Remembering Tinbridge Hill in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1920 – 1970 is “just the sort of history that should be done for every neighborhood”, wrote Lynchburg historian Al Chambers about the publication created by current and former residents of the Tinbridge neighborhood, a multi-block urban community just northwest of Lynchburg’s central business district.
The slim, hundred-page book, published last year, provides a historical record of the lives and connections of the many African American residents who forged a not only a community identity, but a social and economic network and a lasting affection for the steep hills and valleys that distinguish their neighborhood.
The community history project, including 14 oral history interviews that occurred over the course of a year, “succeeded far beyond expectations,” according to Carolyn Bell, retired Randolph-Macon Woman’s College professor of English and director for the Tinbridge Hill publication project.
Twenty-four participants, including 17 current and former residents with birthdates between 1923 and 1957, contributed interviews and memoirs, photographs and artifacts. Over eight months, meeting monthly and even twice a month initially, the group worked to capture the complex essence of a neighborhood that over many decades held both churches and a red-light district, family homes and a gallows for public hangings, an elementary school, a “pest house” for people with contagious diseases, a canteen for teenagers, and a public burying ground. Tinbridge Hill was home to teachers, bootleggers, porters, paupers and parents.
Close to 5000 copies of Remembering Tinbridge Hill were distributed free of charge, thanks to grants from VFH, the Greater Lynchburg Community Trust, contributions from the Southern Memorial Association and $2500 in individual gifts.
Interviews revealed how walking kept neighbors of all ages out of doors and in touch with each other:
“Mary Patrick remembered that every morning when she was a child, she would see Rev. C. A. Eubanks walking to Madison Heights, where he taught school…Because so few Tinbridge neighbors had cars, those who did stood out. Les Camm remembered that ‘in the late 1940s Howard Hayes bought an International Truck, Levi Miller bought a brand new Chevrolet; Royal Smith owned a Buick, Buford Douglas also bought a brand new two-door Ford Coupe’… Evelyn Thompson remembers talking to neighbors at the bus stops in the years before that, “But as you begin to move up, progress more, people got in cars. And so naturally, when you’re in your car, you don’t meet people like you used to.”
Distribution of the book began last summer with a festive celebratory event at the Yoder Community Center, on the grounds where the neighborhood elementary school once stood. Visitors that day carried 700 copies home with them, but not before contributors and friends enjoyed signing and exchanging copies as if they were high school yearbooks. Distribution to Lynchburg City staff doubled that number in subsequent weeks. Hundreds more were distributed through neighborhood churches. Volunteers mailed more than 300 to public school libraries in Central Virginia and to departments of history and anthropology at Virginia colleges and universities. Five dozen were sent to prison libraries.
Before three months were out, only 135 copies remained of the original 5,000 printed, with fewer than that now available from the Legacy Museum, the Old City Cemetery, and the Lynchburg Museum.
“This book touches on some painful and sometimes embarrassing parts of our past that some would rather forget, and it took some courage on all parts to put this out there,” according to Doug Harvey, director of the Lynchburg Museum System.
“The academic perspective contributed by the humanities disciplines and methodologies have given Tinbridge neighbors a voice, have generated unprecedented respect for their views and experiences, and have conferred upon them and their place dignity that is long overdue and richly deserved,” added Bell.