Originally published by Akron Beacon Journal - Seyma Bayram, February 3, 2022.
The mistakes of the past are guiding discussions about the future of a 30-acre decommissioned stretch of the Innerbelt in the heart of Akron.
In 1956, Flanvis J. Johnson set his eyes on a white-paneled, three-bedroom house with a sunroom on Akron’s Douglas Street, just west of downtown.
The Camilla, Georgia, native and decorated World War II veteran had been working two jobs to save up for this moment. To realize his dream of homeownership, Johnson, 37, alternated between shifts at Leeds Jewelry store downtown, where he cleaned and maintained the shop, and Babcock & Wilcox, a power plant where he worked as a millwright — the first African American to hold that role in the company.
Johnson purchased the home at 533 Douglas St. for $11,000 — the equivalent of $112,750 today — and settled into the vibrant neighborhood with his wife, Evelyn, and their children.
His sons, Joey and Willie, quickly bonded with the other kids who lived on the block. After walking home from Grace School, the children played football and foursquare in the street, frequently drawing the ire of an elderly neighbor, Mr. Holloway, who didn’t want the boys running through his immaculate yard. They bought penny candies from Harry’s corner store and rode their bikes the short trip to the custard stand at Edgewood and Euclid avenues, where they feasted on hot dogs, hamburgers and frozen custard, and where teenagers gathered after basketball games to catch glimpses of their crushes.
There were painful memories, too.
One year, a baby died when the house across the street caught fire. The father of another household struggled with alcoholism. But the community on Douglas Street was tight-knit. Neighbors supported and looked out for each other through the ups and downs of life.
Then, one by one, people began to leave the neighborhood in the late 1960s. Rumors circulated that a highway was coming through, and the city was taking people’s homes to make way for it...