Discover Delmarva: The Hill
A neighborhood in Easton, Maryland could be country’s oldest and first black community.
Its a stunning possibility to many historians because another small community called Treme’ in New Orleans previously held that spot.
Morgan State University professor, Dale Green, uncovered The Hill’s hidden past while researching an area church.
“Professor Green is showing, his research is showing that it was one of the continuous black communities in the country. The oldest”, says resident Walt Johnson.
Local historian and author, Niambi Davis’ eyes sparkle when she talks about this little-known community because its a departure from most of the stories we learn about black history.
“In our either or thinking we either think most of our people most of our people were enslaved. Maryland had a high number of free black people”, says Davis.
Davis is right.
In the late 18th century more and more slaves were being freed and that’s when The Hill started to form.
By the late 1700’s, 400 free blacks called the community home.
The community has changed over the years but research shows boundaries were Dover, South, Harrison and Higgins Streets.
Walter Black Junior says blacks were doing very well there.
“It was a very vibrant community. I guess it could be considered the place where the black middle class — quote unquote lived. It was more of an upscale community”, says Black.
Black thinks one of the reasons the Hill flourished is because residents looked out for each other and created their own opportunities, something they were denied elsewhere because of segregation.
Its something longtime resident Coleman Goldsborough agrees with.
He recalls lots of grocery stores, funeral homes, blacksmiths and other businesses.
Black tells us families were secure enough that they were making sure their kids got and education.
“Take for instance this church Asbury. Almost everybody went off to college”, says long-time resident Goldsborough.
Local historian, Niambi Davis says the people who lived in The Hill were impressive, go-getters.
One of those residents was Grace Brooks.
Brooks was the first black woman to buy land at the Hill.
Records show she purchased land there in the late 1700’s.
“She was so well-regarded that when she passed away, the obituary in the paper was a honor given to her which was not given to any woman, black or white.”
Today, the Hill is a diverse community but there are signs all around of the pioneering blacks who came there, built, and made a life for themselves.