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IN-DEPTH: 'Nobody reinvested in development,' East Waco community hopes to be seen once again

The national infrastructure bill could help historically black neighborhoods like East Waco.
Posted at 9:56 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 23:18:27-04

WACO, Texas — East Waco is full of culture and home to the great soul food block of Clifton Street where you can smell the special of the day.

For decades the area has struggled after I-35 went right through the neighborhood.

"So we need the type of development that's going to make a social, positive impact for us," said Jeanette Bell, the North East Riverside neighborhood president.

Jeantte Bell President of the Northeast Riverside Neighborhood Association.

To understand the issues you must take a step back into history.

"Before I-35, the entry access into Waco, Texas was through East Waco, it truly was the gateway to the city," said District 1 councilwoman, Andrea Jackson Barefield.

At one point East Waco was connected by ferry across the Brazos River. It was known for cotton gins.

The famous Suspension Bridge was completed in 1870, and in 1871 the City of Waco annexed East Waco.

In 1872, the railroad was put in East Waco, creating jobs and new opportunities for businesses. In 1884 the first elementary school came in.

The area struggled with three big floods in 1885, 1913, and 1936.

After World War 2, with the GI Bill, blacks who fought could attend college. With New Deal programs they could get loans to own their own homes.

Blacks moved into the 11 blocks toward the Brazos, some whites moved out, and Waco was divided.

With the help of the GI bill the area started growing, Alpha Theatre on Clifton Street was built.

By 1945 music started filling the air at the Walker Auditorium. Artists like James Brown, B.B. King, and Etta James, all of whom would go on to greater success, played at Walker’s Auditorium when they traveled to Texas in the 1960s.

In 1957, when I-35 was being built, the area would start to see a change.

"Even in a time of segregation it was connected," said Barefield.

I-35 being built in 1957. The construction would force people to move out of there homes.

When I-35 came through in many ways the neighborhood was cut off. The City of Waco paid to relocate people and homes and businesses were bulldozed.

Yards were cut off and in many ways, people in the community feel they haven't received much attention.

"Nobody reinvested in development," said Bell.

Construction went right through parts of East Waco.

But now the multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill could help neighborhoods like East Waco.

"I think it could help East Waco and all of Waco," said Bell.

A billion dollars could go to help with infrastructure.

"Too often, past transportation investments divided communities," said a press release from The Whitehouse.

The program will fund planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks, or other infrastructure through $1 billion of dedicated funding.

The City of Waco has started investing in street repair and building sidewalks. Residents have taken notice but hope the area continues to see updates.