Packed house listens to Jordan Bell’s history of Roanoke’s Urban Renewal Projects

by Freeda Cathcart

On Thursday evening, August 22, some sixty people filled the Gainsboro library’s meeting room to attend the League of Women Voters of the Roanoke Valley’s program: Roanoke’s Urban Renewal and Healing Systemic Racism.

Jordan Bell delivered an excellent presentation about how Roanoke’s urban renewal projects destroyed Black communities and businesses. He first described the prosperity and successes for the Black Gainsboro neighborhood, then explained what Richard Chubb referred to when he said Roanoke had “neon.” Gainsboro had the bright neon lights of a successful city like New York and Philadelphia. A Black person didn’t have to leave Roanoke to find success or to attend a star-studded evening.

Bell has spent countless hours listening to the elders describe how Gainsboro used to be before “urban renewal.” Roanoke didn’t have only one urban renewal project like most other cities. Roanoke has had several projects over several decades. He defined systemic racism and illustrated how the government’s projects targeted the prosperous Black communities. The urban renewal projects cheated Black families out of their homes that were already paid for, preventing them from passing on their hard earned property to their families.

During the question and answer portion of the evening Theresa Gill-Walker asked about gentrification and how developers were trying to pressure her and others to sell their homes in the Evans Spring neighborhood. Some families had previously moved out of Gainsboro due to an urban renewal project. Bell explained the difference between “urban renewal” (a government project) and gentrification (private developers’ projects). The audience engaged in the discussion on how to protect Evans Springs and other communities from losing their wealth while protecting their neighborhoods.

Richard Chubb, Council Members Anita Price and Bill Bestpitch, Charles Price from the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, among others.

Linda Garvelink, League of Women Voters of Virginia treasurer, drove down from northern Virginia to attend the event with her husband. Garvelink who was excited to see the new LWV of the Roanoke Valley taking the initiative to learn about Roanoke’s past and with dedication to continuing the work to eliminate systemic racism.

Freeda Cathcart, as diversity chair for the League of Women Voters of the Roanoke Valley (LWVRV). Cathcart invited others to join the newly chartered organization and about the League of Women Voters (LWV) commitment to being inclusive. LWV is an organization fully committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in principle and in practice.

Please contact Carol Rowan at if interested in joining LWVRV.