Walnut Tree Victory Builds a Better Town

This past February saw the victorious settlement of the Chambers Center’s inaugural lawsuit, brought on behalf of the Walnut Tree Community Association (WTCA) against the Stokes County Town of Walnut Cove to address the Town’s refusal to annex the African American community at its borders. Walnut Tree residents had sought to be annexed numerous times since the community was established in the early 1970s. Like many excluded communities, Walnut Tree residents were subject to environmental hazards. The community was targeted as a potential fracking site. When the nearby coal ash dump poisoned their wells, the community was connected to public water, but because they were not part of the town, paid double the rates. After their 2016 petition was again denied by the majority white Town council, they filed suit in 2017, alleging that the Town’s rejection of their annexation petition, in light of the long history of racist exclusion, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. In February following the settlement, the Town Board of Commissioners (with a new member replacing the member who had steadfastly opposed the annexation) voted to approve Walnut Tree residents’ petition. “Things are going great since the vote,” reports WTCA President David Hairston. “We enjoy municipal services at the lower Town rates, and our voices are finally being heard and respected.” The Walnut Tree Community Playground Project recently received a Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant, which Mr. Hairston says is moving that long-awaited dream forward. The Chambers Center’s Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix co-counseled with the pro bono team of Lee Hogewood and Petal Monroe of K&L Gates.