Residents Say Fulton Bottom Can Be Saved (January 15, 1967)


In an article from the January 15, 1967, issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Black residents whose Fulton Bottom neighborhood was slated for destruction as part of the city’s urban renewal agenda argue that their close-knit community should be preserved and rehabilitated. They cast blame for the disinvestment in the neighborhood on the city and absentee landlords. Ultimately, Fulton Bottom was razed in 1973.


(Last Sunday, an article described the general characteristics of Fulton Bottom, an area identified in a Richmond Development and Housing Authority report as the city’s worst slum. Today’s article presents views of some of the area’s residents and tells what they, and community organizations in Fulton, are doing to try to stabilize and improve their neighborhood.)

Concerned over proposals to designate their community a hopeless slum that ought to be cleared and redeveloped, some residents of Fulton Bottom are attempting to prepare a case for preserving and rehabilitating the neighborhood.

They do not deny that deplorable housing conditions exist and not that some families live in misery.

But they insist that stabilizing and constructive forces are at work in Fulton Bottom. They insist it is a proud, closely-knit community that deserves to live. And they insist – with apparent justification, as will be explained later – that the city itself – must assume some blame for the blight that has infected and weakened Fulton Bottoms in recent years.

THE HOUSING authority’s report stated that more than half of Fulton Bottom’s approximately 800 dwelling units “may be classed as deteriorated,” and that the area shows a “severely high rate of social problems, excepting juvenile delinquency.” And, as an indication of the area’s instability, the report observes that “family mobility is moderately high…”

In an effort to rebut or refute some of the housing authority’s observations, officers of the Fulton Improvement Association have made these statements: (1) Fulton Bottom is not inhabited primarily by transients, but by proud families whose roots go deep into the history of the community.

John J. Johnson Jr., for example, was born in Fulton Bottom and he is raising his family there, at 913 Louisiana Street. (One son is away in college). Johnson is chairman of the association’s Action Committee.

“This is a closely-knit community,” said Johnson. “It’s like a small town. Everybody knows everybody else and will pitch in and help when needed.”

The rev. James W. Ealey, pastor of Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Denny Street in Fulton, said the number of transient families in Fulton has increased steadily in the past five years. Many of them have been uprooted from other areas, such as Seventeenth Street, itself a re-development project area, and have come to Fulton to find low-rent housing.

Consequently, the neighborhood has lost some of its “pride and closeness.” But, Mr. Earley said, it remains a community of “good people,” and old families still constitute most of its population.

Those families, association officials said, are unusually eager to keep their homes attractive and in good condition. Some repair and rebuild rather than move out of the neighborhood, although other, weary of repeated reports that Fulton Bottoms is doomed, move to other sections of the city.

“The rest of us,” said Johnson, “stay and fight the cause.”

 (2) The city itself and absentee landlords are largely responsible for the dilapidation of houses in Fulton Bottom.

OFFICIALS of the association say they have tried to persuade the city to enforce its housing code and require property owners to bring houses up to minimum standards. They say the city won’t enforce the code in Fulton Bottom.

The association also contends that the city rarely sweeps the streets in Fulton. One official said he had to clean the streets in front of his house himself because of the city’s failure to do so.

“The last time Fulton was cleaned up,” one man said, “was when Lindberg came to Richmond, and that was in 1927. Then they cleaned the streets for the procession.”

Association officials also cite the fact that streetcar tracks remain in some Fulton Bottom streets as evidence of the city’s neglect.

Some of the charges are admitted by city officials, and others are denied.

John R. Patillo, chief of the Environmental Health Bureau of the Richmond Health Department, said the association officials are “exactly right” in saying the city doesn’t enforce its housing code in Fulton Bottom. Why? Because health officials believe the area will be cleared and


Redeveloped, and they don’t want to require property owners to make expensive repairs to houses that may be torn down. (City Council has authorized a study of the area, but it has not authorized a redevelopment program for it.)  

PATILLO said if the city had rigidly enforced its housing code 15 years ago, it probably could have arrested the spread of blight in Fulton Bottom. Some houses were beyond help then, but many others could have been saved, he said.

Again, the question is, Why? Why didn’t the city enforce its housing code 15 years ago and prevent the growth of slums?

Patillo suggests that the city lacked the manpower needed to conduct a citywide enforcement program 15 years ago, and it had to concentrate on a few communities at a time. Thus. While it was salvaging one neighborhood, another might be deteriorating steadily.

Officials of the Department of Public Works say that the streets of Fulton Bottom are cleaned as needed. They say that the streetcar tracks will be removed eventually, an answer that may not satisfy residents of the area who know the tracks have been ripped from the streets of most other sections of the city.

In April, the association addressed a letter to the Council and asked for help and advice from the city on the establishment of a neighborhood improvement program for Fulton Bottom. So far, according to officials of the association, councilmen haven’t even acknowledged receipt of the letter.

(3) Social problems in Fulton Bottom are not so high as the housing authority’s report indicates.

Officials of the Fulton Improvement Association are proud of their community activities and of their successful efforts to curb juvenile delinquency, the low rate of which was noted in the authority’s report.

MUCH of the community’s life focuses on Bethlehem Center at 1016 State Street.

Formed about 30 years ago through the efforts of Method-ist women, the center is run now by an interdenominational board. Financial support comes mainly from Methodist groups, but some comes from other sources.

The center provides rooms for community meetings. It has preschool and kindergarten programs for Fulton Bottom children, and it sponsors athletic teams and other organizations and events.

“Bethlehem Center,” said one official of the Fulton Improvement Association, “has been our beacon light.”

Association officials also praised programs by Baptist, Catholic and Episcopal churches in the area, but those groups don’t offer programs of the scope of those provided at Bethlehem Center.

Fulton Bottom parents are proud of the support they give to their schools, and insist they have one of the strongest parent-teacher associations in Richmond.

OFFICIALS of the association emphasize that residents of Fulton Bottom will resist efforts to raze their neighborhood and redevelop it, possibly with some public housing. The idea of dispersing residents of this “closely-knit” community among public housing units is repugnant to association officials, and they intend to make their views known.

They have the spirit to keep their community alive, they say. But they need help.

APA Citation:
Grimsley, Ed. Residents Say Fulton Bottom Can Be Saved (January 15, 1967). (2024, May 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Grimsley, Ed. "Residents Say Fulton Bottom Can Be Saved (January 15, 1967)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (23 May. 2024). Web. 17 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 23
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