Summerville neighborhood with deep history feels slighted

"How many skateparks do you see in neighborhoods?" asks Melinda Dingle, whose family has lived in Summerville's Sasportas neighborhood for generations. Thursday February 7, 2013. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com) Buy this photo

SUMMERVILLE — In a town rich with little nuggets of history, the Sasportas neighborhood might be the most overlooked.

The quiet community between South Main Street and the Berlin Myers Parkway is cradled by the town’s vaunted historic district, but is not part of it. Its residents live within loudspeaker distance of the storied Memorial Stadium high school football field and an elementary school its founders sold land for.

But the neighborhood’s most distinguishing feature is a public works water tower looming overhead.

Like other traditionally black neighborhood residents, they have long felt somewhat disenfranchised and put upon while “historic” neighborhoods were coddled.

Yet they have a legacy that stands with the more renowned in town.

The community is named for Thaddeus St. Mark Sasportas, among the first black practicing attorneys in the state, in the Reconstruction and then Jim Crow eras.

When he died in 1937, he was the last practicing black attorney in the state; the University of South Carolina law school no longer was accepting black students. That gaping inequality, exacerbated with his death, led to the creation of the S.C. State Law School.

Sasportas practiced in Charleston and Summerville, where he moved and opened a grocery with his brother. He became a warden, or Town Council member, and acquired tracts of property that included today’s Sasportas neighborhood. Descendants have lived there since.

“Born and raised,” said Georgana Campbell, a great-great-granddaughter. The Sasportas name “comes from the older people, my parents, my grandparents.”

Not least among contributions the family has made to the town was the sale of property for what became the town’s pride, Summerville Elementary School, alongside Memorial Stadium.

Sasportas’ great-great-great-granddaughter, Melinda Dingle, was among the first black students admitted to the school.

So it’s an irony that, while Sasportas’ residence on South Main Street is in the town’s historic district and is considered one of its historic homes, the neighborhood he founded behind it is little regarded.

Dingle today is stridently battling the town about plans to build a skate park at the foot of the neighborhood near the football stadium, after neighbors’ opposition derailed plans to build it near the more prestigious Newington Plantation neighborhood. Like Newington, Sasportas considers the park a potential nuisance.

But unlike Newington, “Our voices were ignored here in our little community,” Dingle said.

The newly organized Summerville branch of the NAACP will work with the residents to try to resolve this, said Dexcter Mack, president.

“It is an historic neighborhood. The people have been there forever,” he said. Town leaders should take that into consideration. “When it’s all said and done, they dump anything in the black neighborhoods.”

The battle is likely lost; Town Council voted unanimously five months ago to go ahead with the park, with residents assured it would be fenced, locked at night and supervised by police.

Organizers are raising money to build it.

The residents hold fast to their heritage.

“They say we’re not in the historic district,” Dingle said. ”But then everybody wants to come in and buy our property.”

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