The Last Dragon
I had a conversation with Walker Reid last week. His name is familiar to everyone who grew up in Highland. While serving on the Gastonia City Council between 1995 and 2011, he was the lightning rod for all things related to the black community. I wasn’t voting age for most of his tenure. Now that I’m researching the history, I’m impressed at how much he has influenced the current direction of the Highland area. He was the driving force behind things I’ve already written about: bringing the Family Dollar to the area after failing to attract real grocery stores; convincing Gaston County Schools to use the old Highland Jr. High School as its new magnet school; and reopening the Erwin Center pool, among other things. Before talking to him, I considered the 90s a period of decline, but there was at least one person working to keep the community alive.
Now the retired Assistant Fire Marshal is running for mayor, but not just to help the Highland community. He wants to improve the image of Gastonia as a whole. Recently we earned the honor of being named the 45th worst city in America to live in. Many residents would agree, but Walker is concerned that businesses and investors think of us as an opportunity to pass on. He said he wants to be the “cheerleader” for the city, improving its image from the outside in. Our current mayor, John Bridgeman, is more like the gym owner, focusing on cosmetic improvements. (He is, in fact, a Realtor and sells commercial properties.)
Walker told me he saw himself as the last dragon to slay. Black leaders have spent their lives fighting for the good of Highland. The center of business (called The Square) was taken away, the black high school and then majority black junior high were closed, “the block” was devastated, and business investments were chased away. A few black Highland residents have served on city council and as county commissioners, but Walker said doesn’t see any young black leaders coming up. If he loses the mayor’s race, he says he’ll go back to spending time with his family and his church. But who will be left to fight for Gastonia? For Highland?
Originally published at highlandrising.wordpress.com on August 15, 2017.