“You might not be able to save grandma’s house, but you
can save her history.” – Wilma Jones
My name is Wilma Jones and I’m a self-published author, award-winning blogger and keynote speaker. My new project is all about the neighborhood I grew up in and still reside in today, Halls Hill. It’s a small neighborhood of about 800 families located outside Washington, DC in north Arlington, Virginia.
The project kicks off with this website HallsHill.com and my third self-published book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood. I’m a fourth-generation resident of Halls Hill. The community got its start in the mid-1800’s when 327 acres of land was purchased by Bazil Hall for a plantation. Following the Civil War, the neighborhood became 100% African American. Many of the residents were descendants of slaves. It was walled off and fenced in by developers with the permission of the County Government from the early 1900’s until the 1960’s.
Like many communities in or near major metropolitan areas, Halls Hill has changed a lot. Many families moved away in the 80’s and 90’s to neighborhoods further out where they could get larger homes and more land.
In the early 2000’s the neighborhood began gentrifying as areas close to the city began to quickly increase in value. Small homes began to be sold and replaced by McMansions, selling for over a million dollars. Halls Hill is now a multicultural community, only 22 percent African American. It’s hard for some families to be able to afford to keep their grandma’s home when developers are offering huge sums of money for the property. Not everyone in the family is on the same page about whether to keep the house or take the money. Often the money wins. Families move. Legacies may be lost.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
I got my start on North Dinwiddie street in the heart of Halls Hill. Down the street from the playground. I was the last of seven kids, three boys and four girls raised by hard-working, loving parents. Everyone on the Hill knew everyone. We all went to the same segregated elementary school. Most of us went to either the Methodist or the Baptist church in the neighborhood. We had our own stores. Our own clubs and organizations. We made our own fun. It was a very cohesive neighborhood and I grew up spoiled and happy.
WHAT ABOUT THE BOOK
I have been researching my family and their ties to the neighborhood for over five years. The book is full of stories and a little history of Halls Hill. It covers the period from 1865 to the 1960s, during the time when the community was growing and thriving. It’s all told from my family’s perspective. After the Civil War, Halls Hill was a completely segregated community. People were forced to endure Jim Crow laws, racism and oppression. But once you entered the boundaries of Halls Hill things were different. There was something special about the Halls Hill community.
WHY THE BOOK
I spent a lot of time talking to my parents about the neighborhood in 2011 when I moved back to Halls Hill after living in Prince George’s County, Maryland for eight years. Every Sunday I brought them dinner and we’d talk. I asked them in 2012 if I could start recording the conversations for a book idea. I wanted to save the stories of our family and this neighborhood for my sons, nieces and nephews and their children. I started researching the neighborhood history and my family. I also interviewed my six siblings. Using those interviews, genealogy, periodical and census research, the book tells just a few of the stories of the neighborhood institutions and traditions from the perspective of the baby in the Jones family. Yeah, that would be me.
THE HILL WAS DIFFERENT
This community was more than a neighborhood. Halls Hill residents had a determined mindset. Gratitude. Faith. Hard work. Because of that mindset this neighborhood became a part of the movement.
A woman from Halls Hill sued Arlington County regarding the unfairness of the Poll Tax. She lost. She took it to the Virginia Supreme Court. She lost. She took it to the U.S. Supreme Court. She lost. But she didn’t stop fighting until the law was changed.
In 1918 a group of men from the neighborhood organized to fight fires and protect the community. It was the first all-black fire station south of the Mason-Dixon Line. This year the community celebrates the 100th year of operation of Fire Station 8.
Lots of people in Halls Hill fought for civil rights. Many people know Halls Hill became a part of civil rights history when four children from this neighborhood integrated schools in Virginia.
But there are other stories from the neighborhood that are not as well known. Here on the website we will share some of those stories on the blog every week.
My Halls Hill Family tells the story of an African American family, in an African American
community from 1866 to the 1960’s. It was a special place. To the people who grew up there, it was more than a neighborhood.
I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of communities all over the country like Halls Hill. They have their own stories in danger of being lost forever due to urban gentrification or rural desolation. If you’re from one of those areas, remember that if you can’t save grandma’s house, please try to save her history.
NOTE: Many people have contacted me about sharing their Halls Hill stories. If you want to submit a Halls Hill story to the blog, please go to the Add Your Story page and complete the form.