For What The World Was Fighting For The Negro Never Knew,

Teeth Whitening 4 You
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For what the world was fighting for

The Negro never knew,

But his ability taught him

To the colors he must prove true.

The road from loss to prosperity

On the last leg of their 2001 trip, Lacretia and her sister left the hills and hollows of Perry County and headed about 90 miles northeast, to the state’s largest city. In Nashville, they met their great-aunt, Bernice Craig Hicks. She was a centenarian by then and had lived in the same craftsman-style home since the 1940s. It sat in the heart of Edgehill, a neighborhood that was once a hub for Nashville’s Black middle class.

She was a mentor to generations of Black children. With no Black high school in Perry County, Helen stayed with her Aunt Bernice to attend school in Nashville. Bernice opened her house for anyone who asked, relative or not. Such hospitality was referred to as an “underground railroad” of education for Black kids seeking good schools in larger cities. Officials in many places caught on to the practice, education historian Anderson said, and would try to weed out children who didn’t live in the district by asking them to recite their home address.

Relatives estimate that Bernice made her Villa Place house the home for dozens of rural Tennessee students who attended Nashville schools over the years.

Bernice always loved company. She hosted barbecues and backyard birthday parties, said her grandson, Ronnie Miller, a second-cousin to Lacretia.

Bernice Craig, at age 16, wrote a poem that was published in a Black newspaper in Nashville. She later left Perry County for good as a young woman, marrying a preacher and real estate investor. Settling in Nashville, Bernice Craig Hicks made her home a haven for Black students from rural Tennessee. Scores of them stayed at her Villa Place home over the years so they could attend school in the city.

Will Craig’s daughter, Bernice was a generation closer to slavery than were Helen and Mack. And unlike them, she had left Perry County for good as a young woman, marrying a preacher and real estate investor named Walker Hicks. The two settled in Nashville and built a portfolio of properties and businesses. On one block of South Street, they ran an ice cream shop, a restaurant, and a grocery store. Around the corner, they built a church – Hicks Tabernacle. By the 1940s, they’d earned enough to buy the sunny house on Villa Place.

But toward the end of the Civil Rights movement, they sustained a major economic loss, one that shrank the legacy they could leave to relatives – so-called generational wealth.

The forces that lay behind that loss would have the opposite impact on the father of Brett Guthrie.

An ascent – and a decline

Now 84, Lowell Guthrie did not grow up in privilege. His father had gone bankrupt when Lowell was a baby.

A self-described “C” student in high school, he served two years in the U.S. Navy. In the early 1960s, while taking college courses at the University of North Alabama in Florence, he took a job at a Ford plant in nearby Sheffield.

Lowell Guthrie, founder of Trace Die Cast and father of Congressman Brett Guthrie. Photo via Facebook

Lowell started there as a janitor. But according to a detailed 2002 Stanford Graduate School of Business case study on the company he went on to build, Lowell rose quickly at Ford to a supervisory position. The experience served as “excellent leadership training,” Lowell told the Stanford interviewer. Lowell didn’t respond to requests for comment.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, white men had easier times finding jobs in the South, where employment discrimination was standard.

A Ford spokesman said the company did not have demographic records of the plant where Lowell worked. But Ford’s former head of labor relations, Peter Pestillo, told Reuters the factory’s workforce was made up mostly of white men.

Still, Lowell’s ascent at Ford was notable, as was his determination to start his own business.

Ford shuttered the plant in the early 1980s, and Lowell lost his job in his 40s. He and a colleague made an unsuccessful bid to buy the plant, which made aluminum die-cast parts. For five years, Lowell drove across the country, looking for a place to build a factory.

Then, according to the Stanford case study, Lowell got a call from a cousin at the economic development agency in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The city was keen to grow its economy and invited Lowell to build there. Bowling Green was so eager, the Stanford authors reported, that the chamber of commerce negotiated a bank loan on Lowell’s behalf. The chamber’s marketing director declined to comment to Reuters.

Kevin Brooks, a Bowling Green attorney, is a shareholder at the firm that helped Lowell start Trace Die Cast in 1988. The city had been growing fast, he said, thanks in large part to the highway built in the 1960s and early 1970s: Interstate 65. Bowling Green “wouldn’t have near the economic success it’s had” if not for I-65, Brooks said.

The route was nicknamed “Auto Alley” because it anchors auto plants for carmakers from Hyundai to General Motors. Lowell’s Trace Die Cast sits off a stretch of I-65, where it makes parts such as engine covers, battery trays and gearboxes. In 2022, it had estimated revenue of $120 million, according to research by PitchBook, a financial and data research firm. Trace employs around 400 people.

The same highway that helped Lowell’s company grow was partly responsible for taking away the businesses of Bernice Craig Hicks.

Starting in 1966, Nashville officials bulldozed much of Edgehill. Newly freed Black people had moved to the area, and it became a haven for Black doctors, educators and artists. Nashville’s leaders wanted to redevelop it, and make room for the expansion of I-65. They were also keen to grow the city’s downtown commercial district and to nurture the nearby “Music Row,” the heart of the growing country music industry.

Bernice and Walker kept their Edgehill home, but the city took their business properties.

Following World War II, U.S. federal policy encouraged so-called urban renewal projects. Cities would propose redevelopment projects that, if approved, enjoyed two-thirds funding by the central government. Proponents framed the plans as ways to clear areas deemed slums, for social aims such as public housing and for economic opportunities such as new business districts. Today, many scholars see the movement as misguided. “So many unfulfilled promises. Cities bulldozing entire neighborhoods and not doing anything to benefit the residents there,” said Perry of the Brookings Institution.

Eminent domain authority gave local governments enormous power to reimagine communities they deemed blighted – and in many places, Black neighborhoods bore the brunt. Nashville relocated more than 4,100 families between 1950 and 1966. Although Black residents made up just 38% of the city’s 1960 population, two-thirds of those displaced were Black, according to government data compiled by researchers at the University of Richmond.

‘Intrinsic value to whiteness’

The displacement continued in the late 1960s: More than 2,100 Edgehill families – 84% of them Black, according to the Richmond researchers – were dislodged. Nearly a quarter of the parcels were specifically used to make room for I-65.

Sale deeds show the city bought Bernice and Walker’s crown jewel parcel – containing the grocery, restaurant and ice cream parlor – for $38,000 in June 1967. The city later paid a similar sum to take the site of their church.

Before urban renewal in Nashville, Bernice Craig Hicks and her husband ran a grocery store, left. Emboldened by eminent domain authority, the city purchased that land, and the store was razed. Today, a fire hydrant links the past to the present. Left: Courtesy of the Nashville Public Library. Right: REUTERS/Kevin Wurm

Urban renewal “cleared virtually all business establishments” from Edgehill, concerned citizens wrote in a 1970 letter to George Romney, then-secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Experts say such projects often exacerbated the blight they claimed to address. Without grocers like Hicks, Edgehill became a food desert. New public housing, some of it substandard and poorly maintained, brought more poverty. Property prices fell.

Outside Edgehill, business boomed. Music Row thrived. I-65, finished a few years later, made Nashville accessible to millions, and was a draw for the auto-alley entrepreneurs, whose businesses were later served by Lowell Guthrie’s.

Nine years after Nashville paid Bernice and her husband $42,500 to demolish the half-acre parcel that held their church, the city combined that land with other parcels to create a nearly 2-acre lot. That larger property was sold in 1979 to an automotive company for $133,500.

In 2021, that larger property had grown to almost 7 acres and was sold to a developer that plans to build condos.

The sales price: $42.3 million.

After Bernice Craig married a preacher and real estate investor named Walker Hicks, the two built a portfolio of properties and businesses in the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville. On one block alone, they ran an ice cream shop, a restaurant, and a grocery store. Around the corner, they built a church – Hicks Tabernacle.

Property values tend to rise when Black residents move away, said Perry, the Brookings scholar. His research has found that lots in predominantly Black neighborhoods appraise 23% lower than those in comparable white neighborhoods. “There is an intrinsic value to whiteness,” Perry said.

One Black resident who held on through Edgehill’s transition is Ronnie Miller, Bernice’s grandson. Ronnie paid about $20,000 for his home some 45 years ago. Last year, the house next door sold for nearly $900,000.

Ronnie Miller, the grandson of Bernice Craig Hicks, wonders what might have become of the Edgehill neighborhood and his family’s businesses there had the city not leveled much of the area as part of an urban renewal program. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm

Ronnie said his house is worth more than he could have dreamed. But he has no desire to sell. And he wonders what might have become of the family businesses had they survived. So does Lacretia.

She believes the loss helps explain why there isn’t as much economic mobility for Blacks as for whites. Black people with postgraduate degrees have the same median net worth as white people with only a high school education. Black college students also carry disproportionately large student debts and are less likely to inherit money. It’s a vicious cycle: Starting out with less means struggling to accumulate more.

“Black folks are blamed for not having done enough,” Lacretia said, “or been industrious enough – yet, here you have someone who, by all accounts, did everything you’re supposed to. Can you imagine if all the Bernices out there had been allowed to thrive, where we’d be now?”

Brett Guthrie

U.S. Representative Brett Guthrie is a Republican from Kentucky. In most matters, including those related to race, political observers say he has kept a relatively low profile since first taking national office in 2009. He has twice voted in favor of removing Confederate statues from Capitol Hill. When civil rights icon and fellow Representative John Lewis died in 2020, Guthrie released a statement calling Lewis “a true American hero who will be sorely missed.” Lewis, Guthrie said, was “incredibly courageous, facing the many challenges in his life with dignity … Hopefully we can all honor his life by re-dedicating ourselves to his work – to ensure we all have the courage to treat each other with kindness, dignity, and respect.”

‘My family has … lived this dream’

Brett Guthrie graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1987, served in the Army as an officer, and then went on to work for the family business. He later attended the Yale School of Management and was serving as a Kentucky state senator when the National Republican Congressional Committee recruited him to run in 2008 for the seat he now holds. The success of the Guthrie family business, Trace Die Cast, helped propel him to Congress.

“When you’re recruiting a candidate, things you’ll often look at are: Is the person a current elected official, or a prominent businessperson, or is the family name a recognizable one?” said Ken Spain, who was the committee’s spokesman at the time. “In this case, it was all of the above.”

Brett Guthrie has enjoyed the support of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. Photo via Representative Guthrie’s congressional office

Spain also told Reuters that Brett had the crucial support of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, a longtime ally of his father, Lowell. McConnell would “drop everything” to take a call from Lowell, a former aide once told a Kentucky newspaper. When the Republican Party was looking for a congressional candidate in 2008, McConnell singled out Brett for praise in the primary.

Brett’s 2020 financial disclosure form shows he remains tied to the company as an uncompensated board member. Much of his money is in trusts invested in the company, and he has disclosed owning a 25% stake in the firm. His wealth has grown from about $500,000 when he entered Congress to several million dollars today, according to estimates fromOpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research group that uses the public financial disclosures of politicians to gauge their net worth.

Politically, he is a rank-and-file, traditional Republican who, according to people in both parties, keeps a low profile. He did not object to the results of the 2020 presidential election. He has twice voted in favor of removing Confederate statues from Capitol Hill, a position supported by most Democrats.

Brett Guthrie’s father, Lowell, funded a bell tower at Western Kentucky University in honor of U.S. service members who died in battle, including Lowell’s brother “Bobby” Guthrie, who was killed in Korea. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm

The Guthrie family has shared its wealth. In 2002, Lowell funded a bell tower at Western Kentucky University in honor of U.S. service members who died in battle, including a brother killed in the Korean War. In a speech at the dedication, Brett said his Uncle Bobby had helped preserve the American Dream.

“My family,” Brett added, “has certainly lived this dream.”

The Craigs say they too have lived the dream. Reginald Craig, Mack’s son, said he has accomplished almost every goal he set for himself. He has a college degree, a good job as a salesman, and the respect of his colleagues. He owns a home and drives a Mercedes. Reginald considers himself a staunch conservative, and a proud supporter of Donald Trump.

“I respect his ability to create lots of businesses. He’s created a lot of jobs,” said Reginald, who said he’s “1,000%” behind Trump’s 2024 campaign.

Others in the family, including Lacretia, are on the political left.

If she could meet with Brett Guthrie, Lacretia would ask him what values guide his work. She’d ask if, like her, he feels moved by his family history to work for a better future.

“I don’t have a desire for anyone to feel guilty for actions of others in the past,” she said. But if we don’t confront that past, she added, it will continue to contaminate the present. “Conversations about race might leave a scar,” Lacretia said, “but they will also help us heal.”

She too said she has lived a version of the American Dream, building a life of reliable income and stability. But it looks different to her from the Guthries’ version in one key respect: “I could weather a crisis or two,” Lacretia said, “but I don’t have the backing of family members, or coffers to draw on.”

“For me,” she said, “it’s fragile.”

During a recent trip to her forebears’ land in Tennessee, Lacretia Johnson Flash visits a cemetery where many of her ancestors are buried. She said they inspire her. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm


Slavery’s Descendants

Racial Wealth GapA history of inequity

ReparationsWhere some of slavery’s descendants stand

Making AmendsA history of reparations

MethodologyHow we researched the genealogies

ResourcesWebinars for researching your roots

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