Winston-Salem sells homes for $1 to help preserve African American community

A group purchased the abandoned structures to transform them into a historical museum.

Triad Cultural Arts of Winston-Salem, North Carolina has attempted to acquire the remaining shotgun houses in the historic Happy Hill neighborhood for seven years. The organization finally succeeded this year, thanks to the Winston-Salem City Council.

As My Fox 8 reports, the city sold the two homes to the group for $1 as part of an effort to protect and preserve the city’s oldest African American community. The group purchased the structures — the only ones remaining — from the city to restore and transform them into a historical museum.

“We see the shotgun house project as part of a larger effort in the restoration and preservation of this historic community,” said Cheryl Harry, executive director of Triad Cultural Arts. “We think that it will only enhance efforts that are already here that the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association are working on.”

The Triad Cultural Arts Center, which purchased the two shotgun houses pictured from the city of Winston-Salem for $1, plans to transform them into a museum. (Photo courtesy of the Triad Cultural Arts. Credit: Samantha Smith)

City council member Annette Scippio, who represents the district where the houses are located, noted some of the area’s history in a statement. Happy Hill, she said, “was the site of the first human rights advocacy” as well as the location “of the first public housing complex in the state of NC.”

Continued Scippio, “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 … 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. “

Harry mentioned specific impacts on Happy Hill over the years. “The challenges for Happy Hill date back to the early 1900s,” she said. “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.”

German-speaking Protestants known as the Moravians originally used Happy Hill for farming purposes. At some point, however, the Moravians embraced slavery — turning Happy Hill into a plantation town with slave quarters.

The shotgun house is one of two remaining in the historic Happy Hill section of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A preservation group plans to restore it and the other one. (Photo courtesy of the Triad Cultural Arts. Credit: Cheryl Harry)

After the Civil War, many freedmen remained in Happy Hill and purchased farmland from the Moravians, according to My Fox 8. Black working-class families typically owned these shotgun homes, which date to the 1900s.

“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.

A window painting covers up boarded windows of a shotgun house in the Happy Hill section of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the Triad Cultural Arts. Credit: Cheryl Harry)

In time, the area became the hub of Winston-Salem’s African-American community. The purchase of the homes is part of Triad’s mission to preserve Happy Hills. 

The group plans to start the restoration process after the sale of the homes is finalized.

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