February 18, 2020

Black History Expo Reaffirms Happy Hills Historic Importance

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“Happy Hill!” “Black history!” The voice of Ben Piggott rang through the Sims Recreation Center Saturday. Ben Piggott, a longtime rec center manager and organizer in Happy Hill, served as MC for the first-annual Happy Hill Black History Expo. The Happy Hill Neighborhood Association hosted the event. The Happy Hill Black History Expo featured vendors, musicians, poets, activists, and local politicians.

There was an abundance of talent gathered in Happy Hill’s humble rec center for the expo. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for half of the program. But it was a pleasure to talk to Black artists and vendors, be uplifted by Tee Vinson’s rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, and the spoken word of Alice Bitting.  I appreciate the work that the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association is doing. Keeping history alive takes work.

The community is determined to remember Happy Hill’s history as the City is transforming Happy Hill Park across the street from the site of the Black History Expo. When the City is done with Happy Hill Park, it will be perhaps the finest park in the city; a jewel for Happy Hill and residents living in the Southeast Gateway.

Happy Hill- Final Master Plan-6-8-16

The new Happy Hill Park will increase gentrification pressures on Winston’s oldest and most historic African American neighborhood. Happy Hill is in a so-called “Opportunity Zone,” giving developers another opportunity to chip away at the African American character of Happy Hill.

The Housing Authority of Winston-Salem still has extensive properties in Happy Hill that have been vacant ever since HAWS razed Happy Hill Gardens (the state’s first public housing) in the early 2000s. Happy Hill Park 2.0 could be a catalyst project to whitewash Happy Hill’s history.

That’s why the public needs to agitate to preserve the African American character of Happy Hill, a neighborhood every bit “as historic as Old Salem.” Beyond having an excellent view of downtown, Happy Hill contains our city’s local history of enslavement and emancipation.

While Old Salem tells the history of the Moravians in Salem, Happy Hill tells the history of African Americans in Winston, “warts and all” as they say. The fact that heaven and earth were moved to construct Old Salem, while a highway was routed through Happy Hill speaks volumes about systemic racism in our community. The three historical makers in Happy Hill don’t atone for all the properties in Happy Hill that the city has flattened, all the Black properties it appropriated.

During the Happy Hill Black History Expo, I was mesmerized by the mural that runs along one side of the Sims Recreation Center. The three-panel mural is an ambitious piece of art, a brilliant display of African American history and achievement. Searching The Chronicle’s archives, I learned that Kayyum Allah, a local artist who grew up in Happy Hill, aided by a team of student artists, created the mural in 1999. It’s still impressive today!

 

Happy Hill Mural

 

Concerned past and present residents of Happy Hill met with Annette Scippio to discuss their concerns about picnic shelters in Happy Hill being destroyed. They were modest structures, but important to those who have used those shelters for decades.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” -Marcus Garvey quote found on a mural in the Sims Rec Center. I attended a meeting in Happy Hill today with Council Member Annette Scippio and members of the Happy Hill neighborhood association.

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Happy Hill, Pride and Dignity (1)

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