Background – In 1998, Old Salem Museums & Gardens mounted an exhibit entitled “ACROSS the CREEK from Salem: The Story of Happy Hill 1816 – 1952,” which spanned a 130 year period from slavery to freedom. Mel White, former director of African American Programs and residents of Happy Hill and other African American communities in Winston-Salem shared old photographs, books, documents, artifacts retrieved from their family histories. The exhibit provided a pictorial history of the city’s first African American neighborhood.
In 2005, Belinda Tate, former Director of the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University and visual artist Chandra Cox, Chair of the Department of Art and Design at NC State began work on a major visual arts project entitled “Pride and Dignity from the Hill: A Celebration of the Historic Happy Hill Community” to recapture the spirit of Happy Hill. The work culminated in 2010 with a major exhibit which displayed the work of local artists and nationally renowned artists.
Project Vision- Development of a heritage site in Winston-Salem’s oldest African American neighborhood utilizing two architecturally significant houses to exhibit Winston-Salem’s Black history, i.e, communities, churches, people and life. The site would showcase a missing history, reinvigorate a culture and reclaim the legacy of those men and women who worked to make a life for their families, pre and post emancipation.
View video from C-Span
Preserving Happy Hill
Project Context- Built in the early 20th century, the two shotgun houses are located in the historic Happy Hill community, the first planned African American neighborhood in Winston-Salem dating back to 1872. It was once the center of African American life in the city.
Shotgun houses once populated neighborhoods throughout the city. Relatively inexpensive to construct, the shotgun house is rectangular, one room wide, and up to three rooms deep with a front porch. Scholars believe that this tradition may have originated from Yorubaland (West Africa) via Haiti to the American South. The word shotgun itself is derived from the Yoruba word to-gun. In Yoruba this word means place of assembly, or where people gather. (African American Architecture : A Hidden Heritage, Joseph E. Holloway, Ph.D., slaverebellion.org)
Today there are only a few remaining shotgun houses in Winston-Salem. Referred to as “vessels of memory,” their architectural style is an iconic symbol of African American freedom. They echo the African American experience throughout the south. In 2016 the National Park Service approved a proposed boundary expansion of the Salem Village National Historic Landmark district that would include key historic properties within the Happy Hill neighborhood.
The Heritage site will be located on Alder Street, Lot 2412, and will serve as a gateway into Happy Hill Park. Uniquely positioned, the site will be in close proximity to Old Salem Museums & Gardens, which interprets the 18th and 19th century history leading up to the development of the Happy Hill community, the historic neighborhood of Washington Park, and three higher education institutions: Winston- Salem State University, North Carolina School of the Arts, and Salem College. The Heritage site would be an additional venue for African American Heritage Tourism Industry.
Join with Triad Cultural Arts to Save Our History!
Help us lift the historic story of Happy Hill, Winston-Salem’s first planned African American community, out of obscurity and herald the architecturally significant shotgun house as an iconic symbol of African American freedom! Let’s repurpose their use for education and the perpetuation of African American history and culture for generations to come!
Call 336-757-8856 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Hill: Pride and Dignity 2006 by Chandra Cox