You had to be here in the 1950s to appreciate how much Raleigh and Wake County have changed on the way to one million people. And, to this old-timer, it’s a much better place today.
We were poor, provincial, rural and racist to the core. Today we’re affluent, global in outlook, urban and suburban, and a much more tolerant place for all races, backgrounds and lifestyles.
It didn’t just happen. Some people – like my friends (and heroes) Tom Bradshaw, Wade Smith, Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, John Winters and many, many others – made tough decisions that weren’t popular. But look where they got us. Ask yourself whether today’s leaders have the same combination of drive, vision and sheer guts.
When people hear I grew up in Raleigh, they often ask: “Inside or Outside the Beltline?” Well, I’m not OTB or ITB; I’m PB (pre-Beltline).
Before I started school, we lived in a new development called Northside, because it was on the northern edge of town. Today it’s the area around J.Y. Joyner School, near the car dealerships and fast-food shops along Wake Forest Road. We played in the woods around Crabtree Creek. It was nothing but country.
When we moved to west Raleigh, I went to Lacy School. It was a Raleigh City School even though it was outside the city limits, which ran along Brooks Avenue down the hill from our house. Wade Avenue ended at Dixie Trail. Just ended. You took Highway 70 to Durham and points west.
There was no North Hills, no Crabtree Valley. The only thing the same is that downtown is (again) booming. Back then, the only places to go shopping or to movies was downtown or Cameron Village.
Raleigh was smaller than Durham. But when RTP caught on, our city fathers had the sense to build middle-class neighborhoods to attract the new transplants. (We joked that it was called North Hills because everybody living there was from the North.) Then local leaders had the sense to merge the city and county schools and build the kind of schools that smart people coming to RTP wanted for their kids. Raleigh boomed, and Durham fell behind.
Of the numbers used by the N&O to show how much we’ve changed since 1960, perhaps the most striking is this: Then, of adults 25 and over, 12.7 percent had bachelor’s degrees. Today it’s 47.6 percent.
Then we were 74 percent white. Today it’s just over 61 percent. Then our rural population was almost 37 percent. Today it’s 6 percent.
Yes, this place is busier, more crowded and sometimes more maddening than it was then. A lot of people I grew up with will shake their heads and say, “It’s just not like it used to be here.”
They say that like it’s a bad thing.