In post-slavery America, Black people needed to go somewhere they felt safe. They searched for a place to raise their families, live their lives, and have the fellowship of a community. In Arlington, many found what they needed in The Hill.
The Hill was a historic, five-block area of Arlington. Located northwest of the town’s original boundaries, its area included Sanford, West, Prairie, and Taylor streets. It was the only area designated for the city’s Black residents when racially segregated neighborhoods were common. During 1890-1950, The Hill experienced its most significant growth and prosperity. A vibrant community emerged, with homes, schools, and churches leading to grocery stores, restaurants, and nightclubs.
By the 1930s, the area started to shed its rural character, becoming more densely populated and urban as Arlington expanded. Yet as Arlington began to change, so did The Hill. The area began to dissolve after World War II. Fewer job opportunities were available for Black men and fewer places for their families to live. When nearby farmland was subdivided for housing, it enticed some residents of The Hill to pursue other housing opportunities. Desegregation also led residents to other areas, both in and out of Arlington, as Blacks could live in more places.
The neighborhood’s legacy is complicated and bittersweet. It serves as a proud example for the city’s Black residents, yet conversely, it is also a reminder of the nation’s bitter racism and segregation. The story of The Hill is largely forgotten, until now.
“Echoes from The Hill” documentary
In February 2022, a trailer was released for a forthcoming documentary called “Echoes From The Hill.” The Arlington Tomorrow Foundation provided significant funding for the project. It was co-directed and co-produced by King Hollis and Lindell Singleton, who have extensive filmmaking experience. The Arlington Historical Society contributed photos and additional resources, while Fielder Museum served as one of the filming locations. AHS Executive Director Geraldine Mills is an associate producer of the documentary and appears on-screen in interviews.
The documentary is a planned five-part series. The first episode—titled “A Place of Our Own”—premiered on June 17, 2022, at the AISD Center for Visual and Performing Arts. It was part of the second annual Arlington Juneteenth Jubilee, a community-wide celebration with events and activities. Over 200 people attended the event, including Arlington Mayor Jim Ross.
The program began with remarks from guest speakers.
Director Lindell Singleton introduced the documentary as a multi-part connected story. He added, “We live in a complicated world. Stories create a focused action for reconciliation.”
Director King Hollis remarked that he wanted to tell the truth about the residents of The Hill and that this film “takes you to church.”
Shirley Adams, Treasurer of the MLK Jr. Celebration Committee said, “This is a story that needed to be told.”
Geraldine Mills, Executive Director of the Arlington Historical Society, wanted to ensure that the filmmakers “told the story big because it is a big story.”
The documentary included photos, interviews, and personal stories of former residents of The Hill, interwoven with the historical context of slavery and segregation. Other topics included the community, schools, churches, businesses, entertainment, and many others.
In the documentary, The Hill is described as a place of love and appreciation, where folks supported each other and worked together. It wasn’t perfect, but people cared about each other—and most importantly, they felt safe. Education and the church were impactful parts of the community, as were small businesses.
“What a tribute to Arlington,” Master of Ceremonies David Small remarked after the closing credits rolled.
Afterward, the filmmakers and special guests participated in a Q&A panel session. Questions from the audience included ones about filmmaking, specific questions about The Hill, and how to support the film. The filmmakers planned for the documentary to be a five-part series. Proceeds from this first episode will help finance the other four.
Everyone involved in the project was passionate about wanting to preserve the stories, as The Hill is a vital part of Arlington’s history. The filmmakers are professionals, and this was a well-done documentary.
Later, the documentary was screened at UTA and the Denton Black Film Festival.
“Echoes” screening at Denton Black Film Festival draws enthusiastic response
On January 27, 2023, the documentary was screened at the Denton Black Film Festival. The screening, a red-carpet affair held at Denton’s historic Campus Theatre, drew an audience of more than 100 people. It was a free screening for the community that included a Q&A panel discussion with the filmmakers and cast afterward.
For filmmaker King Hollis, who is from Denton, it was his first time screening a film in his hometown. During his 31-year career as a Black filmmaker, he said that seeing a cut of “Echoes From The Hill” was the first time he cried during one of his films.
During the evening’s introduction and Q&A panel session, several quotes resonated with me.
Lindell Singleton referred to these as “origin stories” and “uniquely an American story, a story about us.” He specifically recognized Geraldine Mills and her efforts on the project. He recalled how she went door-to-door in the neighborhood asking for photos, stories, and ephemera. He applauded her pioneering work gathering information and expressed gratitude for her efforts.
“African American stories must be told because they are American stories,” said King Hollis. He also remarked that The Hill was like other communities in the south and North Texas, expressing the need for Black people to “tell the world about us and each other about us.” There is also a need to “connect the dots and understand our own journey.”
Dr. Ed Gray, a sociologist who previously lived in Arlington, said that there were “a million hills in America” and “a million stories to tell,” referring to The Hill and communities like it around the country.
Rev. Carl Pointer, one of the cast members, was born and raised in Arlington. “It’s a human story,” he said. He expressed his sentiments of Black joy and Black resilience. He told a story of how his father only completed the 8th grade, as the AISD (and many other districts) didn’t provide further educational opportunities for Black students until desegregation laws made it mandatory. His daughter, though, earned a doctorate, conveying opportunities that weren’t available just a short time ago.
Denton’s Mayor Gerard Hudspeth said it was “hard to watch, honored to watch it,” referring to the struggles of the Black community.
Audience members in the Q&A session asked about various topics, including where the filmmakers got the stories, the transformation of The Hill, and what the area is like today. The documentary was well-received and drew an enthusiastic response.
About the Denton Black Film Festival
The 2023 Denton Black Film Festival was held January 25-29 in person and extended virtually through February 5. The festival included events celebrating Black cinema, music, spoken word, art, and more. It featured nearly 100 films, mostly documentaries, ranging from local stories to broader topics. The festival held events and screenings at various venues around Denton. More info available at www.dentonbff.com.
Visit the documentary’s website to learn more about the documentary, including behind-the-scenes photos and additional content.
Blog post and photos by Jason S. Sullivan, 01-28-23