State Rep. James Beverly assured a crowd of nearly 100 people gathered Monday evening in the cafeteria at L.H. Williams Elementary School that he would back them when it comes to saving the Pursley Street school.
“To allay your fears, I am with you ... I will fight the fight to keep it preserved,” Beverly said.
Rumors about the school’s closing began circulating earlier this month, drawing a crowd of about 50 of the school’s supporters to a recent Bibb County school board meeting.
“I am who I am today because of what I learned here,” Willie Frazier said to Beverly. “This was the place to be. ... This was the place that meant everything to anyone of color.”
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The Interstate 16 and Interstate 75 interchange project was another hot topic of the town hall meeting.
While the $495 million Georgia Department of Transportation project is already a reality, Beverly implored neighbors to voice input on what will happen to the neighborhood when it’s complete, such as future plans for zoning changes, streetscapes and the relocations of houses that were moved for roadwork.
“There has been an intentional divestment of resources in Pleasant Hill,” Beverly said. “Or if it wasn’t intentional, it was benign neglect. They stepped back and let Pleasant Hill go wherever it was going to go. It started in the ‘60s. That is a fact.”
Residents were devastated in 1965 when the state agency built I-75 through the heart of the mostly black neighborhood. Effects of the fissure are still visible today.
Beverly is chairman of the Macon-Bibb Community Enhancement Authority, which as been tasked with helping oversee the mitigation work.
Several people voiced complaints alleging the department of transportation neglected the houses they had moved before, allowing them to be vandalized and weathered. Some also alleged racism, citing the lack of landscaping and infrastructure on roads such as Log Cabin Drive and in east Macon compared to roads in north Macon such as Forest Hill Road.
Former Macon City Council member Tom Ellington reminded folks that widening I-75 for a second time was not Beverly’s idea.
“GDOT made a lot of promises and GDOT historically doesn’t think a lot about the people,” Ellington said. “GDOT pours concrete. They build roads and bridges.”
GDOT did “such incredible damage the first time and, frankly, they were willing to do a second time,” Ellington said.
Three representatives of GDOT attended the meeting. The lone black GDOT representative, the head of construction, was the only one of them willing to speak after Beverly invited all of them to the front of the room.