Tears, fears, laughter and joy that accompanied living at one of Augusta’s oldest public housing complexes are documented in an oral history project airing on Georgia public radio beginning Monday and continuing through the end of May.
The Cherry Tree Crossing Listening Project was a partnership between the Greater Augusta Arts Council and Georgia Public Broadcasting station WACG-FM 90.7. Student interns from Georgia Regents University’s communications department helped conduct interviews with more than a dozen former Cherry Tree Crossing residents.
Residents from Cherry Tree Crossing are being vacated before the 15th Street complex is demolished to make room for modern, mixed-income apartments. On Friday, five families remained of 355 families that lived at Cherry Tree when relocation began last fall, said Buddy Oldfield, the Augusta Housing Authority’s director of resident services.
Oldfield said Cherry Tree could be empty in 10 days. Families will not be forced to leave the complex before finding new housing.
WACG-FM Station Manager Drew Dawson said the oral history project revealed a surprisingly positive outlook on the housing project known to many outsiders as a breeding ground for gun violence and drugs.
“It’s almost as if violence was an anomaly. Family life was the norm,” Dawson said. “No one is denying that when it was bad it was very bad, but there were very good times as well.”
A couple that was married 22 years and raised children at Cherry Tree, a 25-year-old who graduated college and pursued more education and a high school teen who aspires to go to medical school were among those who shared stories.
Cherry Tree had a strong community life where children had water balloon fights, residents hosted holiday cookouts and grandparents sat on front stoops playing cards or chess, Dawson said. But, former residents also shared stories of sleeping on the floor to avoid bullets and untrustworthy relationships with police at the complex.
“Long after the neighborhood is gone, the buildings are gone, the stories of the people will remain,” Dawson said.
Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant approached Dawson with the idea to collect stories before the neighborhood disappeared. Recording began earlier this year, and interviews were reduced to four-minute segments to air on radio.
“We have more than 20 finished pieces to air during the course of May,” Dawson said.