Growing up in the Wilmore section of Charlotte, Winston Robinson dreamed of someday living in McCrorey Heights, the west Charlotte neighborhood developed in the late 1940s by H.L. McCrory, Johnson C. Smith University’s first Black president.
Now Robinson calls the neighborhood home and is throwing the first McCrorey Heights Homecoming on Oct. 5. He hopes the event reestablishes a living connection between the community and the university that birthed it, attracts Charlotteans who have memories of either institution, and increases interest in Black homeownership in the area.
To Robinson, both JCSU and McCrorey Heights are an integral part of his personal experience, and the character of Charlotte as a whole.
“I’m a native here, and my mother attended Smith a little while. Our home church was First Mayfield on Oaklawn, across from Fairview Homes,” Robinson said. “Our Sunday routine was church, then a stop by the store for a bushel of collard greens and smoked turkey necks for dinner, and then we’d drive around McCrorey Heights, with my mother telling me all the stories of prominent Black leaders in Charlotte and pointing out their homes. I’ve wanted to live here since I was a child.”
A face in the community
Robinson met his wife, Quiana, while both attended Winston-Salem State University, and they married in 2013. The couple bought a duplex in Lockwood, less than 10 minute’s drive from McCrorey Heights, and Robinson became president of the neighborhood association. In this capacity, he gained experience as a community organizer and learned about community improvement grants, and held events to educate renters about becoming homeowners in Lockwood. Still, his heart was forever toward McCrorey Heights. When a 3-bedroom brick home went on the market just under a year ago, they jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m raising a Black son and my priority is for him to grow up knowing he’s capable. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are legendary men and rightfully so, but Atlanta and New York are a world away. It’s important for him to know Dr. Reginald Hawkins and other important civil rights figures were right in his backyard. I want him to know what his roots are in this city,” Robinson said.
Attention on homeownership
With the Homecoming celebration, Robinson hopes to do something similar for attendees. McCrorey Heights was the first planned middle-class community for Black people in Charlotte, and thrived for generations. But as desegregation took hold, the children and grandchildren of the first families opted for more integrated pastures.
“I want Homecoming to bring those people and their children back, rekindle fond memories and showcase the neighborhood in a positive light,” Robinson said. “You can live your entire life in Charlotte and not come to the Beatties Ford corridor. Come back, see some old faces and meet some new ones, and spend some time here. Come back home.”
Robinson is a bit of a homeownership fanatic. He’s fresh off producing the second A Vibe Called Fresh event, a community day party to strengthen community bonds and demystify the process of homeownership for Black folk in Charlotte. He reported that over two dozen citizens became first-time homebuyers as a result of the programs and guidance provided in the last two years of A Vibe Called Fresh.
Robinson is concerned Black Charlotteans are dropping in levels of homeownership amid the city’s housing boom, though McCrorey Heights appears to have held onto its historical identity more than neighboring Biddleville and Seversville. The culture of the neighborhood hasn’t changed even as newcomers have been welcomed in. People still sit on their porches and call across yards to greet their neighbors. Robinson credits families like the Morlands and others who own several houses in the neighborhood with controlling the effects of gentrification.
“That’s to protect it. This is why I think this day is important,” he said. “I’m a new jack. I just moved here a year ago, but I’d like to show respect to those forefathers and foremothers of the community, to let them know I appreciate the sacrifice and I’m here to continue your mission and learn from you. How can I keep this legacy going?”
Connecting to JCSU’s history
The Homecoming will also be part of a historical documentation project, with JCSU faculty and staff on-hand to share archival information about the neighborhood as well as record stories from elder denizens who have been there since the neighborhood’s inception. Everyone is encouraged to share stories of their lived experiences in McCrorey Heights.
JCSU professor Dr. Jasmine Corbett-Warren hopes to see her students recording stories from residents and guests for extra credit. Corbett-Warren has assigned the freshmen the task of identifying and interviewing alumni who graduated in landmark years for their perspectives on events of the time. Students have collected histories on the marches of 1966; reactions to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till; and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Corbett-Warren said that a narrower lens on history reveals unique stories often lost in the greater narrative. She is thrilled to share the edited results of their interviews later this academic year. She’ll be at the Homecoming for more personal reasons as well: Her parents attended JCSU.
“We always had a lot of pride in this school because without it we wouldn’t be here,” she said, “but I find a lot of younger students don’t know much about the school, the history. They don’t know MLK was scheduled to speak there but canceled to go to Memphis, where he was assassinated.”
She wants students to fall in love with JCSU the way she has, the way alumni and residents of McCrorey Heights have.
“No one can tell your story better than you can,” she said. “We’re taking back the name and telling the love story of the JCSU. We’re a part of this community, a part of this city, and no one can do this better than we can. Allow us to reintroduce ourselves.”
McCrorey Heights Homecoming
Date: Saturday, Oct. 5
Location: Moreland Gardens, intersection of Fairfield St. and Patton Ave.
Time: 2-6 p.m.
Emiene Wright is an avid storyteller, journalist and editor creating content on print and digital platforms. She has been published in the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine, North Carolina’s Our State magazine, and The Charlotte Observer.