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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Portsmouth: White Flight

By Shedrick Byrd

Are we reverting back to the 1960’s when Black families moved into white neighborhoods and whites fled, taking the economic and political resources with them, leaving the community devastated? Blacks were left with the blame for not keeping up the community and as being nasty.

That was the first thought that came to mind when I read an article in the February 4th issues of the New Journal and Guide about an interview with Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright.
According to the interview, the focus was on the infighting, criticism and attacks among the members of Portsmouth City Council and the tensions the city is experiencing due to transition from a majority white population to a majority Black Population.

In the interview, Wright said “his view reflects the beliefs of his allies on council and supporters, who believe efforts by the Black majority on city council to bolster city finances, foster economic development, support education, and to recruit more jobs to the city are being resisted and attacked by a shrinking cadre of White business elite who do not welcome the reforms the Black council majority has promoted.”

Wright said for the last 20 years, the city has transitioned from a white political majority to a majority Black but the city is still controlled by the one percent of whites. He calls them the elite group the “good old boys” who control most of the city’s economics.

I later read a column in the Virginian Pilot February 9th issue by Roger Chesley which does not agree with Wright’s assessments in his interview. In Chesley’s column, he lambasted Wright for those remarks and criticized the New Journal and Guide and a local Radio Station for being soft on interviews with Wright.

Chesley wrote that at first it was the mainstream media’s fault, the mayor of Portsmouth claimed. Now Kenny Wright “has unveiled a new bogeyman” for the shortcomings of city leaders: a declining white population and a shrinking white elite that oppose the Black majority on the City Council.

He accused the mayor of speaking recently in publications and on local radio stations that let him spout whatever he wants, without critical questions or opposing viewpoints. They treat him with “ample deference,” he said.
I am no fan of Mayor Wright but I do think he has an argument about the shrinking white population and the elite opposition. When the whites take flight the tax base and economic viability goes with them leaving city political leaders helpless to make major decisions. Some have even accused the city council as acting like buffoons.

I read and appreciate Roger Chesley columns, and I usually agree with him, but in my opinion Chesley went too far by claiming Wright arguments are “specious.” Making that charge only fuels the fire for some of his readers especially some whites who are looking for faults against Blacks to enhance their biases.
Black people have come a long way socially and politically but still have a ways to go to break through that corporate ceiling maintained by the one percent who own the lion share of profits.

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On the front page of the February 12th Virginian Pilot the headline is about Senator Louise Lucas. It says “Lucas: Black Lawmakers are “not Listened to.” Need I say more?
Chesley said the Portsmouth City Council should stop the pettiness and tackle Portsmouth’s various problems from fighting violent crime to luring businesses.

That is easy to say but it takes money to do those things and if the one percent holds the purse strings they control those decisions. Before being overly critical about the city council, he should dig a little deeper into the history of white flight.

Shedrick Byrd is a former Director of Human Resources of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. He is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide.

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