Abundant Life Black History Month Highlights: Vinegar Hill, The Demolished Thriving Black Neighborhood

Feb 08, 2023|Written By: Faith Kelley

For our second week of Abundant Life Black History, we’d like to highlight a community of thriving black residents in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was destroyed in 1964 as part of a citywide redevelopment program. This neighborhood was known as Vinegar Hill, which extended through Main Street and the east end of the Downtown Mall. 

Post-Civil War, African American Families began moving into the neighborhood. Vinegar Hill was home to 30 black-owned businesses and 139 family homes. A survey conducted in 1960 reported that 29 of the 30 black-owned businesses were collectively worth $1.6 million dollars.

By the 1920s, Vinegar Hill became a hub for African American community, wealth, and culture.

In 1960 an election poll took place- it would approve the redevelopment plan for Vinegar Hill. Though, a poll tax denied Vinegar Hill Residents the right to participate in this vote. Demolition and redevelopment began in 1964 and displaced around 500 residents, moving them from their stand-alone, multi-level family homes into the Westhaven Public Housing Project- an unfair trade.

Following demolition and the displacement of a thriving community, many American Americans couldn’t find employment in the businesses that Vinegar Hill would now occupy and where many wealthy black families once resided and prospered. Kathy Harris, who grew up in the neighborhood, said in the 2010 Documentary about Vinegar Hill that “there are just no opportunities here for African American people.”

Mindy Thomas Fullilove wrote in the Journal of Urban Health that such relocations “caused a profound shift in the political and social engagement of the African American community.” This displacement and redevelopment led to trauma amongst the African American Community in Charlottesville and left them feeling alienated. 

Sources: https://www.cvillepedia.org/Vinegar_Hill#:~:text=Vinegar%20Hill%20 , https://timeline.com/charlottesville-vinegar-hill-demolished-ba27b6ea69e1 ,

Image accredited to Laura Smith | https://timeline.com/charlottesville-vinegar-hill-demolished-ba27b6ea69e1



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