ALLEGHANY COUNTY, Va. – The only African American community in Alleghany County is about to undergo a rebirth.
In the 1960s, the government used eminent domain to take a large portion of Wrightsville to build Interstate 64.
It forced homeowners, like Liz Jordan’s parents, to move their house.
“I can remember when they moved two homes. They put them on a truck and moved them from where I-64 sits now,” Jordan said.
If you have ever traveled on I-64 through Covington, you have driven on the land that was once part of Wrightsville.
A map hanging inside the neighborhood museum shows just how large the community used to be. What is left now sits off a busy Route 220.
“We are small, but we’re big in heart,” said Jordan.
On the hearts of families left in Wrightsville is the hope of sprucing up their historic neighborhood. The road to restoring Wrightsville started several years ago with a community conversation of neighbors just coming together reminiscing about how things used to be and used to look.
“We were like, ‘What can we do to spruce our little community up?’” said Jordan.
“I went to our representatives and I was like, ‘Hey, you know, our community is really rustic, it could use some improvements for infrastructure and housing,’” said Wrightsville resident Deloris Quarles.
They secured a grant to preserve Wrightsville’s rich history.
Archie and Mary Wright founded the community in 1867 after Archie’s owner gave him freedom from slavery from a nearby farm.
“He worked, saved his money, purchased a parcel of land, as he would purchase land he would sell land, purchase, sell and that’s how Wrightsville came to be,” said Jordan.
Dr. Calvin McClinton is the great grandson of the founders.
“People found that history of my past exciting and said, ‘You have legacy, why aren’t you doing something that?’ I’m like, ‘Ah, who wants to know anything about that, that’s just history, it’s boring,’” said McClinton.
Taking their advice, he started an annual festival in Wrightsville, celebrating the contributions of African Americans.
But still, the community realized Wrightsville needed updating.
However, change was on the way.
In 2019, Wrightsville was awarded $1.4 million, the largest amount given to any project.
“I think there’s a sowing season in your life and then there’s a harvest season and I think at this point it’s harvest time for Wrightsville,” said Quarles.
Their harvest season comes in 2020, when the nation has watched the fight against racial inequalities play out on their screens. It’s something not lost on McClinton.
“It’s interesting that all of this is coming to a head at the same time,” said McClinton.
He hopes the hard work and success of Wrightsville leaders will serve as an example to similar communities.
“It’s really important for us to listen, to come up with a plan, and then put it into action, not to just gripe, gripe, gripe. ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that, they’re doing this to me, I can’t get that,’ but stop and say ‘Alright, so there are these inequalities. How can I change that? What do I need to do to make that change actionable?’” said McClinton.
While they preserve the past, they look to the future and all that will be after work is complete.
“We’re just thankful through God’s grace and mercy that He has allowed this to happen and we know the outcome is going to be spectacular,” said Jordan.
“I see it as a place that actually, potentially in my mind to be a tourist location,” Quarles said.
“I’m looking forward to when people can come and say, ‘Wow, I did not know this was here. Wow, those people did that,’” said McClinton.
The grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development will pay for upgrades to roads, drainage and housing.