WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — A historic community in the Piedmont Triad is a step closer to preservation. Triad Cultural Arts in Winston-Salem has been trying for 7 years to obtain the remaining shotgun houses in Happy Hill. This year, the Winston-Salem City Council helped them finally get them.
It’s been a challenge trying to preserve and protect Winston-Salem’s oldest African American community. Kayyum Allah has been living here since 1952 and has witnessed much of the neighborhood he knew turn into something different. The changes started long before Kayyum and his family moved in.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, drastic changes,” Allah said.
“The challenges for Happy Hill date back to the early 1900s,” said Cheryl Harry, executive director of Triad Cultural Arts. “And it sort of started with the Duke power lines that were added in, actually taking out, removing what was known as the Schumann Plantation back then, where it became a home for an African American family here. So that home was totally erased from the landscape,” Harry said.
These shotgun houses date back to the 1900s. They were homes to black working-class families in Happy Hill.
“Shotgun houses became sort of an iconic symbol of freedom in the south. Enslaved people are freed, the finances are low because of a lot of injustices, so they tend to live in these shotgun, smaller dwellings, shotgun houses,” Harry said.
The city of Winston-Salem agreed to sell them to the Triad Cultural Arts Center for $1 so they can be restored and made into a historical museum. The council member over this district, Annette Scippio, said in a statement she is pleased the transfer of ownership is taking place.
“The Happy Hill area in the city of Winston-Salem is the most significant Historic area for African American life, yet openly hidden in the shadows for a century. It was the site of the first human rights advocacy (186 years, in October 1836 17 slaves were emancipated and sponsored by Dr. Frederick Schumann to resettle in Liberia, West Africa); it was the location of the first education efforts for African Americans, (in 1867 the first school built by African Americans in partnership with Friends Association for Relief of Colored Freedmen on land given by the Salem Board of Trustees); it was the site of the first efforts toward economic mobility (in 1872, the Moravian Church provided platted land for homeownership for newly freed slaves, the first African American neighborhood in the city); and it was the site of the first public housing complex in the state of NC (1950; 488 units were built and operated by the Winston-Salem Housing Authority). One would think that with such a rich history, our city, its residents, corporations and businesses would have significantly invested in this area, which has suffered the impact of segregation, urban renewal, dense poverty and general disenfranchisement. The two shotgun houses (last of 37 that were in the neighborhood in 1927) are symbols of the past and the emergence of investment in Happy Hill. Triad Cultural Arts has advocated for the preservation of these shotgun houses since 1999 with renewed interest in 2018. I am pleased the transfer of ownership is taking place and the buildings will be adapted to a strong public purpose focused on our local African American history.”Annette Scippio, Winston-Salem City Councilwoman, East Ward
“We see the shotgun house project as part of a larger effort in the restoration and preservation of this historic community. We think that it will only enhance efforts that are already here that the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association are working on,” Harry said.
“Just as you have in Old Salem all of the artifacts, all of the structures in Old Salem that were established hundreds of years ago, they still stand today as a testament to the history and the culture of those people that established them. So Happy Hill is also deserving of that kind of recognition. Our history deserves to be preserved,” Allah said.
As a long-time resident of Happy Hill, Kayyum is hoping all of Winston-Salem will see the benefit of this arrangement.
“No matter what race you are you can benefit from having knowledge of history and culture that’s right in your presence and Happy Hill is full of it,” Allah said.
Once the sale of the homes is complete, Triad Cultural Arts will start the process of restoring the shotgun houses.