A public discussion this week will focus on the complicated relationship between one Winston-Salem neighborhood and a local HBCU. It will explore how Winston-Salem State University transformed the Columbian Heights neighborhood over time, for better or for worse.

Columbian Heights was carved out a century ago as a place for professionals in the African-American community. Residents were doctors, lawyers, ministers, and skilled craftsmen. Around the same time, a one-room school was opened nearby. It grew into a teacher's college over the 20th century, then eventually into the university we know today.

But as Winston-Salem State expanded, some black-owned businesses in the area were shuttered to make way, and some residents were displaced.

Dr. James Lewis Jr. has lived in Columbian Heights nearly 70 years. He says the university is a source a pride for the community. But he acknowledges that the school's growth combined with the development of US 52 and I-40 have hit the neighborhood hard.

“At this point, there are more rental properties. Even the homes. There are very few of us - I'd say less than 10 of us - homeowners still in the area around Winston-Salem State. New dormitories and new buildings on the campus now occupy places where the blacks' homes and things were.”

The discussion is presented by New Winston Museum and takes place Thursday, November 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Mars Hill Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. 

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