What people leave behind can provide insights into larger social forces and historical contexts. Physical remnants of older communities can inspire explorations of the past. When traces of previous settlements are located near newer buildings and infrastructure, they suggest a story of social change. Investigating this change can illuminate histories shaped by social structures, power dynamics, and human experiences that reveal much about the people that came before and what led to the neighborhood’s present-day state. Such clues of displacement linger today in the spaces of a community formerly known as Silver Hill.

Silver Hill was a settlement that began in the nineteenth century just west of Winston, North Carolina (as the city was known before it merged with the town of Salem in 1913). Although it was overshadowed by larger African American communities in East Winston and other parts of the city, Silver Hill epitomizes many facets of post-Reconstruction history in the Southern United States. Within the enclave, the building of a vibrant African American community, the hardening lines of segregation, the encroachment of a wealthy white community, struggles for racial justice, and eventual displacement can all be found. This displacement, which took place over several decades from the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, was a form of gentrification. As the industrial expansion of Winston-Salem proceeded, the neighborhood became surrounded by wealthy white developments which cut off road access to their homes. African Americans resisted this encroachment and continued living in Silver Hill through the 1970s, but the development of new housing geared toward wealthier buyers eventually replaced the original homes and residents. This history serves as an important study because gentrification continues to be a focal point of concern for many communities of color.

This chapter explores the “clues” that illuminate not only the displacement of Silver Hill residents but also the erasure and faulty revision of their history. As in any historical research, the process of discovery can be arduous, with much that is gone and forgotten. But in other meaningful ways, Silver Hill has been misremembered and can be more accurately remembered. History is contested space. This chapter looks at how not only physical clues but also remembrances and contextualization all play roles in how one interprets the significance of Silver Hill.

Physical traces include two remaining houses built during the neighborhood’s original settlement period and a cemetery where headstones were removed over 30 years ago. As in most historical research—maps, newspaper articles, property deeds, Census records, city directories, and vital records all contain clues to the history of this former enclave. However, in this instance, the question of “what people leave behind” might be better phrased as “who people leave behind,” as the stories of life in Silver Hill cannot be gleaned just from physical traces and historical documents. Descendants of Silver Hill residents provide perhaps the most important details needed to reconstruct an understanding of the life and death of this community.


Beginning in the late 1800s, Winston became a booming industrial city due in large part to its tobacco factories. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which emerged as the largest employer in the city, was well-known for hiring African American workers and drew many migrants from rural parts of North Carolina, as well as Virginia and South Carolina. Although many African Americans settled near Downtown Winston, Silver Hill began growing just west of the city in the 1880s. By 1900, Silver Hill had about a dozen families living there. However, it was neither exclusively nor predominantly an African American community at that time. Silver Hill was racially mixed in its early years. In fact, as Massey and Denton (1993) have argued, whites and African Americans lived relatively close to each other in most US cities at the turn of the twentieth century. Segregation became a defining feature of the industrial era as both whites and African Americans migrated into places like Winston-Salem. Both de jure and de facto segregation played major roles in Winston-Salem’s development. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant (2017) documents the battle over a segregation ordinance passed by the city of Winston in 1912. Even though the ordinance was declared unauthorized by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1914, whites continued their attempts to enforce segregation through both formal and informal means, such that today Winston-Salem is still one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States (Groeger, 2018).

Theoretical Foundations

This work uses a political economy framework to better understand the traces that the displacement of Silver Hill has left behind. Specifically, the concept of racial capitalism provides key insights into the erasure of this community. Racial capitalism combines the exploitation of African American labor with the second-class citizenship unique to the racialized experience of African Americans in the United States. When situated alongside the particularly avaricious white suburban development of early-twentieth-century Winston-Salem, Silver Hill stands out as an illustrative early example of gentrification. David Harvey’s work draws our attention to gentrification’s role in the concentration of wealth (1985). He argues that capital accumulation comes from two sources: exploitation of labor and displacement from land. In this case, Silver Hill stood in the way of the expansion of Winston-Salem’s wealthy white population and was therefore primed for gentrification.

Silver Hill was a pocket neighborhood—a small enclave that stood out from, but was largely hidden from, the surrounding area. For residents of adjoining neighborhoods, Silver Hill was not a community they normally passed through or interacted with. Frederich Engels (1845) discusses how early industrial Manchester, England, featured a similar separation of middle-class and wealthy residents from working-class communities. Storefronts concealed working-class dwellings from the view of wealthier residents traveling along commercial strips. Bridges were built high above the slums. Poor communities like the one under Ducie Bridge could be accessed only by means of narrow, dirty stairs. Engels sums up the spatial relations in Manchester as follows:

The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. This arises chiefly from the fact, that by unconscious tacit agreement, as well as with outspoken conscious determination, the working-people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle-class. (p. 57)

The homes of Silver Hill were similarly set back from the main thoroughfares of Winston-Salem, and residents provided crucial labor for the city’s economy. In this regard, the destruction of Silver Hill violates the logics of a capitalist system. However, the racialized nature of Winston-Salem’s economic relations, as well as emphasis on land development (what Harvey [1985] refers to as “the second circuit of capital”), help illuminate the forces that shaped the fate of this neighborhood. Capital accumulation, in this sense, comes not only from the exploitation of labor but also the displacement of people from their land. As the concentration of wealth in Winston-Salem proceeded in the twentieth century, it relied upon not only the labor of tobacco, domestic, and other workers but also the capital flowing from the development of spatial inequality in housing and land use.

Marshal Berman (1983) uses examples of the embourgeoisement of Paris to illustrate the self-destructive nature of modernity. Specifically, he cites a Charles Baudelaire poem that suggests a mid-nineteenth-century prototype of gentrification, in which a “dazzling” new café on a new boulevard recently cut through working-class Paris is still surrounded by the rubble left behind from the former neighborhood’s destruction. The “rubble” to be examined in the case of Silver Hill takes many forms yet still serves as evidence of a destructive displacement process.

Ruth Glass (1964) originally coined the term gentrification to describe how the working class are displaced by the bourgeoisie, who in turn change the character of those spaces. However, as Silver Hill exemplifies, this process does not proceed in a linear fashion. Residents resist displacement, grow their communities despite its threat, and even recreate the community in other spaces, such as reunions, storytelling, and other forms of commemoration. We look to Silver Hill as a prime example of how this process has played out, decades before we had the word “gentrification” to describe it.

First Traces of Silver Hill

The name Silver Hill first surfaced in a plat map recorded on September 19, 1894, showing 33 lots owned by William Edward Franklin (“W.E. Franklin Plat Filing” 1894). Franklin was a merchant, developer, and insurance agent who later became the treasurer and city clerk of Winston in the early 1900s. His parents were Stokes D. Franklin and Fetney Adams Franklin, who owned a farm in House Creek, Wake County, North Carolina, before coming to Forsyth County (“Franklin Family Researchers United” 2008). The map lays out two streets running north and south—Holiday Street to the west and Lincoln Avenue to the east. Cross Street bisects the neighborhood going east and west.

In 1886, a congregation of African Americans of the Primitive Baptist faith acquired land for a church just west of the lots that came to be known as Silver Hill (“Deed of Sale from Frank and Antoinette Brindle to Antiyork Primitive Baptist Church” 1886). The church was called by several different names but was most commonly known as “Antioch Primitive Baptist Church.” The nearby West End Baptist Church (also an African American congregation) purchased three acres of land adjacent to the church for a cemetery in two separate transactions dated 1907 and 1908 (“Deed of sale from H.D. and Lillian Shutt to West End Baptist Church Trustees” 1907; “Deed of sale from H.D. and Lillian Shutt to West End Baptist Church Trustees” 1908). There were several African American families already in the area before it became known as Silver Hill. These included the Cain family, which was headed by Emaline and Richard “Dick” Cain. They purchased their property in 1881 for $15 (“Deed of Sale from Frank and Antionette Brindle to Dick Cain” 1881). They held this property at the eastern edge of Silver Hill until 1917, when they sold it for $2000 to real estate developer William L. Ferrell (“Deed of Sale from Dick and Emaline Cain to W.L. Ferrell” 1917). It would eventually become part of the new, upscale Buena Vista neighborhood. The expensive home that stands on the former Cain lot today was built in 1939, leaving no obvious trace of its connection to Silver Hill.

The first known newspaper mention of Silver Hill was in the Western Sentinel published on August 11, 1898 (“Around the Twin-City” 1898). It states that “An immense crowd attended the colored camp-meeting at Silver Hill, near Winston, Sunday.” Camp meetings were religious events where worshippers congregated in rural areas for an extended period of time to live and pray together. They were particularly influential in the piedmont region of western North Carolina where Silver Hill lies (Lepley, 2006). The newspaper goes on to state that the crowd “came in from Reidsville and other places to attend a Primitive Baptist meeting” (“Around the Twin-City” 1898). This detail might help explain the appeal of the community to the McCullough family of Rockingham County (where Reidsville is located), as many of their children made Silver Hill their permanent home.

Others settling in the community included Ophelia Jane Scales. In 1899. Ms. Scales, at the approximate age of 18, was granted an acre of land in Silver Hill by the State of North Carolina (“Deed of Sale to Ophelia Scales” 1899). She posted 12 and a half cents to complete the transaction. Less than 3 years later, Ophelia Scales married (John) Henry Hunt. Reverend George Washington Holland, founder of Winston’s (African American) First Baptist Church and a prominent member of the religious community, performed the ceremony (“Aphelia J. Scales” 1902).

Silver Hill Becomes Segregated

Silver Hill did not begin as an exclusively African American community. Census records from 1900 and 1910 indicate a mixed neighborhood, with several white residents more or less coexisting with African Americans. However, as Massey and Denton (1993) point out, many neighborhoods in the United States became more racially segregated with the growth of industrial cities in the early twentieth century. In some regards, Silver Hill fits this pattern, with most white residents moving out by 1920.

The exodus of whites from Silver Hill made the community a safer space for African American residents in some ways. Pleas Cline was one white resident that African American residents likely didn’t mind leaving. MosaicNC describes Cline as “at various times, a laborer, carpenter, house painter, and machinist.” He was frequently in trouble with the law for issues such as assault, attempted murder, public drunkenness, and the failure to quarantine while infected with smallpox (North Carolina Office of Archives and History, n.d.). On November 17, 1918, Cline left his Silver Hill home and went into Downtown Winston-Salem to join a violent mob of whites attempting to break a wrongfully accused African American man out of the city jail and lynch him. Cline allegedly entered the jail with the mob, and when asked to leave, he replied “You will have to put us out” (“Governor Asked to Call a Special Term of Surry Superiour Court” 1918). While the prisoner’s life was spared, a riot spread throughout the city, leaving five people dead and dozens more injured (Clarey, 2016). Cline was sentenced to 14 months on a road crew, but Governor Thomas W. Bickett pardoned him after serving 10 (North Carolina Office of Archives and History, n.d.). Along with the segregation ordinance of 1912, the riot of 1918 highlights the heightening racial tensions of the early twentieth century which led to the intensified segregation that continues to shape Winston-Salem today.

West Highlands and Buena Vista Surround

As Silver Hill became a segregated neighborhood of African American residents, it also became surrounded by wealthy white neighborhoods. Starting in the 1910s, decades after Silver Hill was established, developers of the West Highlands and Buena Vista neighborhoods built some of the city’s most elite housing stock for executives of tobacco and other industries. As mentioned above, the Cain property became the site of one such house. After the Cains left the area, a peculiar section was added to a March 26, 1925, deed transfer of the property:

This description also includes a 10 foot strip running along the South side of that part of said lot 17D sold to Linville K. Martin and shown on said map as an alley. To that that of the description this grantor only conveys all its right, title and interest in same, and does not covenant or warrant to defend the title as to that part of the property. (“Deed of Sale from W.L. Ferrell to Linville K. Martin” 1925)

A plat map of Buena Vista shows this alley leading into Silver Hill from Hawthorne Road along the edge of the former Cain property and the two properties adjacent to it. This alley served as an “old traveled way or farm road leading from what is now Hawthorne Road through Silver Hill” (“Winston Salem 1920–1929”). This had served residents of Silver Hill as the entrance to their community for several decades. However, the developers of Buena Vista claimed the road as part of lots 101, 102 (the former Cain property), and 17C, which were to become the property of wealthy white residents in the new neighborhood (“Standard Improvement Company Plat Filing” 1921). This left Silver Hill residents without a way in and out of their community, as the alley they had used was now located on private property.

Residents of Silver Hill fought back. They gathered petition signatures demanding the city build a road to get in and out of the neighborhood and presented their demand to the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen. The Aldermen commissioned a report from the Public Works Committee, which in turn presented their findings to City Attorney Fred Parrish. On December 2, 1927, Parrish told the Board, “I feel that these colored people who built their homes on a well-defined cartway which led from Winston-Salem to a church and graveyard have been bottled up, but I do not think it is a fight of the city, as we have all of the streets and highway we can look after, without seeking others.” The Board of Aldermen rejected their request while unanimously approving road construction for several other communities, including Buena Vista (“Winston-Salem 1920–1929,” n.d.).

A public good (the alley) had been stolen from the neighborhood by private developers. The city chose not to intervene, despite the harm done to Silver Hill residents. Allowing a developer to cut off access to Silver Hill violated basic legal and economic principles. But the logic of racial capitalism helps explain this injustice. 1928 and 1930 maps of Winston-Salem show Holiday Street, Lincoln Avenue, and Cross Street in the shape of an “H,” completely disconnected from the surrounding streets (“Map of the City of Winston-Salem” 1928; “N.C. Zoning Map” 1930). A 1951 aerial photograph of the neighborhood still showed a trace of the former path from Silver Hill across Horace Mann Avenue and into the backyard of a home that had built on Virginia Avenue in the intervening years (“Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission Celebrates Black History Month” 2022).

Despite the setback, residents of Silver Hill found new ways to get to and from their homes. As the years went by and development continued at a brisk pace, Silver Hill became connected to other roads in the surrounding area. Their efforts to resist the enclosure and persistence after losing their old entrance to the neighborhood speak to an incredible resilience forged by a small, close-knit community.

Love and Affection and One Dollar

After their marriage in 1902, Ophelia and Henry Hunt lived in Silver Hill for the rest of their lives (“Ophelia J. Hunt” 1944; “John Henry Hunt” 1948). They raised ten children and expanded their land ownership to three tracts, making them one of the most prominent families in the community. After a fire at the home in 1931 (“Fire breaks out in dwelling here” 1931b), the Hunts and their children rebuilt and continued to live in Silver Hill until the 1950s. News articles from the African American high society column in the Winston-Salem Journal in the 1930s and 1940s highlight their social status, as they entertained out of town guests, as well as hosting the Goodwill Industrial Club and the Nightingale Club (“Miss Hunt entertains” 1931a; “Special entertainment” 1933; “Visitor honored” 1937; “Club meet slated” 1941). At various times, public records list Mr. Hunt’s employment as a worker in the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Factory, a public works employee, and a gardener (“John Henry Hunt” 1917; “Hill’s City Directory” 1940; “Walsh’s Directory of the Cities of Winston and Salem, N.C. for 1902 and 1903” 1902). Ophelia taught French in the Winston-Salem schools and did domestic work (M. Hunt, personal communication February 9, 2022). A photograph shared by their great grandchildren shows Ophelia proudly seated in their garden with Henry standing next to her in a three-piece suit. Clearly from these historical traces, the Hunts were an upwardly mobile family. Ophelia passed away in 1944 and Henry died in 1948. They are both buried at the Silver Hill Cemetery.

By the time of Ms. Hunt’s funeral in 1944, the white population surrounding Silver Hill had grown considerably and the African American population was starting to decline. However, two paragraphs devoted to her funeral in the Winston-Salem Journal described not only a prominent African American woman but also a community that came together for important moments in life and in death. The article identified “white citizens … who paid tribute to the life of the deceased” including Winston-Salem’s superintendent of education, Professor J. W. Moore (“Hunt rites held Saturday” 1944). While that detail might grab the attention of some readers, the article also listed Robert Edwards and John Wilson among the pallbearers. Additionally, Ada Johnson and Angeline Hart served as two of the funeral’s flower girls. These pallbearers and flower girls were all neighbors of Ms. Hunt’s on Silver Hill’s Wiley Avenue.

Silver Hill residents played a part in each other’s lives. Several children from the McCollum family, whose parents Charles and Minerva McCollum were enslaved on a tobacco plantation in Rockingham County (C. Barber Johnson, personal communication January 17, 2022), settled in the community. On July 17, 1908, Eliza McCollum Neal purchased a lot in Silver Hill for $447 (“Deed of Sale from Henry and Lillian Shutt to Eliza Neal” 1908a). The next day on July 18, 1908, her sister Flora McCollum Johnson purchased the lot next door for $513 (“Deed of Sale from Henry and Lillian Shutt to Flora Johnson” 1908b). Other McCollum children and grandchildren would live in Silver Hill for decades to come.

Less than a year after purchasing it, Eliza Neal would sell her property to her daughters Nettie, Flora, and Margie Neal in consideration of “Love and affection and one dollar” (“Deed of Sale from Eliza Neal to Nellie, Flora and Margie Neal” 1909). The deed further describes how conveyance was “made to the said three daughters by Eliza Neal in consideration of their having helped her pay for said 3 room house and lot 93 ½ × 100 feet.” However, the deed also made clear that “her son Jesse Neal did not assist in the payment for said house and lot.” Flora Neal married and moved to Ohio (“Fourteenth Census of the United States” 1920). Margie died in 1917 at the age of 18 (Weller, 2009). Jessie died the following year (SleepingDog, 2009). The property would remain Nettie’s until just before her death in 1947 (“Deed of Sale from Nettie Neal to Mabel and Prince Walker” 1946).

Similarly, in 1913, Flora McCollum Johnson sold her property to her daughters, Ada Sue and Flora Bell Johnson (“Deed of Sale from Flora McCollum Johnson to Flora Bell and Ada Johnson” 1913). Ada Sue Johnson Pinnix lived at the property for most of her life. She moved to live with her sons shortly before the City of Winston-Salem demolished it in 1976 (“Mrs. Ada Sue Johnson Pinnix” 1980; “Demolition Ordinance” 1973). Combined, these transactions stand out as remarkable intergenerational wealth transfers from African American women to their daughters in the midst of the Jim Crow era.

Other traces suggest a strongly interwoven community. Flora Johnson is listed as a witness on at least two Silver Hill marriages: her neighbors Frank Harrison and Eva Banner, as well as her sister Eliza’s marriage to George McCauley in 1909 (“Frank Harrison,” n.d.; “G.P. McCauley,” n.d.). Lonon and Lessie Norwood, who procured two lots on the western end of Silver Hill, were able to parlay their investment into a larger farming property in the Old Richmond section of Forsyth County (“Deed of Sale from Jesse and Mae Mock to Lonon and Lessie Norwood” 1915). But they also sold one of their lots to a widow who was already living in the neighborhood, Lucy Harrison (“Deed of Sale from Lonon and Lessie Norwood to Lucy Harrison” 1926). Lucy Harrison, in turn, sold the property to her daughter Cassie Allison, who owned it until the 1970s (“Deed of Sale from Frank and Lucy Harrison to Cassie Allison” 1929; “Deed of Sale from Cassie Allison to Russell R Flinchum” 1972). These transactions suggest a community that intended to stay firmly rooted on the land while supporting their children and neighbors.

A Gradual Gentrification

A zoning map from 1930, predating the notorious Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining maps of the late 1930s, clearly demarcates Silver Hill as an A-2 residence district as compared to the A-1 district ratings given to the surrounding West Highlands and Buena Vista neighborhoods (“City of Winston-Salem, N.C. Zone Map” 1930). These designations had an effect similar to later HOLC maps, warning that investments would be risky in the Silver Hill area and steering capital away from the African American community (M. McCullough, personal communication, February 9, 2022).

City services came very slowly to Silver Hill. The neighborhood was annexed by the city in 1920 (“Supt. Latham’s Annual Report on City Schools” 1920). But it did not receive the basic infrastructural investments afforded to its wealthy, white neighbors. In 1936, the city teamed with the state of North Carolina using federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to finally construct a sewer and water system in Silver Hill (“City project gets approval” 1936). The undertaking was fraught with delays, including a zoning dispute between the city and wealthy industrialist P. Huber Hanes, Sr. that held up construction (Dinkins, 1937).

On Easter Monday in April of 1942, the Antioch Primitive Baptist Church was destroyed by a fire (“Other fires” 1942). Fire Chief M.G. Brown told the newspaper that the church was not believed to have much financial value. This dismissive attitude toward the loss of the community’s foremost institution is contradicted by Chenita Barber Johnson, a Silver Hill descendant and historian of local African American life. She indicates that losing Antioch Primitive Baptist Church had a profoundly negative impact on the families who were connected with it (Personal communication, January 17, 2022). After their church was gone, West End Baptist Church (almost 2 miles away) became the religious home of many Silver Hill residents.

In 1948, the city upgraded the zoning of Silver Hill from A-2 to A-1 (“Rezoning” 1948). Whites began buying up property. Streets were still unpaved in Silver Hill, and the residents were still exclusively African American. But developers began building homes for white residents along the southern end of Silver Hill on Wiley Avenue and Carolina Circle. A 1952 city directory indicates that Silver Hill would now be renamed Wiley Avenue (“Hill’s Winston-Salem City Directory” 1952). Three new homes were under construction on the portion of Wiley Avenue that approached Silver Hill from the southeast. Several more new homes for whites lined Carolina Circle, including five on the southern end of the Silver Hill Cemetery. In 1953, the city approved paving just that southeastern portion of Wiley Avenue (“Approved Paving of Nine Streets” 1953). But the Silver Hill portion of Wiley Avenue would remain unpaved for at least two more decades. (Photographs from Winston-Salem Journal articles in the 1970s show that portion of Wiley still unpaved.)

Slowly, the original Silver Hill enclave was in decline. In 1956, city directories began listing 433 Wiley Avenue, the former home of Ophelia and Henry Hunt, as vacant. A 1958 Sanborn map lists the house as a dilapidated structure. By the early 1960s, white families began moving into the last remaining section of Silver Hill. A decade later, only three African American families remained. By the late 1970s, William Blackburn was the only African American resident in the area.

(Mis-)Remembering Silver Hill

The descendants of the African American families of Silver Hill are now scattered across Winston-Salem and beyond. Yet, how we remember the lives of their ancestors and their neighborhood has profound implications for the study of community, gentrification, and displacement today. To better understand the process that subsumed and eradicated the neighborhood, one must critically examine the stories told about it and search for additional clues that might shed additional light.

What’s in a Name?

The origin of the name Silver Hill is disputed. Multiple sources over the last half century have claimed that Silver Hill was so named because of a witch doctor who lived in the area and was paid in silver coins. Starting in 1970, several newspaper articles were written “in memory” of Silver Hill. The first article featured a claim from a man who was reported to have lived “in the area” for over 40 years. He indicated that his grandfather had told him Silver Hill got its name “because Negroes used to take silver change there to ward off witches they believed in” (Rochester, 1970). He added that everyone from those days was gone now, so the story could not be checked. Thus, it appears, a legend began. On July 4, 1976, the Winston-Salem Journal sourced a man living on Horace Mann Avenue, a street just beyond Silver Hill populated mainly by white residents, saying “It was a colored hill. You know how it got its name, don’t you? Legend has it that there was an old black man back there who was a witch doctor, and for him to doctor folks, they had to give him silver—silver dollars. That’s why it’s called Silver Hill” (Loeb, 1976).

These claims have made their way into the official telling of the story of Silver Hill. The city of Winston-Salem repeats these claims, calling them “folklore” and “legend,” on their Historical Marker Program website and in summaries of government meeting notes (Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission, 2018; “Winston-Salem: 1920–1929,” n.d.). Although it might be a compelling story of the neighborhood’s past, it appears to be wholly concocted by nearby white residents and repeated by journalists and the city itself. And although people around the world have believed in various forms of witchcraft for centuries, there doesn’t appear to be any other evidence that it was practiced in Silver Hill. Claims of witchcraft serve to “other” the former inhabitants of the community, depicting them as bizarre in comparison to their neighbors.

Occam’s razor suggests that the etymology of the neighborhood’s name was probably less complicated than the sensational stories first reported in the 1970s. It seems more likely that the community was dubbed Silver Hill by a developer the same way most subdivided communities are named: with the goal of enticing buyers. Mel White, the first director of African American programming at the nearby historic community of Old Salem and a respected local historian, believes the name was inspired by silver oak trees found in the vicinity (Personal communication, July 15, 2019). In fact, many early property deeds from the area mention oak trees as landmarks for the boundaries.

Tobacco Workers and Domestics?

Other accounts of Silver Hill have stated that the men in the neighborhood worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the women worked for white families in nearby wealthy areas (Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission, 2018). Indeed, many residents of Silver Hill did domestic and tobacco industry work. However, these were not the only occupations. Ophelia Hunt’s great grandchildren indicated that she taught French for the public schools. Her husband did work at R.J. Reynolds, but was also listed as a public works employee, a gardener, and a general laborer at various times. Lonon Norwood was a successful farmer, due in large part to owning his own land. Others worked as carpenters, mechanics, cooks, chauffeurs, and car washers and at furniture and other non-tobacco factories (Hill’s Winston-Salem City Directory,” 1940, 1952). Even though Winston-Salem was driven by tobacco and wealthy whites hired many in the neighborhood as domestics, there was diversity in occupations, skills, and talents. Accounting for that variation further humanizes the people who lived there and the array of experiences they had.

Fragments: Material and Non-material

As in any historical research, what is found is only a fragment of what has been lost. The racist structure of US society makes locating these fragments more difficult, due to the denial of basic recognition that many African Americans suffered through. In its early years, many homes in Silver Hill lacked addresses and were not served with home delivery by the postal service. City directories often did not list Silver Hill as a community or did so with a lackluster accounting of who lived there and where. Newspapers gave little copy to the lives of Silver Hill residents. Mapmakers didn’t bother to label the streets (which did have names since the 1894 platting). Even coroners might not have provided much detail on the causes of death listed.

Material evidence of Silver Hill is equally hard to come by. Two houses built in the 1920s remain, but they have been significantly altered since their construction. The cemetery was cleared of headstones in the 1980s. A lone fire hydrant sits in the field near the site of the old church. Other artifacts might be found outside the neighborhood. For example, Russell Flinchum, who grew up nearby on Virginia Road, has a Holiday Street sign from the 1970s hanging on the wall of his home in Raleigh, North Carolina (Personal communication, January 12, 2022). Undoubtedly, photographs like the one of Ophelia and Henry still exist, capturing the people and moments of Silver Hill. Chenita Barber Johnson shared two photos of descendants from the McCollum family gathering for a birthday celebration and another event in front of Eliza Neal’s home. In the first photo, many are gathered for an outdoor event with elders seated around a table and younger family members standing behind them, some smiling and others looking serious. In the second photo, the family stands resolutely in front of their modest home with “Jocko,” a small dog, placed at the center on a chair. These snapshots capture a thriving and beautiful community that cannot be gleaned from mere historical records.

Other fragments of memory shared through interviews provide more insight to the neighborhood. Chenita Barber Johnson recalls that the families would set their clocks by the sound of the clock tower at nearby Reynolds High School. Before the 1960s, Reynolds was an all-white school, meaning that children from Silver Hill would have to travel past it and across town to Atkins High School for their education (Personal communication, January 17, 2022). Librarian Fam Brownlee recalls seeing African American girls emerging from the woods surrounding Silver Hill on foot and walking past Reynolds High School as they traveled to schools for African Americans on the other side of town (Personal communication, June 27, 2019).

An Incomplete Telling

When the city of Winston-Salem erected a historical marker next to the Silver Hill cemetery in 2018, it marked another in a series of attempts to tell the story of the community. The commemoration of Silver Hill has been underway since at least the 1970s. But who decides the narrative of this community? And what does it mean when those telling it (including the authors of this chapter) have no direct connection to it? Approximately 40 years after the last African American resident from the original neighborhood left, the marker became a new trace left behind in the history of Silver Hill. Similar to other Winston-Salem neighborhoods, such as the African American West End (which was cleared for an expressway and a baseball stadium), the history of neighborhoods like Silver Hill seem to only be glorified after they’ve been destroyed. The same city that commemorated Silver Hill also refused to provide its residents access to their own community after private developers cut them off. Recently, Winston-Salem passed a resolution in favor of reparations, but has no concrete plans to pay those debts owed to local African Americans (Young, 2021). What are the descendants of Silver Hill owed?

Future Directions

Silver Hill was clearly a small, but impressive, neighborhood that was, over time, subsumed and eradicated by greedy developers and laissez faire local officials who did not provide material support to the community. Their history exemplifies gentrification before the word existed. It also highlights the racial capitalism that came to dominate Winston-Salem’s social relations after Reconstruction (Korstad, 2003). Many African American residents of the community labored in ways that generated enormous amounts of wealth for the white capitalist class of Winston-Salem. Those capitalists, in turn, sought to expand their land and housing assets into the suburbs of Winston-Salem, which included the neighborhood of Silver Hill.

But can what took place in this unique pocket neighborhood be useful in understanding historical patterns of conflict and succession in other neighborhoods? How does the abuse and neglect like what Silver Hill experienced prime a neighborhood for gentrification? What clues of displacement can further be explored in Silver Hill and elsewhere? And how do we account for the parts of the story that cannot be recovered? A theory of spatial erasure might illuminate how this process unfolds, with a neighborhood’s physical existence removed through gradual encroachment, which in turn leads to its removal from the collective memory of the broader community.

Counterfactuals must also be considered. Alternative outcomes to the struggles residents faced, such as earlier investments in public infrastructure, might have dramatically changed Silver Hill’s long-term viability. Other events might have destroyed the community even sooner. For example, Silver Hill was one of nine sites considered for the city-county hospital that became Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (“Commissioners, Aldermen will consider report” 1945).

Future research should seek to understand how gentrification has taken place in many different forms depending on the time period and circumstances of each community. It should further examine how those facing removal and erasure persist in surviving and communicating their stories. Above all, it should seek to understand how encroachments like these can stopped, and thriving communities of color can be preserved for generations to come. Uneven development and infrastructural neglect are racial and economic policies that continue to target African American communities for displacement and erasure, leaving behind traces and histories that must be better understood to create a more equitable future.