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The community that came to be known as Happy Hill may have been the first black neighborhood in North Carolina. Certainly, it was the first in Forsyth County.

The area just across Salem Creek southeast of Old Salem was originally set aside as a plantation for raising food for the Salem Community. In the early 19th century, the residents of Salem decided that slaves could no longer live in the town, so moved them to Happy Hill. About the same time, Dr. Frederick Schuman moved from the country northwest of Salem and settled on Happy Hill with his own slaves.

In 1836, Schuman decided to move to Salem proper, so freed his 17 slaves. Working through the American Colonization Society, he paid their passage to Liberia and gave them enough money to sustain them for six months.

Salem slaves continued to live on the hill and were eventually joined by a few free blacks. Just two years after emancipation in 1865, they built a schoolhouse and announced that any black child in Forsyth County who could get there could attend free. Five years later, the Moravians were persuaded to sell some of the land to the residents.

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Happy Hill school, 1867

From the early to mid 20th century, Happy Hill was what several residents described as a “sweet” community. During that period it had its own school, theater, dance hall and a number of neighborhood businesses. But urban renewal eventually ravaged the neighborhood, leaving little of its former character behind.

In recent years, a handful of local citizens have been working to preserve what is left of Happy Hill’s heritage. Last year, the Diggs Gallery mounted a terrific exhibit paying tribute to Happy Hill’s past. And an ongoing project is attacking the undergrowth that had buried the old cemetery.

The next work session at the cemetery is this coming Saturday, February 18th, from 9-11 AM. Please come help. Old clothes and work gloves are de rigueur.

You are guaranteed to meet some interesting people and leave with a feeling of accomplishment. Here’s how to get there:

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