Midway, N.C. — If a hard rain falls this week on the North Carolina Sandhills, it could temporarily halt play at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst.
It also might wash away the dirt Randy Thomas has packed in the driveway of his home a couple of miles away, leaving his septic system to leak raw sewage into his front yard.
Midway is one of five predominantly black communities tucked amid the area's well-manicured golf course communities, often to the extent that they appear as doughnut holes on maps. They exist in a governmental no-man's land, without sewer lines, garbage service or sometimes even water lines.
This week, black activists are grabbing some of the spotlight focused on the U.S. Open in hopes city services can be brought to the 560 residents of communities only a few miles away, but a world apart.
"From my point of view, we're dealing with wealthy, affluent, well-educated, well-connected citizens of the world," Midway resident Maurice Holland said. "They're all here. We expect to use their humanistic concerns and sense of fair play to force politicians to address the issues we're raising."
Civil rights activists say communities like these are victims of "underbounding," in which small towns and cities purposely exclude minority neighborhoods that offer low tax revenue.
Recently, activists began crunching computerized geographical data from local, state and the federal governments. Overlaying U.S. Census maps of racial residential patterns with municipal boundary maps provides powerful visual evidence of how clearly some boundaries exclude minority-dominated neighborhoods from the political process.
State law allows North Carolina municipalities wide discretion over whether to annex neighboring areas.
"Cities try to use it to their advantage," said David Lawrence, who studies annexation issues at the University of North Carolina. "What they're interested in, typically, is annexation that doesn't cost them very much ... or allows them to break even."
That might not be the case in the older minority communities around Pinehurst, such as Midway, Jackson Hamlet, Waynor Road, Lost City and Monroe Town. There, the costs of extending utility services, adding trash pickup and police and fire coverage may not be offset by increased property tax and state revenue.
In Midway, one home has been ruled uninhabitable and closed off because its lot isn't large enough to support a septic system. In Jackson Hamlet, residents say the wooded area along the town's border with Pinehurst is used as an illegal dumping ground for garbage. In Waynor Road, residents drink bottled water, because what comes out of the tap is brown.
Thomas, the Midway homeowner with the leaking septic system, brings in a new truckload of dirt every three months, fighting a Sisyphean battle against the elements. With five children living with him and his wife in their 1,400-square-foot home, Thomas said, "We've got to keep it healthy for them."
The black communities are relatively poor compared to their neighbors. The median household income for Moore County - population 80,000 - is $41,240; in Pinehurst, population 10,000, it's $67,353. Jackson Hamlet, squeezed between Aberdeen and Pinehurst, has a median income of just $25,625.
The roads there are mostly unpaved. Homes are modest, if not run down. Many are decrepit trailers.
But follow the rutted roads to the east end of the neighborhood, take a sharp right up a sandy embankment and you're onto a paved cul-de-sac with $500,000-plus vacation homes that surround a manmade lake and members-only Pinehurst Beach Club.
It's hard to imagine such neighborhoods being absorbed into wealthy resort communities and maintaining their distinct character. How long would it be before developers offered residents enough money to tear down their homes and build more of the Turnberry Woods and Hunter's Glens that already crowd the local landscape?
Some residents hope that, if annexed into Pinehurst, Jackson Hamlet could be preserved with a special historic designation.
To Midway's Holland, the annexation fight is about the right to political representation.
"To get the services we need and the political power we need, we have to be in the city boundaries," he said. "If we had not taken the stage of the U.S. Open, we'd be back where we are."