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<br />City set to begin anew at Cleaborne Homes

Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and Robert Lipscomb will lead a groundbreaking ceremony to unveil plan’s for redeveloping the Cleaborne Homes housing project.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and Robert Lipscomb, director of the Division of Housing and Community Development and executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority, will lead a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning (March 30) to unveil plan’s for redeveloping the historic Cleaborne Homes housing project.

 Cleaborn Homes in 2005 (Courtesy photo)

 Proposed family rental

The drawing board includes a new name – Cleaborne Pointe at Heritage Landing, with construction expected to be completed in 2015. The goal is to accommodate 400 families in mixed-use units ranging from townhomes to two-story, semi-detached dwellings and housing for seniors.

Lipscomb said Friday’s ceremony signals the end of the “projects” style of community development that became the very personification of dangerous urban life.

“We want to get rid of the image of public housing as something negative,” Lipscomb told The New Tri-State Defender in an interview Wednesday.

“The Cleaborne Homes and the Foote Homes (across the street) have defined those communities for a long, long time and for too long there has been a negative feeling that we intend to change. We want to instill a sense of hope with a new design that is upbeat. We want people to know and feel that they are important and their neighborhood is just as important as anyone else’s.”

The area’s refurbishment began several years ago with the completion of Askew Place, which comprises 25 single family homes at Orleans and Georgia. Lipscomb said Askew Place was named in honor of long time MHA resident and tenant activist Mertise Askew “because she represented the best of what public housing is supposed to be and was a strong advocate for public housing residents.”

Across from there, in the renamed McKinley Park, single family homes occupy the land where the Club Paradise created its legend.

With the new name of Cleaborne Point, MHA seeks to maintain a key historic connection. Cleaborne Homes was named posthumously for Distinguished Service Cross honoree Edward O. Cleaborn, who was credited in the Korean war for sacrificing himself by holding down a machine gun pit to cover his infantry regiment’s escape.

“It’s another key to letting people know their value,” Lipscomb said.

Recent events also underscore Lipscomb’s view of a complete resurgence for the neighborhood. MHA’s tearing down of the Cleaborne Homes was featured in the viral-reaching video that helped secure Booker T. Washington High School’s victory in the national Race To The Top campaign, earning the historic visit by President Barack Obama to the school’s 2010 commencement ceremony.

Robert McCalpin, 19, grew up in the Cleaborne Homes and the Foote Homes.  Quite excited when shown the renderings of the new design, McCalpin said, “It’s the right thing to do. I’m proud of this neighborhood and where I grew up. Like we used to say, ‘Third wall till the bricks fall!’ I had a job, never got into the gangster set and all that madness. We used to hang out at the Emmanuel Center. It hurt a lot of people when it was torn down, and I’m glad to see it coming back.”

McCalpin voiced two central questions.

“What I want to know is are the people that grew up there going to be able to move back in? And are they going to change the name? I hope they don’t change the name.”

Von Alexander, 38, also grew up in the Cleaborne Homes.

“If it’s going to be like University Place, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

A property owner and family man, Alexander said there is a need to go back to the “old way we used to do things. They (MHA) need to bring inspections about every 90 days, require group meetings and make people keep the places up.  

Bring back standards and enforce them,” he said.

“And they need to revisit the security program until the hoodlum element knows they’re not wanted and nobody’s going to put up with them.”


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