Joseph Askew Sr. reveled in good news on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The 77-year-old retiree has been in a legal battle to keep his historic properties from being destroyed by the city officials in his hometown, Kinston, North Carolina. Already, they’ve demolished some of his properties. He contends it's because of his race because officials ignored dilapidated properties owned or located in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The fight hasn’t been in vain.

After five years of litigation, Askew is finally celebrating a win.

On June 28, the North Carolina Supreme Court unanimously ruled in their favor, overturning a prior “doubly flawed” analysis from the North Carolina Court of Appeals, wrote Justice Anita Earls — a Democrat and only Black justice on the state’s Supreme Court.

“I feel good. I feel great,” Askew told Worldacad of the ruling.

This decision is rare, given the politically conservative nature of the high court, Ralph Bryant, Askew's attorney, told Worldacad.

“The legal issue of protecting the constitutional rights of individual citizens of our state was understood to be so important, that all political inclinations were set aside and justice prevailed,” Bryant added.

In the days since the opinion, Askew has been busy.

He’s made calls near and far beyond Kinston’s borders, rallying people together to attend his press conference where he will share the news. Although he's always been optimistic, the journey hasn’t been easy.


Read more: This City Wants to Raze Black Properties, at the Cost of Generational Wealth.


It started in 2017, when city officials added the properties of Askew and two other Black residents — Curtis Washington and Charlie Gordon Wade III — to their condemnation list. Kinston ramped up its efforts to take “a more targeted approach” to improve the appearance of neighborhoods by condemning and demolishing “blighted houses.” The city increased its demolition fund from $50,000 to $125,000 in 2018.

They pledged the properties fit within their criteria, refuting the racial bias claims. But, Askew, Washington, and Wade didn’t see it that way. In 2019, they filed a lawsuit in federal court, which dismissed it for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In 2021, a trial court judge ruled in favor of Kinston, stating the plaintiffs failed to establish evidence and hadn’t exhausted their administrative remedies before proceeding with a lawsuit.

Rather than sue, they argue that Askew and others should’ve gone through the local process, such as submitting a written appeal to the city for condemning their properties. In 2022, the North Carolina Court of Appeals followed suit and dismissed the plaintiffs’ discrimination claims.

The plaintiffs brought forth a constitutional law claim, which means there is no other adequate state remedy to address the discrimination issue. The precedent for this argument was set in 1992, when the state Carolina Supreme Court ruled in Corum v. University of North Carolina, that “in the absence of an adequate state remedy, one whose state constitutional rights have been abridged has a direct claim against the State under our Constitution.”

“Exhaustion of administrative remedies does not dictate jurisdiction over Corum claims. That authority flows from the Constitution itself,” Earls wrote in the opinion. “To ensure that North Carolinians ‘may seek to redress all constitutional violations,’ Corum creates a unique path into court when existing channels fail to offer an adequate remedy.”

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case, which means they reviewed the lower court’s decision, found error, and sent it back. Now it’s up to the Appeals Court to decide it again using the Supreme Court’s opinion as guide.

The attorney for the city of Kinston did not respond to a request for comment.

Aallyah Wright is Worldacad's rural issues reporter. Twitter @aallyahpatrice