- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - John W. Jeffries has had a ringside seat for some pivotal moments in black history.

Now, it’s his turn for a little civil disobedience.

Jeffries and his sister, Barbara, own 9.3 acres near Horse Pen Creek Road, the last piece of 86 acres owned by these direct descendants of Daniel Jeffries, who was a slave born in Caswell County but earned enough money after emancipation to buy land in Guilford County.

John Jeffries, 74, knew Daniel, his great- grandfather, who died at nearly 100 in 1956.

Jeffries said he doesn’t want to develop the land. He might sell it. Or just enjoy it for his memories of tramping around, fishing and hunting there as a child.

But right now he can’t even get to the property because he doesn’t own any access through the property that surrounds his parcel.

Because of that, Jeffries hasn’t seen the land in decades.

“It’s like a mist out there somewhere,” he said.

To Guilford County tax collectors, however, the land is very real, and every year they send Jeffries a bill for about $500.

So after more than 50 years of paying tax on this land, the siblings have stopped writing checks.

Before then, Jeffries, retired from the U.S. Postal Service, said he hired lawyers, real-estate agents and spent his own time trying to find somebody at the city or county who could help him gain access. Any access. He doesn’t want a big paved road, he said, just something like a small driveway.

But nothing ever was accomplished.

Something happened in early January, however. That’s when he got a notice from Guilford County to pay $1,508 or face the possibility of foreclosure.

That hangs over Jeffries even as he found out last week that Greensboro’s Engineering & Inspections Department wants to talk to him about possible ways to get to his property.

This is a story that might have a happy ending.

Still, after years of slammed doors, Jeffries said he is bitter and confused about a government that wants his money but won’t help him.

“It’s just like it didn’t exist until it’s time for the tax,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries’ great grandfather is one link to civil rights history. There are others as well.

Jeffries entered N.C. A&T; in the fall of 1960. He attended classes with Jesse Jackson and knew Ezell Blair (now Jibreel Khazan), one of the Greensboro Four, from his days at Dudley High School.

In college, Jeffries said he studied hard to get an English degree, but a young black man in 1964 couldn’t do much with that kind of education in the still mostly white workplace.

So Jeffries spent 43 years with the Postal Service.

He would have a front-row seat for the unrest of the 1960s, serving in the North Carolina National Guard as a military police officer during Winston-Salem’s civil rights riots of 1967.

During those years, he married, divorced and had a daughter.

And he learned to be an artist. He discovered during a class at Guilford Technical Community College that he had a talent for painting and began taking art lessons.

That talent became his outlet. He paints abstract art and outdoor scenes from imagination.

“I get on the canvas, and I go where I might go. Whatever I feel at that time.”

Turn off Horse Pen Creek Road to streets like Two Oaks Drive, Quaker Run Drive and Meeting House Drive, and you can see patches of undeveloped land that belonged to Daniel Jeffries - “Pappy” as he was known to the family.

Several houses on Quaker Run face the Bicentennial Greenway, part of the family’s land that is still woodland.

Jeffries can show you other properties in and around Horse Pen that were once owned by Pappy.

He knows every inch of the area where he lived as a child.

Not far away is Collins Grove United Methodist Church. That’s at the hub of Collins Grove, the community free slaves created after emancipation.

It’s where Pappy lived and helped build the church.

The church cemetery is like a family tree, with Pappy’s grave at the beginning of the tract and younger members of the family buried farther away down a hillside.

Pappy’s ambition and modest success - it’s said he came to the area with his money tied in a sack around his neck - contributed so much to this community that Jeffries can’t understand why the city and county could be so indifferent about his land.

Last week, however, when Jeffries was looking for a map for the News & Record, he found that one of his friends working for the city may help him finally find a solution.

Rocky Jones, a property management administrator and Theodore H. Partrick, a city engineer, were looking at the map of the property when they realized the city owns the undeveloped land just to the north along Drawbridge Parkway.

“We’re going to invite him to come and work with our property managers to look at what the city can do to provide access,” Partrick said.

A weary Jeffries won’t believe it until he can walk or drive onto his land.

“There may be some help,” Jeffries said, “but I wouldn’t bet on it after this time.”


Information from: News & Record, https://www.news-record.com

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