Ostensibly designed to "clear" slums and improve living conditions, Urban Renewal and its dark heart, the city's powerful Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, used blight declarations and eminent domain in the most massive transfer of wealth in Columbia history.
Hundreds of families were displaced, and where black-owned homes and businesses once stood, white-owned HUD "projects" rose to house the displaced, while white-owned businesses and government agencies -- notably, City Hall and Columbia Public Schools -- divided up the remaining spoils.
Columbia was hardly the only city to use Urban Renewal as a wealth transfer tool. Cities nationwide partook, each with similarly unfortunate results (click image above).
As pictures of well-dressed and apparently prosperous men and women scroll by on a screen in back of Thompson, he reads the list, his voice cracking with subdued but evident emotion. "I was supposed to talk about desegregation," Thompson tells an audience. "But in light of certain things happening in our community, maybe we need to talk about Urban Renewal."
For the black community, 2012 was deja vu. Columbia residents were fighting a widespread Blight designation, a first step in the eminent domain process.
Urban Renewal's main target -- the roughly 180 acre "Douglass School Area" -- "was a self-sufficient neighborhood that had its own school, churches, doctors, lawyers, dentists, barbers, cobblers, blacksmiths, dance halls, pool halls, taxis, bars, and lots of music," Thompson explains (video here):
Then he lists the companies, many located in a business hub known as the Sharp End, often giving their original addresses and history. (The list is transcribed from his presentation, and spellings may not be entirely correct).
Uncle B's Ice House
Blue and White Cafe
Ginny Taylor's Tavern and Grill
Richardson Shoe Repair
Tom McQuitty's Barber Shop. "That's where many young kids got their first hair cuts," Thompson explained. "It was a Sharp End social center for 50 years before it fell to the wrecking ball of Urban Renewal in the late 1950's. It is now the parking garage at 5th and Walnut," i.e. Garagezilla.
Alvin Coleman's Liquor Store
Green Tree Club
Shook Herndon's Tavern
Phil and William's Barber Shop
Britt's Pool Hall
Merle Slater's Place
Miss Vi's Cafe
Dick Tibb's Pool Hall, "where Tony's Pizza is now."
"Above Tibb's was the Elk's Hall, the black community's center for dances and music," Thompson explains. "The U.S. Post Ofifce now covers whole north side of that block." The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority transferred the post office land to river shipping magnate Ray Eckstein, a white businessman from Wisconsin.
Coleman's Scrap Yard
Noble's Coal Yard
Lake's Barber Shop
Greene's Funeral Home
Stewart Parker's Funeral Home, "which was in the Blind Boone Home. It was the only African-American-owned business to survive," Thompson explains.
Monta Ralph's Chicken and Rib Shack at 206 N. 5th St. "It operated for more than 30 years," Thompson says. "Monta Ralph was known as Columbia's barbecue king."
Tiger Theatre. "Columbia's first African-American owned cinema.
That's where the Columbia Tribune building stands today."
Davis' Coal Company on Switzler
William's Barber Shop on N. 8th St.
Dr. Casall, Chiropractor
Dr. Roland Wiggins
Dr. Roy McAlister, Dentist. "He made patient visits 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
The list isn't nearly complete, but it's a good illustration of the loss of wealth -- and transfer of property -- from the black to the white community in Columbia. As they search for the roots of crime and despair, this glaring injustice strangely eludes city leaders. Thompson's list stands as a strong reminder, of both past -- and future.
"The Land Clearance Act never expired," he concludes. "Beware."