The Walnut Tree community is awaiting response from the Town of Walnut Cove after individual residents and the Walnut Tree Community Association (WTCA) filed a lawsuit against the town on Sept. 7 citing repeated denials of petitions for annexation violate the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. The Town of Walnut Cove has 30 days to respond or file an extension, according to WTCA president David Hairston.
“We’re hoping they will settle so we don’t have to go to court, but we’re prepared either way,” he said.
This marks the fourth time the community has petitioned to be annexed into the town, but Hairston said the battle has been brewing for decades. In January of 2017, the town rejected another plea for annexation by a 3-2 vote.
“I hope everybody understands it’s not the people of Walnut Cove we’re suing, it’s the town council which represents the town of Walnut Cove.” Hairston said. “Out of all the explanations they’ve given us, none of them panned out except for race. You can’t say it’s financial when you annex other areas and look past us again and again.”
Hairston and other residents of the Walnut Tree believe the issue reaches beyond revenue, and is rooted in fear of a possible paradigm shift in elected officials.
“There’s 73 homes back here and we’re a predominantly black neighborhood. We know 50 to 60 votes could easily change an election. But I would also say to that, we want to contribute. This community is made up of incredible people and they deserve to have a voice.”
The Walnut Tree community was built in the 1970s and aimed at housing low-income families with mortgages offered through Farmers Home Administration.
“My mother paid $16,000 for her house and it was one of the first ones built,” Hairston said. “In the beginning, she thought she was in the city limits because her house was inside where the sign was located. But she woke up one day, and the sign was moved. Even back then, they were always told these homes would be part of the town.”
Hairston said in 1996, due to murky water with a pungent smell, banks refused to loan money to people interested in buying a home in the Walnut Tree.
“It practically ripped the community apart. This was the American dream for a lot of people who built homes here. Over the years, people have had to move out. We had to pay a higher rate for water, which is out of the city limits so I understand, but we’re paying a higher rate for a product you can’t use. The water is only good for washing your car or cleaning your commode. People here have had to use bottled water for 20 years.”
Hairston added, “This was something my mother fought for until the day she died and I’m going to finish this for her. If I have to go to court after court, petition after petition, I will. It’s something she shouldn’t have had to fight for, but she did and so will I.”
David Webster said he believes change is coming soon.
“I’ve been in Walnut Cove since I was small and to get something done, it takes time, but this is long overdue.”
Webster and his wife Virginia raised their family in the Walnut Tree and said they’ve settled into their community for too long to move at this stage in their life. And they don’t want to start over.
“It’s not just about us anymore, it’s about these children. We want them to have clean water and we don’t want them to have to fight for it like we have,” Webster said.
Walnut Tree Community Playground
The children in the Walnut Tree know little about the recent lawsuit, but are anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the new community playground slated to be built Oct. 21 and 22.
“Kids have got basketball goals on the side of the road and they play in the street. This is going to be set up on a hill so neighbors can see them and make sure they’re safe,” Hairston said. “It’s such a joy to ride through and hear kids holler, ‘When’s it going to be done Mr. David?’ They’re excited and we can’t wait for it to be ready for them.”
Dozens of businesses in Walnut Cove have helped make the playground project possible.
“Every business in town that I asked to help sponsor this for the kids, it wasn’t even a hesitation. They went straight to their checkbook,” Hairston said. “That lets me know we belong to the Town of Walnut Cove.”
Recently, Hairston was planting grass on the lot of the playground and his eighth grade homeroom teacher, Jane Williams, stopped by to donate to the cause.
“It says a lot about her because I can tell you it wasn’t based on how I acted as an eighth grade kid,” Hairston laughed.
On a more serious note, Hairston said he’s proud of where he came from.
“And we’re going to make sure the next generation feels the same way.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.