Today the Roanoke City Council received a briefing on the shifting of targeted federal housing funds, which essentially put a cap on the spending of $2.4 million for redevelopment at Hurt Park before moving on to a new project in the West End area, which launches in fiscal ’13 with $1.5 million.
Midway through the discussion, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers told a story with loose links to D-Day (which turns 68 on Wednesday) and a much tighter connection to the Hurt Park neighborhood.
Bowers said that Hurt Park is named for Welford Hurt, whom he believes was Roanoke’s first black soldier killed in World War II.
Here’s what it says about Welford Hurt at the Roanoke Valley War Memorial:
Welford J. Hurt
Feb. 4, 1922 – Feb. 23, 1945
Grew up in Roanoke. Served in the Army. Killed when he stepped on a land mine in Italy. First reported missing in action; family learned of his death on V-E Day. Body never recovered. Survived by his parents, William and Flossie Hurt, four sisters and two brothers. Hurt Park Elementary School is named in his memory.
– Submitted by his brother Richard R. Hurt of Washington, D.C.
Bowers noted that Hurt Park, acquired by the city in 1945, was named after Hurt, as was the elementary school, built later in 1959.
Today, the neighborhood is home to several new houses and a community garden that came during the redevelopment project over the last couple of years. It’s also home to a number of Burundi, Bosnian and Honduran immigrants, many of whom work side by side in that community garden, Bowers said.
So Bowers concluded:
“I just had to say, how interesting it is to live in a place like Roanoke, Va., where we named a park for one of our African-American soldiers who died fighting for freedom. Had he come back to Roanoke, he probably would have lived in a segregated society in those days.
“And yet his legacy lives on 70 years later in the redevelopment and renewal of a neighborhood, a school, a park, named for him and open to people of all colors and all races.
“Those kinds of little stories about Roanoke make me very proud,” Bowers said.
– Mason Adams