From Porch Swings to Patios: Oral History Project (Excerpted Portion)

The Project

The complete "From Porch Swings to Patios: Oral History Project" included interviews taken from white and black residents in Charlottesville which covered changes from 1914 through 1984 in fourteen different neighborhoods. The recordings and transcripts of interviews presented here, however, are only those of African Americans. Although black residents occupied several different neighborhoods within the city limits from the mid-nineteenth century on, the people interviewed for "Porch Swings" and represented on this site came from the Vinegar Hill area. Vinegar Hill encompassed a section of West Main street that began at downtown Charlottesville and extended west toward the campus of the University of Virginia. The area was composed mostly of businesses owned by Charlottesville's black citizens, and though the stores catered to the black population, they served both black and white clientele. In the early 1960s, Charlottesville's city officials designated Vinegar Hill as a blighted area in need of an overhaul. Following a national trend, a sweeping "urban renewal" project was carried out that ostensibly removed decrepit buildings and cleared unsightly landscape for improved sanitation and overall appearance. In these interviews, former Vinegar Hill residents share their thoughts on the extent to which those promises for improvement were fulfilled or not. They demonstrate a range of perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages experienced as a result of what some recoined, the "urban removal," of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood. Although ultimately many residents found themselves living under better physical conditions, the social and cultural core of one of the city's most concentrated black neighborhoods was fragmented and dispersed.

The "Porch Swings" oral history project grew out of a series of conversations between one-time Charlottesville mayor Lawrence Brunton, and Director of the Charlottesville Department of Community Development, Satyendra Singh Huja. Mr. Huja explained the purpose of the endeavor as directly related to city development: "The best source of information on the type of social infrastructure that has developed in the neighborhood are the residents. Interviews with residents reveal a great deal in terms of the neighborhood and its visions for tomorrow." (Portions of this material was taken from page 1 of "From Porch Swings to Patios: An Oral History of Charlottesville's Neighborhoods 1914 to 1984"; prepared by the Department of Community Development, City of Charlottesville, published by the City of Charlottesville, 1990)

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