Like many original South Side residents, Rhea Adleade (Brown) Wright, is a transplant from West Virginia. Mrs. Wright was born and raised on the hillside of London, WV. She grew up with her two older sisters, Delores and Constance, a younger sister, Lyle, and one brother, William, whom she affectionately called, “Billy.” Her sister, Claudia, died at birth.
“My daddy always said knowledge is power. He sent me up to Columbus to go to beauty school,” Wright remembers. She graduated after attending beauty school on Long Street. She then returned home and launched her own beauty salon in Montgomery, WV.
As a successful minority business owner, she recognized the importance of a strong community. “All the Black businesses at that time were located on the other side of the railroad tracks in Montgomery. But our customers faithfully supported us and together we were stronger,” Mrs. Wright recalls.
The Southfield neighborhood in which Mrs. Wright still lives was the second development of new homes available to African Americans in Columbus. She has lived in this neighborhood for nearly 60 years.
“My husband began negotiating to buy our home in 1958. He moved me in as a new bride. We shared 42 wonderful years together in this house,” Mrs. Wright revealed.
Over the years, she has seen a lot of progress and change. When Mrs. Wright first moved into the Marion-Franklin area, they had new homes but lacked bus routes, street lights, and sidewalks. “We went three years before we got any bus routes. It used to take two fares just to get to work,” she explained. “We didn’t have easy access to a place to worship,” Wright continued, “but the community banded together.”
The landowner sold a group of neighbors the property to build Southfield Missionary Baptist Church. “All the bricklayers, electricians, and carpenters who lived in the neighborhood donated their labor to help build the church. After working a full day, they volunteered to help us improve the community. Together, we were stronger,” says Mrs. Wright. “Everyone participated.”
The Civic Association has played a major role in making Marion-Franklin a strong community. The Southfield Civic Association was first organized in April, 1959. Concerned homeowners in the Southfield Subdivision identified six (6) major issues that would improve the standard of living in the community: street lighting, sidewalks, stop signs and speed controls, public transportation, recreation facilities and property beautification. The organization’s name was changed to the Marion-Franklin Area Civic Association in 1965 to more accurately describe the area.
The Civic Association was instrumental in reducing truck traffic on Watkins Road and adding a two-way stop at New World Drive. Most recently, the Association proposed a plan to the Board of Education to keep Marion-Franklin High School open in the neighborhood.
“We had to stick together back then if we wanted to survive,” Wright explained. “We had no other choice. Everyone signed a petition to get street lights for safety.”
Mrs. Wright has remained a strong voice in the community. “I’ve always been in the Civic Association. I remember going to meetings at City Hall with Mayor Reinhart, and he knew who I was,” she recalls.
Mrs. Wright firmly believes that residents will need good technical skills for the future and the community should be focused on education. “A community can be no better than the people in it,” she declared. She successfully lobbied for the local Marion-Franklin library. “We needed access to a library in our neighborhood and I wouldn’t let up until we got one.”
The passion and persistence of residents like Mrs. Rhea Wright to make Marion-Franklin a safe, strong community hasn’t gone unnoticed. She has received multiple awards and acknowledgements for her efforts over the years.
Mrs. Wright wants to see more people get involved in helping shape what’s next for the neighborhood. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday and says It is time for younger people to learn and take over.
“We need more people to care about this community. It’s their community. We need to encourage the young people with love and kindness,” she says. “We need participation from local churches, schools, parents, and the youth. We need everybody working together.”