The Way We Were: Danville, Va VS Greensboro,NC

Okay.  This is going to be a rant…and I have the feeling only one of many.  I’ve been visiting my hometown of Danville, Virginia.  I haven’t posted as much lately as I’ve been tied up working with my sister to manage my Mother’s transition to Assisted Living.  That’s yet another future post.  But, this means I have had to spend much more time in Danville than I have in the last 30 years.  From what I have experienced so far, I have never been more aware of living in an upper-middle class, well-educated, liberal bubble in Greensboro than I am at this moment.  Greensboro is not perfect by any means, but it sure has Danville– and most other cities I know– beat.

Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again.  And if you  can, and you are from Danville, Va, you shouldn’t want to once you see it as it is today.  I remember coming home from College and my uncle telling me: “You used to be one of us, but you aren’t anymore”.  I took- and take-that as a compliment.

What amazes me, as a History major, is that 150 years ago, Danville and Greensboro were the same size towns.  Both dependent on tobacco and textiles.  The difference that I see is that Greensboro has always looked to the future and the outside world, whereas Danville has always been about maintaining the status quo and looking to the past.  Also, the Mill Owners in Greensboro looked outward and tried to improve the community while the Mill Owners in Danville sought to use prejudice to keep folks in line and maintain things as they were-for their own profit.

Greensboro values Education and is the home to numerous Colleges and Universities- UNC-G, NC A&T, Bennett College, Guilford College, Greensboro College, GTCC.  Danville has Averett and DCC.  Greensboro had the influence of the Quakers and other thoughtful denominations.  Danville is a hot bed of religious fundamentalism.

Greensboro has thrived on the forces of knowledge and religious and social tolerance.  Danville has closed itself off in ignorance and religious self-righteousness.  Danville is also known as the “City of Churches.  They have so many because they are always have inter-congregational battles and splitting off to start new ones.  I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve never been anywhere where people spent so much time gossiping about and judging other people. As Jeannie C Reilly once sang, “well this is just a little Peyton Place…”  Harper Valley PTA always makes me think of Danville…

Danville has never looked forward– only backwards –to it’s glory days as the Last Capital of the Confederacy, and that “fact” is arguable.  For a few days Jefferson Davis hid out in Danville.  Or as they would say, “heroically established a provisional government” , as he was being pursued by the Union Army in the last days of the Civil War.  Danville has used this as their claim to fame ever since…

Once Danville was one of the worlds biggest tobacco markets.  It used to claim to be the “Worlds Best Tobacco Market”.  Dan River Inc was one of the premier textile companies.  But Dan River Inc was destroyed by NAFTA– which the short-sighted Danvillians supported with their votes to the then Republican Congress that passed that treaty.  God knows, tobacco is no longer a force in US agriculture.  But they never planned for this eventuality.

Danville is also losing it’s beauty and character.  It was once a very pretty little town.  Now they are tearing down the old Mills to sell the bricks and floor planking for scrap.  New chain stores are springing up every where and look like what you see in every other town.  The local businesses and some once excellent local restaurants are disappearing.  I have never seen so many ugly aluminum shell buildings and bad architecture as I see driving up Piney Forest Road.

If you want to conduct a case study of how big box stores, profit hungry corporations and short-sighted leadership destroyed a town, look no farther than Danville, VA.

This does make me sad.  I knew I would never stay there, but I hate to see what was once a pretty nice little town become a homogenized, isolated mess.  I wonder where the decent jobs are now.  How can people live as well as we once did?  I fear they are also losing their future as the kids go off to school and can’t or won’t come back.  Just like I did…

What is still fashionable in Danville?  Prejudice.  I have never heard so many blatantly sexist and racist remarks as I have heard since I’ve been traveling back there.  When I went to my mother’s bank and they typed up some forms on an IBM Selectric Typewriter with Carbons, as in Carbon Paper, I knew I was in a time warp in the technological sense.  It seems it is also in a time warp socially.  They seem to have missed all the major social movements since 1963.  They even seem to be working on getting back to segregation as most of the white money has moved to the County, the other whites go to religious schools and have left the public schools mostly to the African-American population.  This is a town that thrives on walls and fences.  People there only want to socialize and work with people as much like themselves as possible.  Diversity is a dirty world in Danville.

This does help me understand why Danville is mentioned so much in stories about the Tea Party.  They think it’s still 1776.

I know there are still some great people in Danville.  Some of them are my friends.  Sorry if this offends them, but I call it as I see it…

Enough for now.  I just had to vent…

1 Comment

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One response to “The Way We Were: Danville, Va VS Greensboro,NC

  1. NoKoolaidZone

    Yes, it is sad. But protectionism isn’t the answer. If other countries can produce textiles or other goods more cheaply, that’s good thing. Free trade is a good thing. Every time we “export a job” that can be done more efficiently elsewhere, we lower the cost of goods in this country and we free up capital for investment and innovation. In the long run, the jobs get better. Join the 21st century, Danville.


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