Jerry Castleberry Class of 1965
Hey mates, this is an article I sent to The Times when the city began discussing selling Butler High School.
While riding through the community and watching the changes being made and reading of changes to be made, I realized we are living in a shrinking community. Too long has our city commissioners chosen the path of monologue rather than that of dialogue when it comes to dealing with people and projects in the black community. It’s unfortunate we have to assemble to protest the selling of one of this community’s most treasured sites, but it’s even more unfortunate that the city power structure left the community with no alternative. Let’s go back in time a bit and look at where this community has come from and where it is now. Through the years, one can count more than fifty black-owned businesses on Athens Street, now there are less than five. The real problems as far as the community is concerned started with Urban Renewal. Many families were displaced during this period. This is evidenced by the vacant land still present in the community. The 1960 census totaled 3,819 blacks in the city, and the 1980 census showed 3,277 blacks in Gainesville, losing 542 citizens. There has to be a reason, if not a concern, for this decline. At some point during this time, a decision was made to close E.E. Butler High School, a school that had only seven graduating classes. The second, if not the first, insult to the community’s people was changing the name Athens Street to Sycamore Street. My first knowledge of this wasn’t until I saw the new street sign. Now maybe the city advertised this decision, I really don’t know, but I believe the name Green Street will never be changed because of its historical heritage. Well, what about the heritage of Athens Street and the community? Just imagine someone trying to change the names Auburn Ave., Peachtree Street, Broadway, or Fifth Ave. Next, in line with a long line of insults, was the decision to demolish the old Fair Street School building. There was a tremendous amount of history in that building, with none of it being preserved. And now, the decision has been made to sell the E.E. Butler property. I realize this building has not been used as a school for some fifteen years, but there was always hope in the community that someday, this facility would reopen as a school. Once this property is sold, there is no hope of this ever happening. The sad part is our city fathers don’t seem to care. It has always been my hope and desire that when my children and their children review Gainesville’s history, they will be able to see and read about the contributions made by this city’s black citizens. If we allow all the historical sites to be sold or destroyed, what will they have to measure our contributions by? Except for the churches in the community, one would have difficulty finding a facility with any historical value, another reason we should support our churches. Let me take note of my major disappointments with our city fathers. I have been so greatly disappointed with the city’s effort or lack of effort to keep the area residents apprised of plans for the Sycamore, Summitt, and High Street areas. The next target area of Community Development has been defined as the Summitt Street and High Street areas. Is this to have the same results that Urban Renewal had? Keep in mind that these two areas are continuing links to the area presently being developed commercially. You could draw a conclusion about this from other developments in the community. With all the development going on in the community, I think the commissioners should explain the plans for the community, especially the Atlanta Street area. I would be the last person to oppose progress, but I oppose it at the expense of and displacement of the community’s residents. Why should we be any less concerned with what goes on in our community as those who oppose The Presidential Parkway, the Plantation Development, or Union Carbide? People, we can ill-afford to wait any longer to take a stand on the selling of the E.E. Butler Property and other issues facing our community, for our wait almost always means never. One day Gainesville will recognize its’ black citizens that contributed so mightily to its history. There will be people like Beulah Rucker, George Stephens, Dr. E.E. Butler, Clara B. McCrary, and Mattie Moon. But until that recognition comes, we must have a reminder such as the E.E. Butler High School Building shining as a beacon light to remind our city fathers of Our Glorious Past.