Walnut Tree Community Challenges Discrimination in Town's Refusal to Annex

  • E-mail E-mail
  • Google+
  • Reddit Reddit
After a decades-long fight for equal justice, residents of the Walnut Tree community and the Walnut Tree Community Association (WTCA) have filed a lawsuit alleging that the Town of Walnut Cove discriminated against the residents of this predominantly African American neighborhood when it refused their request to be annexed and fully included in the Town. The complaint argues that the Town’s repeated denials of Walnut Tree’s requests for annexation violate the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. 

Walnut Tree residents at Town meeting
Walnut Tree residents at Town hearing on annexation
The Walnut Tree community lies directly adjacent to the border of Walnut Cove, an incorporated and predominantly white town in Stokes County, NC. For over forty years, residents of Walnut Tree have sought annexation by the town, so that they would be able to y have a direct voice in local elections and decision-making, and to equitably receive the public benefits and services available to Town residents. Because they live outside town limits, for example, members of the Walnut Tree community pay double the rate for water and sewer services as in-town users.

Walnut Tree residents are also not able to participate meaningfully in local government or hold town officials politically accountable, even though the Town decides land use and other issues that directly impact the community. Recently, the Town tore down a playground in Walnut Tree without the community’s consent or input. In 2015, the Town Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to allow test drilling for fracking in Walnut Tree, without seeking the community’s input or providing it with notice of the proposal. The Town has also refused to address continuing issues with the quality and safety of the public water provided to Walnut Tree.

While repeatedly denying Walnut Tree’s request for inclusion, the Town has annexed several predominantly white communities over the past 25 years.  “At some point, you just have to ask why,” said David Hairston, the President of the WTCA. “Is it the color of our skin and not the content of our character that has kept us out all these years?”

Ada Linster, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, moved into Walnut Tree in 1973 with the understanding that the community would soon be incorporated into the Town.  Like Ms. Linster, many of Walnut Tree’s first homeowners moved into their Walnut Tree homes from Walnut Cove in the early 1970s. They had the understanding that the subdivision would be incorporated soon thereafter. “It’s not right to sit around and wait on something they promised to us more than forty years ago,” says Ms. Linster.

Walnut Tree submitted its most recent formal petition for annexation in 2016, with assistance from the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Southern Environmental Law Center. In January 2017, the Town rejected the annexation by a 3-2 vote. The Plaintiffs are represented by Petal Munroe and Lee Hogewood of K&L Gates, LLP in Raleigh, NC.
Following the filing of the complaint, the Editorial Board of the Winston-Salem Journal called on the Town to at last annex Walnut Cove. The Journal also provided in-depth coverage of the filing of the lawsuit.

Posted by Mark Dorosin on Thu. September 21, 2017 2:25 PM
Categories: Annexation, Community Inclusion, Race Discrimination, Segregation
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

If you are seeing this, you are either using a non-graphical browser or Netscape 4.x (4.7, 4.8, etc.) and this page appears very plain. If you are using a 4.x version of Netscape, this site is fully functional but lacks styles and optimizations available in other browsers. For full functionality, please upgrade your browser to the latest version of Internet Explorer or Firefox.