Arlington-area artists, librarians and academics are in a race against time to capture the memorabilia and documents of former residents of the city’s historic black district, The Hill.
No topic is out of place and no person’s story is too trivial, the team told interviewee Margaret Taylor and her granddaughter, Tayla Vaughn, as they pored over photos during from an interview on June 23 at the downtown George W. Hawkes Library.
Interviews like Taylor’s will provide context for the “Echoes from the Hill” documentary series and augment the library’s Arlington Black History Community Archive. The documentary and archives will capture life in an area that was once the only designated neighborhood for black residents during the Jim Crow era, said Shirley Adams, who helped the crews put the project together.
“These people are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s,” Adams said. “If we don’t capture their stories now, they could be lost. “
The hill formed when segregated neighborhoods were the norm and was the only area specifically designated for black residents. Interviewees described the area in Adams as a “cocoon” – a place where families were not subject to the policies, practices and mindsets of the Jim Crow era. In this space, community institutions, including restaurants, churches and schools, have created a thriving neighborhood. A few churches have remained and rose to prominence in the area, including Mount Olive Baptist Church, Church of God in Christ, and Arlington Chapel AME.
The five-block area of the hill, located just northwest of the original city limits, included Taylor, Prairie, Sanford and West streets, according to the Arlington Historical Society.
The neighborhood dissipated in the mid-1960s, when residents moved elsewhere following housing and school desegregation and more employment opportunities. Historical markers commemorate the region and several landmarks.
History of the Hill
Gaps remain in the documented history of the Hill.
Numerous research articles point to gaps in census data and missing photographs of homes, businesses and churches that could tell more about the area just northwest of downtown. The hill has also lost several buildings due to development, some of which may have qualified for historic designation, according to a 1999 study of the region’s cultural resources.
The hill formed and matured largely independently of the rest of the city. None of Hill’s streets connect with major city streets, and outside the neighborhood, black residents have faced white hostility and policies of segregation.
“It’s like some kind of protective entity, or a barrier against it,” Adams said. “Your sense of second-class citizenship was not asserted until you left this protective place. “
Arlington’s first school for black students opened in the 1890s and existed in one form or another until 1965, when the city’s school district closed the Booker T. Washington School and reopened. its doors as a special educational institution. Without the area high schools for black students in the Arlington area, children had to take public buses to IM Terrell High School in Fort Worth using their own funds. Few students received an education beyond eighth grade until the late 1960s.
The policies of hospital segregation placed black families in “life and death” situations until 1958, according to a virtual library timeline, as residents were forced into Fort Worth hospitals until. ‘that the Arlington institutions are created.
Unable to access the resources available to their white neighbors, the residents of Hill have created a thriving community out of local businesses, as well as its schools and churches. Lou Henry Taylor, who opened a grocery store on Taylor Street in 1946 and became the local mainstay Lou’s Blue Lounge, is considered a pioneer of local commerce.
The living room, known as the “juke joint,” was one of the many places where people could drink and listen to blues music. Gloria Echols, who taught Hill for 20 years, former Booker T. Washington principal George Stevens and longtime Mount Olive pastor Reverend Norman L. Robinson, have roads and parks named after them. .
Fill in the missing history
Mark Dellenbaugh, a local history and genealogy librarian, and Arlington Historical Society director Geraldine Mills, have worked with prominent black families to digitize historical artifacts since 2016. Dellenbaugh wanted to reach more members of the community, but did not want a transactional relationship with the sources.
Then came the documentary pitch. The idea of a municipal event commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day sparked the partnership between the library, Sagasse Media Group, creatives and longtime residents.
The Arlington MLK Celebration Committee, which runs municipal programs to celebrate Federal Day, had a series of lessons planned around lessons from black seniors. Deborah Spell, vice president of public affairs at Sagasse, saw the potential of a long-standing project – and the opportunity to bring in filmmaker Lindell Singleton and screenwriter Dru Murray.
“This film was a godsend for me because it allowed me to work with people who had established relationships with members of the Arlington black community,” Dellenbaugh said.
This is where Adams, a 47-year-old Arlington resident, used her connections. She started with those she knew and gathered figures from Mount Olive Baptist Church. Interviewees referred her to other members of the community and informed their friends about the plans.
“When it got past people I knew, I went on the recommendation of other people who knew them,” Adams said. “They gave credibility to what we were doing. “
The team made a handful of in-person videos in the Arlington city center library, as well as several Zoom interviews with local experts. From interviews, the team identified people in photographs and gained more context behind the community.
The film and archives team hope that the immortalization of the Hill’s stories and documents will be remembered by people and other parts of local, national and American history. Where library materials will be widely available online for research, the documentary will add another layer of understanding beyond text and photographs.
“Part of the intention is to make sure that no one has a reason not to know these things,” Dellenbaugh said.
Those interested in submitting articles to the library can email [email protected] or call Dellenbaugh at 817-459-6795.
This story was originally published July 5, 2021 at 5.15 am.