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In the shadow of the U.S. Open

Amid millions being spent on golf in Pinehurst and Moore County, islands of neglect adjoin the fairways. But activists are hoping to grab some of next month's spotlight.

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Inside and outside, theres plenty of green at Pinehursts flagship hotel, the Carolina. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER STROM
The lobby of Pinehurst's Carolina hotel oozes Old South elegance and indulgence in the leisure that accompanies ample disposable income. Porters wearing trousers tucked into knee-high argyle socks greet new arrivals from the airport and golfers fresh off the links. Guests navigate among the silky, striped wing chairs, rolling clubs sheathed in creamy leather and hard-shell travel cases. Conference presenters snap open laptops, don name tags, carp about the overcast sky threatening their fun on the fairways later. Down the right-hand hallway, famous golfers, smiling caddies and visiting celebrities peer out from photo collages narrating the history of this place, the world's largest golf resort that's credited with bringing the sport to America in the early 20th century. Down the left-hand hallway, shoppers can find merchandise emblazoned with the newest symbol of stature this Moore County institution has acquired: the insignia of the 2005 U.S. Open, coming next month for the second time.

The end of the corridor opens onto the luxurious green carpet known as the West Lawn, where a renovation project is under way. An enlarged and improved swimming area is scheduled to open by the time the international golf community--and its attendant media--turn their eyes to Pinehurst.

Against this backdrop, pleasant-voiced people mingle, talking shop about the venture-capital seminar down the hall or venturing out for another round of 18 holes. They are predominantly male, overwhelmingly white, and according to visitors' bureau statistics, seven out of 10 hail from households with annual incomes of at least $60,000. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, there was one African-American person in sight. She was in the ladies' room, restocking the linen hand towels.

Within the incorporated villages of Pinehurst, its sister golf haven Southern Pines, and the town of Aberdeen just to their south, luxury hotels have long been booked for the sold-out tournament that begins June 13. Fine dining establishments are filling their reservation books and caterers are planning lavish private parties. Grounds crews grooom the fairways while town workers spruce up the flowerbeds along the main traffic routes. Tourism boosters tout the attractions, from 43 top-quality golf courses within a 15-mile radius to spa treatments, shopping and equestrian excursions.

About 385,000 spectators, dignitaries and members of the media will descend on southern Moore County next month for Pinehurst's week in the spotlight. Millions more will watch on network television.

But nestled among the glitz and glitter, just a chip shot away from the manicured greens, African-American residents in five Moore County neighborhoods are worrying less about catering menus and landscaping this spring and more about basic life necessities. When it rains, some of their backyards flood with raw sewage. Often, they can't do their laundry or run their dishwashers. Because they can't access the public sewer service, they rely on aging septic systems even though their home lots, which range from tiny to small, can't support septic without complications and health hazards. One of the five neighborhoods doesn't have public water, either.

While people on the other side of the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen town lines set their trash at the curb, the residents of Jackson Hamlet, Midway, Waynor Road, Monroe Town and Lost City have to drive miles to a dump or pay someone else to do it. Town police and fire protection, street paving and lighting and other public services taken for granted by residents inside the town boundaries are absent along the narrow, paved and gravel streets lined with modest bungalows and mobile homes, at least one of which has a Port-o-John in the yard. All of the neighborhoods fall within the "extra-territorial jurisdictions" of one of the adjoining towns--and so are subject to town planning and zoning rules that govern land use--but none of the residents can vote in the elections that choose the leaders who make those regulations.

Jackson Hamlet community group leader Carol Henry says its time for political leaders to pay attention. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER STROM
  • Photo by Jennifer Strom
  • Jackson Hamlet community group leader Carol Henry says its time for political leaders to pay attention.
"We are citizens like everybody else, and we want the things that other people have," says Carol Henry, president of the Jackson Hamlet Community Action Program, a group that represents about 300 residents in a neighborhood that's completely hemmed in by the Village of Pinehurst and Aberdeen.

As the U.S. Open approaches, community leaders are preparing to borrow just a little bit of its ample spotlight to expose the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist outside the ever-expanding municipal boundaries swallowing up every new development but passing in convoluted twists around their houses.

"Every town here wants to present this pristine image," says Maurice Holland Sr., who chairs the Midway Steering Committee, a citizens group for a neighborhood situated between Aberdeen and Southern Pines that's home to about 70 families. "We want to show the tarnish, and how the powers that be won't polish it."

In much the same way that women's rights groups brought attention to sexual discrimination in 2002 by challenging the male-members-only policy at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters tournament, Henry, Holland and other community leaders plan to leverage the U.S. Open's prominence to publicize the gap between the opulence that drapes some parts of Moore County and the lack of basic services that plagues others right in their midst.

The neighbors have teamed up with organizers from the UNC-Chapel Hill Law School's Center for Civil Rights and Voices for Justice, a local group, to bring attention--and push for solutions--to the plight of those who live in the middle of the "Home of American Golf" but don't share in the benefits of the economic boom the sport has triggered all around them for two decades.

"This is an opportunity to highlight the inequity of having this community that's reaping huge profits from the golf industry and is not willing to share them with everyone," says Anita Earls, the director of advocacy at the Center for Civil Rights.

Earls and her colleagues have been working on this project for more than a year. They've assembled press kits titled "Racial Exclusion in Moore County," containing news clippings and a study by a Mebane nonprofit about "racial underbounding"--a term that describes municipal annexation patterns that segregate African-American communities. Two law students made a documentary featuring interviews with local residents, which organizers have shown at local gatherings and disseminated to reporters. As the date of the U.S. Open nears, more strategies such as bus tours taking visiting dignitaries through the African-American neighborhoods are shaping up.

"When is the nation interested in Moore County? When they have the U.S. Open," says law student Christopher Brook, a member of the campaign team.

The last time the Open came to Pinehurst in 1999, it pumped an estimated $75 million into a local economy that owes its phenomenal growth largely to golf. According to the convention and visitors bureau, the Pinehurst-Southern Pines-Aberdeen area attracts more than a million visitors each year, generating about $25.5 million in state and local taxes. In 2003, tourists spent $290 million golfing, eating, shopping and staying in Moore County. The county ranks 10th in the state in tourism dollars--despite having no large cities and essentially one main local draw.

In addition to the visitors, new permanent residents are also flooding into Moore County, driving the population up 26 percent between 1992 and 2002 and creating the demand for new houses. In Pinehurst alone, 78 percent of the houses have been built in the last 25 years, according to U.S. Census figures.

But where the new construction--and the town boundaries--stop, the racial and socioeconomic demographics shift dramatically.

The black community of Jackson Hamlet, for example, is bordered on three sides by Pinehurst, which is 3 percent black, and Aberdeen, which is 22 percent black. One in four Jackson Hamlet residents live in poverty and the neighborhood's median income is just $22,000. Just across the line in Pinehurst, only three out of every 100 residents live below the poverty line and the median household income jumps to $59,000.

Even the locator signs along N.C. 5 point out the disparity: Pinehurst's welcome sign is a lovely white-painted wooden affair nestled in cheerful flowers; a couple of miles down the road, Jackson Hamlet's marker whisks by in a flash of N.C. DOT green on a metal post, slightly bent.

Residents in all five black neighborhoods have some trouble with their septic systems, which are old and generally set up on lots of less than a half-acre--and some as small as a tenth of an acre. Jackson Hamlet residents have appealed to the Moore County commissioners to finance the cost of hooking them into the county's system; Midway residents have asked the Aberdeen town council to draw them into the town by annexation.

Through different strategies, the two neighborhoods are seeking the same goal: to bring the services automatically afforded Moore County's newcomers into their own houses.

So far, both strategies have met with the same result: some talk but no action. Midway requested annexation over a year ago but the proposal is stalled, with town leaders saying they are waiting on engineering studies. Jackson Hamlet residents compiled signatures on a petition and went en masse to a county commissioners' meeting in February to ask for help in funding their sewer infrastructure. Commissioners--all five of whom are white Republicans--say they are studying the issue.

"We need to look at the whole county," says Commissioner Tim Lea, a lifelong resident who runs a health-care business and farms on the land where he grew up. "We need to take time to investigate those issues and evaluate the funding."

There are lots of costly items on the county's wastewater system to-do list, Lea says. Another important one is replacing the ancient terra-cotta sewer pipes that crisscross the Village of Pinehurst--whose ratepayers, Lea points out, provide 80 percent of the revenue for the county system.

"If you don't take care of the guys who are paying the bills, you're never going to have the revenue to expand into new areas like Jackson Hamlet," says Lea. "It's not a black and white issue to me. Developers pay for the infrastructure for new communities. They are paying for it. They are paying for it. There seems to be a misunderstanding here that what we've done for Pinehurst, we've given away."

Commissioner Vice Chairwoman Virginia Saunders agrees it's not a racial issue and says, as an elected leader, she's "always concerned about any safety and health issues." Subsequently, she notes that her neighborhood doesn't have public water and sewer, either--but she lives in the rural northern end of the county, rather than 50 feet from a tap.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods are shoring up their arguments with help from outside groups like the N.C. Rural Communities Assistance Project, which has lined up civil engineers willing to work pro bono to assess Jackson Hamlet's wastewater options.

"This is a very challenging situation," says Bob Taylor of the rural communities project. "It does reveal a lot of the hitches we have in the way our systems are set up."

Social scientist Allan Parnell of the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities took a detailed look at those systems last year, using Moore County as a case study.

"Exclusionary segregation results in part from the state's annexation laws and planning practices," Parnell wrote in his report, "The Persistence of Political Segregation: Racial Underbounding in North Carolina." "These laws give towns the discretion to annex only properties with high tax values, even non-contiguous properties, resulting in discontinuous boundaries that skip over poor and black neighborhoods."

Combining U.S. Census race and population data with sophisticated geographical information system (GIS) mapping, Parnell analyzed patterns of "racial underbounding" in 10 counties.

"Whether the unintentional outcome of fiscally driven annexation processes or the intentional result of institutionalized actions by local governments, blacks are excluded from towns and the associated political and material benefits," Parnell wrote. "Vestiges of Jim Crow are a part of daily life and racial discrimination is embedded in the seemingly ordinary planning actions of small southern towns."

In addition to being excluded from the public services and the public processes those just across the line enjoy, the neighborhoods experience some bizarre side-effects of the meandering municipal boundaries.

Lost City residents have long complained that contractors use their neighborhood as a dump, and that they get little help from law enforcement. Lost City is completely surrounded by the limits of Southern Pines, but Southern Pines police officers do not patrol there. Lost City is the jurisdiction of the county sheriff's department, whose deputies have to drive through Southern Pines to respond.

Similarly, Town of Aberdeen police cruisers shoot through Midway as a short cut from one Aberdeen call to another, but when Midway residents need an officer, they also have to call the sheriff.

In Jackson Hamlet, a developer recently built an upscale condominium complex that lies completely within the unincorporated area. Because the developer paid the construction costs for the infrastructure for municipal water, sewer and other amenities, the Village of Pinehurst annexed the complex to make it part of the town.

"We're like a hole in the doughnut with regard to sewer, garbage pickup and street lighting," says Holland, the Midway leader. "We are controlled by ETJ zoning but have no influence. We want a voice in political affairs and we want the services that are afforded to everyone around us."

The crazy quilt patterns that map southern Moore County result from a combination of state annexation laws and historic settlement patterns that date back to slavery and early industrial life in America.

Under state law, towns and cities can only annex neighborhoods that provide municipal services, or have a plan to do so within two years. New neighborhoods like the Abingdon Square condos plopped down in the middle of Jackson Hamlet are generally incorporated into town limits voluntarily because their developers set up all the municipal services during construction and then pass the cost on to buyers. Local governments can also annex neighborhoods involuntarily, but only if the same services that are available within existing town limits are already in place in the area to be annexed.

"While this requirement for provision of services appears to be equitable, it acts as a disincentive to annex older areas without city services, as is frequently the case with African-American neighborhoods on the borders of towns," Parnell wrote. "Residents of older neighborhoods are left to finance such improvements themselves."

Preliminary estimates put the cost of sewer service for Jackson Hamlet at about $2.2 million.

The neighborhoods have done a lot for themselves, says Brook, pointing to community cleanup days and after-school tutoring programs. "In this case, the things they need are a little bit beyond their means," he says.

However, with low-interest federal loans financed over 40 years, the county government could absorb that cost for just $56,000 annually, according to analyses by the civil rights advocates. At the end of the last budget year, commissioners held $9.3 million in their unreserved fund balance, "available for spending at the government's discretion," according to county documents.

Like many black communities on the fringes of small Southern towns, Moore County's historically black neighborhoods were settled by families seeking jobs in the wealthier white communities, including caddies, cooks, maids and gardeners who worked for the Tufts family of Boston that founded Pinehurst more than a century ago. It was a segregated society, bisected in many cases by the cliché of railroad tracks defining the respective domains of the haves and the have-nots. But it was a symbiotic system in which the communities were interdependent and everybody knew each other for generations.

"There was a Northern sense of equity blended with a plantation sense of family," says Holland, who worked as a bellman and a cook at the resort as a young man, as did many of his neighbors and ancestors in Midway. Carol Henry, president of Jackson Hamlet's neighborhood organization, tells stories of her grandfather milking cows for the Tufts, who bought 6,000 acres of stripped Sandhills timberland for a dollar an acre in 1895 and turned it into Pinehurst Resort with the help of a labor force that lived within walking distance.

Jackson Hamlet church deacon Oneal Russ says Moore Countys economic revolution has left him and his neighbors behind. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER STROM
  • Photo by Jennifer Strom
  • Jackson Hamlet church deacon Oneal Russ says Moore Countys economic revolution has left him and his neighbors behind.
"They depended on us for construction, maid service and lots of other things," says Oneal Russ, a Jackson Hamlet resident and deacon at St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church, which doubles as the community's gathering hall. "Now, they don't have any need for caddies and manual labor. Economically and politically, there's been a revolution here."

Since the resort shifted from a family enterprise to corporate ownership 35 years ago, the segregated housing patterns that accompanied the village's early days haven't changed, except that the wealthy white community has expanded outward. But the societal fabric that knit the white golfing community to the surrounding black neighborhoods has gradually frayed. Resort jobs that used to belong to local residents have been mechanized out of existence or are now filled by workers imported from outside the county. Dallas-based ClubCorp, which owns 200 resorts around the world and reported $944 million in revenue last year, acquired Pinehurst from its first corporate owner in 1984. The firm then pumped $90 million into rejuvenating the aging facilities, and in turn, sparked the golf-related boom that's doubled Moore County's tax revenues over the last decade.

"Racism came in on the wings of the economic change. All of a sudden the discrepancy between the gated communities and my community has broadened," says Holland. "There was a time when you could appeal to the conscience of the people in power. Today, corporations have no conscience."

On the government side, political leaders have a fiduciary responsibility to balance their bottom line, Commissioner Lea says.

"These are business decisions to me. If you don't run the county like a business, we'd have all the same problems a lot of counties have with their budgets," Lea says. He and his colleagues decided not to fund the extension of sewer lines into Jackson Hamlet during the next phase of their spending plan. Instead, they're considering replacing the neighborhood's septic systems--a proposal the community leaders specifically told commissioners won't solve their problem in the long run.

"It's been very difficult to get the attention of local officials," says Earls, of the Center for Civil Rights. "The neighbors really feel like they are not being listened to."

So, next month, the same sport that's drenched their local economy in tourism dollars and property tax revenues while widening the racial and socioeconomic gaps will present Moore County's challenged communities with a unique opportunity to launch a new strategy: a public appeal to corporate and political leaders to do the right thing, smack dab in the center of the 2005 U.S. Open's prominent stage.

"This is the time, now. These things need to come to light," says Henry, the Jackson Hamlet leader. "We've lived in the dark for so long."

In the meantime, back at the Carolina, gift shop workers stock their shelves with $78 T-shirts sporting the U.S. Open logo under an enthusiastic sign counting down the days until the big tourney begins. On the West Lawn, construction crews hurry to finish the swimming area, including a new Jacuzzi, a 30-foot diameter "misting pool" and a cabana with dressing rooms--all enabled by the county's sewer system, just upgraded with a $367,000 pump station dedicated to Pinehurst.

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