher education, my understanding of gentrification deepened through my consulting business, That's Write Consulting. While editing a client's dissertation, I delved into the historical implications of urban renewal and displacement, particularly as they relate to racism and classism. This research opened my eyes to the intentional exclusion of Black people from the benefits of home ownership through practices like redlining and covenant agreements.



During my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to witness gentrification firsthand in Key West, Florida. The town's Bahama Village, established by free Black Bahamian and Caribbean immigrants in the 1800s, was undergoing significant change due to rising housing prices. Conversations with residents highlighted the community's rich history and the challenges they faced in preserving their homes and heritage.


One elder shared a book, Forgotten Legacy: Blacks in Nineteenth Century Key West, which provided valuable insights into Bahama Village's past. I also visited the local library archives to understand the community's roots further. Despite its modest homes, Bahama Village's proximity to downtown and the beach made it an attractive destination for wealthy, white buyers, exacerbating the displacement of its Black residents.



This experience reinforced my understanding of gentrification as a complex issue with deep-rooted historical implications. It also inspired me to explore these themes in my own work. In my poetry collection, Thick Black Lines, I touch on the policies and practices that have marginalized Black communities, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and resisting these boundaries. The "Lines" section of the book prompts readers to acknowledge the enduring impacts of imperialism and colonialism on urban renewal, gentrification, and the displacement of Black and Indigenous communities.


As I continue my journey as a poet, scholar, and traveler, I remain committed to shedding light on the realities of gentrification and advocating for the preservation of communities like Bahama Village. It is only through understanding and empathy that we can work towards a more equitable future for all.


 

Photos taken during my exploration of Bahama Village, December 2021



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