Charlottesville’s Fourth Street Northwest has been honorarily named Black History Pathway, which advocates say will preserve and celebrate the city’s African American history.
The stretch of road, running from West Main Street to Preston Avenue, cuts through what was once the thriving Black neighborhood called The Hill by its residents. The Hill and the area called Vinegar Hill were razed in 1964 in the name of urban renewal and though the buildings may be gone, the history still remains and deserves a spotlight, according to Charles “Alex-Zan” Alexander.
Alexander, a trailblazing author and one of the Charlottesville 12 group of students who integrated Charlottesville schools, filed a request with the city last summer to honorarily name the street Black History Pathway, a request that was granted by a unanimous vote at a recent City Council meeting.
The area continues to be a historical hub and beacon, Alexander said, despite the loss of Zion Union Baptist Church, where he was baptized. A Staples store sits where the church once was.
“The city’s political forces saw a run-down slum that developed on the hillside adjoining the downtown business district, disregarding an area of proud, dignified, full-of-life black folk who called The Hill home with no apologies,” Alexander said.
Alexander said he was inspired to designate the street Black History Pathway by some elders in the community, including his mother, Ellen Elizabeth Taylor, Kathy Johnson-Harris Maxine Holland, Ann Wicks-Carter, Teresa Walker-Price, Eugene Williams, Josephine Morrison and Frank Walker.
Another important consideration of the location is its proximity to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Starr Hill, which Alexander said is still home to residents, businesses and churches that enhances the pathway.
During their meeting, councilors mentioned that it was important to approve this new name during Black History Month and ensured the vote was not pushed to next month. The honorary designation was supported by the city’s Historic Resources Committee.
Though now approved, Alexander said he hopes the honorary name will be the beginning of a new appreciation for the city’s Black history and accomplishments.
“The essence of Black History Pathway is to observe and celebrate the historical contributions of Charlottesville and Albemarle County African Americans, their institutions, holidays, and to be an inspiration for present and future achievements,” Alexander said following the vote.
Along with the request, Alexander presented a petition signed by about 200 area residents and a letter of support from the African American Pastors Coalition, which represents more than 20 congregations across six localities in Central Virginia.
The AAPC letter — signed by the Revs. Lehman Bates, Alvin Edwards and Carolyn M. Dillard — detailed the coalition’s support for the honorary designation.
“The work of Charles Alexander in leading this initiative is representative of a rich history of African American trailblazers in communicating and preserving our story of persistence, perseverance and purpose,” the letter reads.
The naming also received support from retired school counselor James Bryant, who wrote a letter to the City Council sharing his memories of Vinegar Hill and emphasizing the educational opportunities the pathway could present.
“So many of our students, especially African American students, do not know the history of this great community, so I am hoping that in your deliberations that you will consider renaming the Fourth Street corridor Black History Pathway to honor those who paved the way for those of us who have had and are having a positive impact in our communities,” he wrote.
Now that the street has received the honorary designation, Alexander said he plans to work with the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Jefferson School Foundation, artist Frank Walker and others to create a learning/teaching vehicle that goes beyond slogans and connects with former Charlottesville residents around the world.
“Thousands of people come to Charlottesville and one of the first questions people have — particularly people of color — is, ‘where are the African Americans?’” Alexander said. “By having a name like Black History Pathway, automatically you have a connection to those that have recently arrived and the newcomers. The Black History Pathway is not about the limelight that shines today, but a legacy that shines forever.”
Those interested in assisting Alexander with the project can reach him at (434) 202-0773 or via email at email@example.com.