When Permelia Lee and her late husband, Jack, bought their home on Dove Street in Shreveport's Allendale neighborhood almost 50 years ago, life there was changing.
Interstate 20 had just blasted through, tearing apart the neighborhood long known as the West End, devastating grand boulevards such as Pierre Avenue, Park Avenue and Cedar Street, draining traffic from the heart of Texas Avenue and beginning the annihilation of its commercial heart.
Galilee Baptist Church and its visionary pastor for the last 50-plus years, Dr. E. Edward Jones, want to change that. By most accounts, he has made a good start over the last decade through the creation of Galilee City. That almost 40-acre "city within a city" includes a gated community with upscale homes, apartment complexes and a health clinic in partnership with Willis-Knighton.
The church also honors professional baseball player Albert Belle, a member and supporter, through its efforts to save the 75-year-old former Texas League/SPAR Stadium, now the complex's recreation center. A church-sponsored scout hut honors Belle's late brother Terrence Sylvester Belle, who died in a car accident in 2011.
"It's really wonderful," Lee said of Galilee's efforts. "Had it not been for the church there, I think the neighborhood would have gone down worse than what it is. It's our rock."
The 82-year-old mother of eight -- she has more than 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren combined -- is not a member of the congregation.
"No, I'm a Methodist," she said. "But I go up there sometimes."
Jones, a DeRidder native named by Ebony Magazine as one of the 100 most influential black Americans, has worked to make Galilee City a reality since Galilee built its new facility on Pierre Avenue just north of Interstate 20.
Starting in 1985, the church secured funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing for the elderly and handicapped, Galilee Majestic Arms and Galilee Eden Gardens. In 2004, Jones sought funding from Fannie Mae, HUD, Bank One, the city of Shreveport and the Louisiana Housing Corp. to build Galilee City, a 76-unit apartment complex.
Rayford Branch, 51, has lived at another church apartment complex, Galilee Eden Gardens, about three years. Not a member of the church either, he's pleased with the surroundings and its work to improve Allendale but sees the need to do more.
"Everything runs pretty smoothly," he said. "But they need more sidewalks around the neighborhood. And a dollar store where you can go buy stuff you need around the house."
Jones credits his church membership, which he estimates as about 2,000, as "the driving force behind Galilee City. He said the motivation "is entrepreneurship and giving back to the community.
"The basic, rock-bottom support for Galilee City has been this membership," said Jones, who knew the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when King spoke at the church's former sanctuary near downtown. "It takes all of the people. We're concerned about Shreveport. If we can do it in other areas of town, we ought to be able to do it in Allendale. We have tried to prove that a church has a greater responsibility than just meet and greet on Sundays and carry on the usual ministries like visitations. We feel it is necessary that we serve the people and the people who come here are people who support Galilee City."
Jo Ann Cannon Harris, who helped start West End Kids, a group of people who grew up in the old neighborhood, applauds Galilee's efforts. From 1952-66, she lived there, first on Walnut Street and later on Sycamore Street, "right across from the ballpark ... our old house still stands." She could walk a few blocks to school, a few blocks to Andrew Currie Park and shop at close to a dozen corner grocery stores.
"It was very conveniently located for everything, a good neighborhood to raise children in," said Harris, who now lives in Haughton. "When I was about in the fourth or fifth grade, the interstate started coming through. They started tearing up the neighborhood, and people started moving away. It just chopped it in half. It took out Maple Street. It just destroyed Park Avenue."
She said the path Interstate 49 might take, if it jags west, could do the same to Allendale.
"I'm hoping that the progress they have achieved, from Pierre Avenue back down to Sycamore Street, which they seem to done a rather good job refurbishing, will not be directly in the path of I-49," she said. "That's going to be the key to the whole thing. They have made great strides in trying to rebuild this area."
Jones said if I-49 comes through and has exits that allow people to come to the neighborhood to shop and visit and be part of its life, that would be a good thing. But if all it is is a concrete conduit that slashes through and allows people to zip on by, that would not be good.
"They would come in and take the exit to downtown and not have to be bothered with this portion of town at all, and that concerns me," he said. Allendale "is not a dangerous or treacherous place to live.
"The threat of I-49 has really kind of torn the community apart, so to speak. There are those who want I-49 to come on through and then there are others who don't."
He'd like to see more businesses to serve everyday people, such as a grocery store and his own special secret desire, an ice cream parlor.
"I'd like to see in this area a Walmart or a store of that caliber," he said. "It doesn't have to be a Walmart, but a large enough store that could bring people in. And I would like to see some offices and some medical buildings in the area."
Jones said that while the neighborhood is predominantly black, more white families are moving in, creating greater diversity.
"This is a proud area," Jone said. "I would like to see it reinhabited."
Harris agreed, noting a cluster of new homes on Yale Street built independently of Galilee and a history in the neighborhood of welcoming all residents.
"Even when we lived in this neighborhood, it was a diverse neighborhood," she said. "White, Italian, Mexican -- for the day, it was very diverse."
She also applauds Galilee's recent purchase of the old Parkview School that most children of the area attended. The church does not plan to tear it down and is mulling uses for it. Harris and her group have long supported the school and would like to be part of that effort.
Lee tries her best to keep her house in good order and would like to see more people who live and rent or own or work in the neighborhood put their shoulders to the task that Jones and Galilee have undertaken.
"We have dilapidated houses, we have trees and things all in vacant lots," she said. "Nobody wants to clean (up)." Galilee has, and it has made a difference, she says.
"I would like more of that," she said. And she agrees with Jones about the community's need for things that make a neighborhood a place to live.
"We have gas stations, but it would be nice for a grocery store to be in this vicinity," she said.
Jones noted he has been at Galilee 54 years and sees Galilee City as his monument to faith.
"There should be a little something to let my posterity know that we passed this way," he said. "Not for ourselves but for the people."
Source: The AP | JOHN ANDREW PRIME