WALNUT COVE — Following a decades-long struggle for inclusion that included several petitions and a lawsuit alleging race discrimination, the Walnut Tree community was annexed into the town of Walnut Cove this week.
After several community members spoke about their long struggle to become part of Walnut Cove, the town Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the annexation.
“Everyone in the Walnut Tree community fought so long for annexation just to be a part of the town so we could all prosper together,” said David Hairston, president of the Walnut Tree Community Association. “I took on this endeavor in honor of my mother and the rest of the people you see here from the Walnut Tree. This is something we’ve been fighting for, to be included in a town we love dearly.”
Nearly 45 years ago, the residents of Walnut Tree, a predominantly African-American unincorporated community, began moving into their homes with the understanding that their community would soon be annexed into Walnut Cove.
Over the decades, Walnut Tree residents submitted numerous annexation petitions to the town in an effort to participate in elections and receive the additional benefits and services available to town residents. However, those annexation petitions were repeatedly ignored or rejected.
The community submitted another petition for annexation in 2016, this time utilizing amended provisions of state laws specifically designed to accommodate the annexation of historically excluded communities like Walnut Tree. The town rejected that petition in a 3-2 vote in January 2017.
The residents persisted. The Walnut Tree Community Association worked together with allies living inside town limits that supported annexation and made the issue the central focus of the November 2017 municipal election. These efforts became a turning point of the lawsuit, as the newly elected board members supported the annexation of Walnut Tree.
“Even though the older generation had passed on, the younger generation continued to carry on the fight. It made my community and neighbors a lot stronger. There’s strength in numbers,” said Toney Prysock, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Tonight was a historic night. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been fighting for annexation for 38 years.”
The lawsuit was settled pursuant to the terms of a consent order and decree entered by the Stokes County Superior Court, which allowed the town to consider the annexation at its Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 13.
“It took a long time to make this move,” said Ada Linster, another named plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I feel thankful for this moment, and I’m finally at peace.”