Former residents remember Carver Heights

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 30, 2009

Emotions were mixed at the Carver Heights “old project”celebration Saturday as former residents and friends gathered toremember the life of the almost 60-year old housing project, nowdefunct and awaiting demolition.

“I was so excited to have a decent place to live in Brookhaven,”said 71-year-old Carolyn Reed, who lived in the complex for manyyears as a young woman. “This is a happy moment. I’m glad to bealive and be a witness to this.”

Reed was one of a crowd of people who turned out at thecelebration Saturday, some excited about the possibilities, andsome nostalgic and sad to see the buildings go.

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“It’s hurtful. They should leave it,” said Savannah Childs, whosaid she had happy memories in the complex. “Raising my childrenand my mom here. So many memories.”

Her sadness was echoed by other people as well. Her daughterPamela Bates said the demolition is like “tearing down a piece ofhistory.”

Others agreed.

“I’m sad. It’s like an old dog that you’ve raised from a babytil it died, you’re gonna miss it,” said Sherry Cooper Spencer, wholived in Carver Heights until about 1980. “I lived there about 20years. I was raised in the projects.”

Meanwhile, Jackie Humphrey Marcellous said she remembers being achild and playing hide-and-go seek, and racing homemade go-cartsaround the project.

Spencer said she has one distinct memory about her childhood atCarver Heights.

“I remember being warm when it was cold,” she said. “That wasone thing about it. It could keep you warm.”

That warmth seems to have stretched beyond just the physical.Former residents of Carver Heights remember the days when theneighborhood was like a big gathering of family, and when safetyand familiarity went with the territory.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said JonnieSullivan, who lived there as a small child. “This was the village.Families took pride in their units, and if you did something wrong,the neighbors would whip you for it, then you went home and got awhipping too.”

Her friend Virginia Williams Lyons remembers the samephenomena.

“Oh yes, one phone call, that’s all,” she said with a laugh.”You did something wrong, you got a couple of whoopings.”

Longtime resident Randy Jones said part of what shaped thegenerations of adults who remember Carver Heights fondly was thatfeeling of a family-oriented community.

“If you messed up in front of someone else’s house, they wouldget you for it,” he said. “Everybody watched out for each other’skids, and everyone disciplined them. It created a foundation for usas adults.”

Yet, through the years things changed, Jones said.

“I know everything changes,” he said. “I knew this time wouldcome. And they said that feasibility – it just makes more sense totear it down and build something else here. I look forward toseeing what happens, and I hope the new place has the same impacton people that ours had on us.”

Housing commission member Robert Tyler said part of the reasonthe buildings are being torn down is because of the crime element.He said the homes that will be built back will be more evenlyspaced and not so close together.

“The crime, and it was just too close together,” he said. “Thereare 100 units on this acreage and we’re going to build back50-60.”

Tyler said the buildings will also be one-family homes orduplexes, and will look like a development of homes rather thanapartments or a housing project.

Meanwhile, Housing Authority Director Mike Proffitt said therewill also be a separate complex built for around 40 units forelderly tenants.

Reed said she’s excited about that possibility.

“By the time they finish that, I’ll be ready to move into one ofthose,” she said.

Officials said there are several safety measures that have to betaken before the project will be taken down for good. Proffitt saidonce the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grantspermission, the city will advertise for bids for thedemolition.