By Dee Dee Abbott
Imagine buying a house in Grant Park for $450 down with a monthly payment of $57. This real estate reverie was a real estate reality for James Rowland.
When James and his wife Lillian moved to Grant Park in 1965, there were only three other Black families in the area. Over the course of the next few years, many white families fled to the Atlanta suburbs rather than integrate with their Black neighbors. Lillian recalls, “We started moving in, and they moved out.” The city that was once “too busy to hate” earned a new nickname: “the city too busy moving to hate.”
White flight didn’t dampen the community spirit of Grant Park. Lillian spent years caring for the neighborhood’s children at Mama Baker’s Nursery, and James was known to take neighbors to Grady hospital when needed. One afternoon, Lillian even helped her neighbor rescue a special Sunday dinner. As she was cooking in her kitchen, she heard a woman’s voice call from next door. Lillian explains that the neighbor had “asked the preacher…over for dinner, but when they came, there was more people than they had really anticipated. She didn’t have enough plates to go around…I had plates, and I just gave them to her. We became friends then, and we stayed friends till she passed…She turned out to be a real nice person.”
As Lillian connected with the neighbors on their left, James got to know the neighbors on their right: a white couple who stayed when others left. James recollects, that neighbor “became a good, good, good, friend.” The two men became so close that, when the neighbor was ready to move, he offered to sell his house to James. James smiles a big, bright smile and shares, “He sold me the house for little to nothing. He said, ‘I want to sell you this house Mr. James… I’m going to make sure your get this house.’” And he did. James bought his neighbor’s home for $450 down and paid $57 each month after that. That house became the first of several homes that James owned and rented out in the neighborhood.
As the Rowlands’ children grew, the family moved to a larger home across the block. Their children attended Jerome Jones Elementary and Roosevelt High Schools—the latter was renovated into Roosevelt Historic Lofts in the 1980s. Now, those children have grown and given James and Lillian grandchildren and great grandchildren. Many family members have stayed close to home. As property taxes rise and older homes require expensive repairs however, it’s becoming difficult for longtime residents like the Rowlands to stay in Grant Park.
To this end, their son, Carl Rowland, is spearheading the new GPNA Legacy Committee. This committee advocates for neighbors who’ve lived in the area for twenty-five years or more by helping to locate and access available resources. Carl explains, “We’re staying, and we want to help other people stay as well.” The Legacy Committee also hopes to reignite the community spirit that his family experienced in his youth. Carl encourages his neighbors to “Be mindful as a community. When we came to the neighborhood, it was segregated. Now people are coming back, but let’s not bring back that (segregated) mentality.” The Rowlands hope that their neighbors will begin to reach out to each other again—to speak when they pass—whether they are Legacy residents or newer members of the neighborhood. Lillian seconds her son’s wishes for community: “Let’s come together. Be more friendly.” Legacy residents like James and Lillian Rowland have certainly paved the way.
Help us grow the Legacy Residents network. If you or someone you know has been a resident of the Grant Park area for 25 years or more, reach out to join our list and learn about events and resources. Contact Carl Rowland at 404-312-5293 (text) or firstname.lastname@example.org.