Hundreds celebrate legacy of city’s first black neighborhood

Photo by Tevin Stinson- Members of Triple Threat, a local dance troupe, performs during the 24th annual Happy Hill Reunion last weekend.

Hundreds celebrate legacy of city’s first black neighborhood
July 13
02:00 2017

Last weekend residents from the past and present came together to celebrate the city’s first established black community during the 24th annual Happy Hill Reunion.

The legacy of Happy Hill, or Liberia, as some still call it today, dates to the 19th century. The neighborhood just south of Old Salem was built near the African-American community school around 1874. By the turn of the century, the neighborhood was thriving. Along with dozens of homes, several churches, a theater and even a dance hall were established in the neighborhood.

Liberia also had its own cemetery, which still stands as a historic landmark today.

Since the first celebration held at Sims Recreation Center in 1993, the annual reunion has served as a time for the community to celebrate the past and look toward the future. This year’s celebration featured free food, games and prizes for children, the Winston-Salem Fire Department Fire House, several free vendors and a talent show.   

“I wouldn’t miss this reunion for anything,” said City Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams, who grew up in the neighborhood.

“It feels good to come back every year and look back on the good times and look at the progress the neighborhood has made over the years,” she said.

Adams, who threw her hat in the race for the 5th Congressional District Seat earlier this year, said the neighborhood has made significant progress over the years, but there’s still work to be done in Happy Hill. 

In 1950, the city built the first public housing development in Happy Hill. Since that time the old housing development has been replaced by new single-family residential living spaces, and Habitat for Humanity has built several single-family homes in the neighborhood.

After catching up with old friends, Adams mentioned that after talks with Council Member Derwin Montgomery and other council members,  more single-family homes and upgrades to Kimberly Park could be in the near future for Happy Hill, which is located in the East Ward, which Montgomery represents.

“I will never stop working in this neighborhood because this is the place that made me who I am today,” said Adams. “This will always be home and these people are my family.” She represents the North Ward.

Robert Leak III, who spent a lot of his childhood in the neighborhood, said he felt it was his duty to come back and celebrate the legacy of Happy Hill. He also discussed the importance of educating the next generation on the rich history of the neighborhood. 

While helping residents find parking spots last Saturday afternoon, Ben Piggott, who came up with the idea for the reunion more than two decades ago, said it felt good to be surrounded by family.

“This is something that will live on forever because this is family,” Piggott said.

Piggott, who serves as the director at Carl H. Russell Sr. Recreation Center, grew up in Happy Hill and started his career with the city’s recreation and parks department at Sims Recreation Center, located in the heart of the neighborhood. During his tenure at Sims, Piggott started several programs and helped hundreds of children stay out of trouble. While looking back on the good times spent in his old neighborhood, Piggott said, “There is something special about Happy Hill.

“Some great people from this city came from right here in this neighborhood, and that’s what this celebration is all about. Celebrating the generations who came up right here,” he said. “There are generations of families who grew up in Happy Hill. That’s why this celebration is so important.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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