On the eve of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans constituted the majority (52.2%) of the population in Charlottesville and the surrounding areas. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the neighborhood of “Vinegar Hill” became a focal point for African American residential and social life as well as an economic center for black-owned businesses. In 1960, the City’s plan for “urban renewal” razed the vibrant African American neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, destroying hundreds of homes, dozens of businesses and displacing thousands. The value of this Vinegar Hill land today – just the percentage that was owned by African Americans – is estimated at $80-100 million.
With the loss of these assets – businesses, homes and land – generations of African American families have been unable to pass on and grow wealth from one generation to the next. Most residents were moved into housing projects, trapping people in a cycle of rent-controlled poverty. The fracturing of black communities suppressed strong community ties, leadership, movement building and political participation. Today, over 50 years later, the former Vinegar Hill remains largely undeveloped. The recent violence of August 2017 may have precipitated our current situation, but the destruction of Vinegar Hill represents the full history of our ongoing social crisis. This leads to a lack of trust among the African American population and a lack of confidence in the efficacy of their civic participation efforts.
a lasting problem
We believe that the root cause of the marginalization experienced by Charlottesville’s African American population today is inseparable from its history. By cutting off access to home ownership and business ownership, two of the strongest wealth building avenues were effectively closed off. In addition, the social and cultural capital that was lost when these residents were uprooted has torn at the fabric of mutual support found in a healthy community.
It's time to change that.