nobody movie_A new film about Vinegar Hill chronicles a Charlottesville neighborhood that thrived for 100 years — before the city leveled it


Both of you grew up in Charlottesville and have done a lot of work on the history of the area and how that history influences our present. But were there any surprises while working on the film?

Yager: Kathy Johnson-Harris has a wonderful part in her interview, in which she talks about how her parents left the back door open — not wide open, but unlocked — leaving money on the table for the egg man who would come in the county. The eggman came in, brought their eggs over, picked up the money, and then when they got home, the eggs were there and the door was closed. It’s about dispelling the myth of Vinegar Hill as a violent place, that it was depraved. No it was not. It was not.

Dickerson: The sights and sounds of the neighborhood. When Cindy Jones-Stratton talks about how Vinegar Hill sounded, you really get to experience how Vinegar Hill sounded, how it tasted, the smells. Ivan [Orr] does a great job weaving the sound and music together to emphasize that. Again we go back to Kathy [Johnson-Harris], who talks about the buns coming out of the oven. You can almost taste the rolls the way she explains them.

Yager: “Butter slips off…”

Dickerson: They talk about being in the neighborhood with their friends as children. It sounds like the wonderful place it was for the people who lived there.

Yager: George Ferguson Jr. was head of the NAACP – he’s the head of a funeral home. His family home was on Vinegar Hill, on Main Street, right next to the Lewis and Clark statue. And in his oral history [conducted in the 1980s for James Saunders and Renee Shackelford’s “Urban Renewal and the End of Black Culture in Charlottesville, Virginia”], he says something like, “If anyone is interested, you could go to court. If you look up the records of who owned the lots on Vinegar Hill, you would find that all the dilapidated and derelict lots belonged to a single white man.”

We dug up those property records, and lo and behold, he’s right. We have all the records, not just the original property records, but the appraisals as well.

What else should people know about Vinegar Hill before they see the film?

Yager: The numbers of how much was taken – and not just how many people and how much land area. In 1959, in the year before the entire neighborhood was bulldozed, 29 businesses brought in $1.8 million in revenue. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $17.8 million today. Only a handful of these companies were able to open a store in another part of the city. They all closed within the next five, ten years. All of them.

And the ecosystems. People came from the county and worked and visited Vinegar Hill, so where does all the produce in Inge’s shop come from? Where are the chicks from? where does the fish come from All these stores and businesses touch the lives and economic viability of hundreds, thousands of people. So what is the effective effect of this?

Now we have a nice opportunity to have a real conversation about what a repair looks like. There are still people walking around who lived there and had things taken from them. This is very real damage that has been done, so what is our responsibility as a city, as a community, to try to reconcile, to try to reckon with that?

Dickerson: So we end the film with an interviewee asking who are the people responsible for this? This is a reparations issue and don’t tell me it can’t be done because there are still people walking around here. Descendants are still here. We know who these people are.

We often think that these stories are far away and long ago. And that’s just not true. These stories happened recently.

Register for tickets to this Saturday’s free screening of Raised/Razed at the Jefferson School. Raised/Razed” will air on May 12 at 9:00 p.m. and May 15 at 5:00 p.m. on VPM (Channel 41 in Charlottesville). You can also see it at this time streamed live on the VPM website.

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