2-23-23: Dedicated to the wonderful people living in Happy Hill.
The Neighbors Request to Save the Pecan Trees
Those of you who regularly read Main Street Rocky Mount will not be surprised that at the ribbon cutting of the Beal Street project in 07-2016, part of me was listening and marveling at what was going on, but I was experiencing that wonderful moment when anything can happen. I could hear the voices of children playing and parents at night fall calling them home. I could “see” neighbors sitting on their front steps, a close knit community, watching out for one another, irregardless of the constant movement in the early days of people of primarily young and seasonally employed factor workers.
It was that wonderful moment … a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in.”― Olivia Howard Dunbar
Katherine Mansfield talks about how hard it is to escape from places. “However carefully one goes they hold you — you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences — like rags and shreds of your very life.” I’m certain that what I heard at the ground breaking for Beal Street Square was the fluttering of the lives of Happy Hill people.
Happy Hill is a large intact black district. By 1920 the neighborhood was densely populated along Beal, Tillery, and Thomas streets. By 1930 the 20-30 block area northwest of Main street was filled with houses, churches and small businesses for blacks. Investors built rows of shotgun, saddlebag, and hip-roofed houses next to the tobacco processing plants and warehouses. If you are taking for granted the architecture in Rocky Mount, you are missing one of the greatest assets we have. It isn’t just about the grand homes throughout the community, but it is also the amazing pockets, like Happy Hill, that provide a sense of place and have a history to be honored. Shotgun on Holly Street
I went to Braswell Library for a 6:00 meeting that Crystal Wimes-Anderson had organized. I wanted to write and support her in her ‘Bridging The Gap’ Community efforts. The Lord had other plans. I wound up at the Happy Hill Community Club Neighborhood Meeting. Such good people! There was an extra treat because Mr. Varney was there to discuss the property to be developed in Happy Hill.
I went to the ‘wrong’ meeting because of three life time residents of Happy Hill that I stood talking to in the hall when I arrived. A young woman, Katrina Rogers, has been involved on her own in extensive research on the history of Happy Hill. Valuable, time-consuming research with fabulous old newspaper articles and other documentation. She might not know it, but she has a book to write that will contain information that should not be lost.
Katrina is a key figure through this work she has been doing to honor the past of Happy Hill while a future is being forgued. Unless, the residents of a neighborhood like Happy Hill come together to help themselves, little can be accomplished. I was ecstatic with those who came to the meeting, totally invested in making ‘home’ a better place. The police updated some crime reports that have happened, showing some improvement technology has helped with.
I think of the older black lady standing in the middle of the street saying to me, “Honey, unless you gonna get the crime out of here, nothin’ gonna change.” The police stressed that they are there for Happy Hill’s safety. The JoynerKeenly Development people shared the plans for two models that have been designed and then answered an array of questions. I am delighted to report that both models are compatible with the historic architecture of the time and period.
Happy Hill has been redistricted. It is now in Ward 2 under the care of Councilman Rueben Blackwell and is no longer Ward 4 with Councilman TJ Walker. Mr Blackwell spoke and brought energy and optimism that the efforts over the last 20 years to create incentives and programs to make the lives of the residents better are happening.
Because the shotgun houses of Ward 2 are significant architectural structures, I will add that one of the older residents remained concerned that though this new development was welcomed, it was the houses in need of restoration, her house, and others that are neglected and over looked that she spoke for. There must be answers for this dilemma too.
I’m thankful I had this opportunity to step back and appreciate anew this Rocky Mount neighborhood called Happy Hill, a place believed in.
Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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One thought on “Reporting on Happy Hill, Rocky Mount NC Community Neighborhood Meeting”
It’s amazing these neighborhoods flourished back then and that Residents took interest and invested in their community. I agree with the elderly black woman they have to address the crime!