Editor’s Note: On May 5, the annual Lynwood Park Community Day returns, celebrating the historic African-American community in Brookhaven. In this article, journalist Peter Scott Jr. recalls growing up in the neighborhood and the changes in what is still a diverse, but rapidly changing, community.
In the early 1950s, my family moved to the Lynwood Park community from a rural area outside Athens, Ga. Relocating brought huge differences to our day-to-day lives. Although it still embarrasses some in my family to admit it now, I had my first use of running water, inside toilets and bathrooms after we moved to what was then called North Atlanta. And no one had to go break up blocks of coal for the fireplaces used to heat our home.
Our new home on House Road (now Windsor Parkway) was in a neighborhood we called “The Sub,” a shortened, slang version of “the subdivision.” At the time, Lynwood Park claimed more than 1,000 residents and was known as DeKalb County’s oldest all-black community.
In his book, “Expression of Hope, The Mel Pender Story,” fellow former Lynwood Park resident Mel Pender Jr., an Olympic gold medalist and U.S. Army captain, described our old neighborhood as a combination of New York’s Harlem in its heyday and television’s Mayberry.
When I was a boy, we built treehouses in the woods and raced our bikes, with no chains or brakes, down dirt hills. Our parents and neighbors worked both inside and outside the community at a wide variety of jobs: construction worker, brick mason, carpenter, landscaper, auto mechanic, seamstress, policeman, educator, nurse, cook and domestic worker. We even had our own unofficial historian in Edgar Jones.
I’m 73 years old now. Over the years, my old community has changed dramatically.
It’s now part of the city of Brookhaven and has about half as many people as it did in my youth, including many residents who are not African-American. Gentrification has meant many of the small modest homes that once dotted our community have been sold to be torn down and replaced by mini-mansions or full-scale mansions.
The changes also have produced a multi-cultural group of residents who are interacting in a way that I did not know growing up. Traveling through my old neighborhood now, I wonder how former residents would feel seeing black and white people living next door to one another. My early memories of race relations go back to a time when fearful black women urged their sons to hurry home after news circulated that Emmett Till had been lynched in Mississippi.
In those days, almost all boys who were 12 or older worked, even if the job was just trying to sell copies of the Atlanta Daily World newspaper or Jet magazine or helping an older sibling with yardwork. One of my five older brothers, Clarence, tugged me along to help him cut grass and buff floors at homes where he or my dad worked. Three of my other older brothers were in the Army and fought in the Korean War.
When we moved to Lynwood Park, my family included 13 siblings. Two additional children, twins, had died shortly after birth. Big families like ours were not unusual. The Dix family, along with the Boyds, Sims, Rices, Wrights, Hollands, Calloways, Fields, Cantrells, Colberts, Dillards, Hoods, Holseys, Summerours, Wallaces, Truitts and the Ezzards, all came close to our double-digit number of children.
The community had its share of role models.
Herschel Turner, a veteran who lost the use of his legs, had his car retrofitted so that he could use a round stick, about three feet long, to operate his gas pedal and brakes. He worked as a cab driver to support his family.
One of my teachers, Mrs. T. P. Grissom, once came to our home and convinced my dad to buy me a dark blue gabardine suit to wear to a school event. Her closing argument was: “If you go ahead and get that suit, he can wear it to everything — church, funerals, weddings, a date when he gets old enough, and for things like that.” His response was something like, “I’ll see what I can do.” He bought the suit.
One of my former Sunday School teachers, Mrs. Mabel Lott, once had a wire fence that was filled with muscadine grapes that were free to us, if she did not catch us getting hands full of them. A shortcut through her yard passed by the fence. We never cleaned the vine because we knew she needed some muscadines to make her jelly and preserves.
There were celebrities, too, Comedian George Wallace, race-car driver and singer Wallace “Fox” Jones, fur coat model Maudine “Peaches” Horton, Pender and guitarist Albert White Sr. all lived in Lynwood Park at one time or another.
Our neighborhood had some of the best cooks ever. On Saturday nights, when some were cooking in preparation for Sunday dinner, the neighborhood aroma of food was outstandingly good.
I still marvel today at how my mother, as if by magic, could wake before dawn, get dressed and be ready to go to work, while preparing a breakfast table with huge platters of big biscuits, bacon, eggs and grits or oatmeal, every morning.
School was an important part of our community. Schools, like other public institutions, were segregated by law. Most children walked to school, cutting paths through overgrown fields, but some, who lived in Chamblee or Doraville or off Johnson Ferry Road, rode the bus.
At our combination elementary and high school, with an estimated 800 pupils, teachers knew most of us and our parents. Some even visited our homes on both good and bad occasions. No child in my family, or any other, ever wanted to get in trouble at school. We experienced “butt alerts”: a spanking at school guaranteed two whippings at home by your parents.
In 1961, the school building from which I graduated was transformed into the Lynwood Community and Recreation Center. Kudzu ran wild in woods behind the school but was never cleared when I was a child. Now the area is the site of a well-used ballfield and swimming pool.
Churches, too, were a cornerstone of the Lynwood Park community. For years, residents supported activities at each other’s churches, and still do this today. There are three remaining churches in the community: China Grove First Missionary Baptist Church, Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and the Lynwood Park United Church of God in Christ.
Our way out of the community was walking to the end of the bus line near a funeral home on Peachtree Road to catch the 23 Oglethorpe bus or to go up Osborne Road to the liquor store at the corner of Osborne and Peachtree Road. The fare was 15 cents for the ride downtown, where we’d catch a movie and buy doughnuts, also for 15 cents.
Lynwood Park was, and remains, a community where residents know each other and work to maintain a sense of concern and caring. When there is a community event, wedding or funeral, Lynwood people come home.
Over four decades, Lynwood Park Community Day has been one event that pulls people back. Thanks to the hard work of people such as John Chapman, Pat Martin, Pat Carter, Cathy Wells, Cassandra Bryant, Janice Duncan, Leonard Walker, Napoleon Wallace, Gary McDaniel, Adria Williams, Sabrina Boyd, Dianne Williams, Veronica Jean Redding, brothers Edgar and Oscar Perry Jones, John Wright and Brenda Boyd, the event continues.
And, thanks to many others, so does the community known as Lynwood Park.
Peter Scott Jr. is a retired journalist whose work has appeared in Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal. As a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Scott was honored for his coverage of education and the plight of black farmers.