Gainsboro Revisited: A walk through history

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 7:04 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The legacies of many African American families lie in the historic Gainsboro neighborhood near downtown Roanoke.

“I grew up in Gainsboro, my family, generation after generation, lived in this area,” says Jordan Bell, the host of Gainsboro Revisited, a walking tour, strolling by several landmarks and open fields, where many homes and businesses once stood, before the Urban Renewal programs of the ’60s and ’70s, when eminent domain orders destroyed them.

The walk, in partnership with Roanoke Public Libraries, was held to honor Juneteenth.

“Urban renewal is used because that’s what the program is called. But we need to wipe that away because no renewal happened; it was just destruction. No renewal happened after those homes and businesses were taken away,” explains Bell.

Other life-long residents shared memories of their childhoods, revealing the vibrant, self-sufficient community.

One of them was Faye Claytor-Wood, whose family owned a mansion, among other businesses, on the acre of land on North Jefferson and Patton Ave.

“They built a clinic, a service station that my father operated and ran Claytor-Wood S.O., they had a pharmacy. They also rented out to Dr. John, who was another dentist; they had a little store,” says Claytor-Wood of the property. “They built this during the time of segregation, when we had to have things within our own community; we had to support each other.”

Many who attended the walk Friday morning say it brought them a new perspective on an area they knew little about.

“There’s just so much history that I think is forgotten and not talked about enough,” said Roanoke resident Lynsey Allie.

“I hope to see more younger people participate to see what their history is, what their forefathers sacrificed and worked hard to build, and that we keep it alive and keep it going for generations to come,” adds Claytor-Wood.

“You have to talk about it, you have to educate people on it and other things can come from that,” says Bell.

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