Lives Through Art
With the assistance of a 2-year grant from the North Carolina Arts Council Learning Audiences program, Diggs implemented a new Pride and Dignity artist in the community series. Pride and dignity consists of community-based events that focus on unifying communities while documenting and preserving their history.
Through the exhibition Ascension: Works by African American Visual Artists of North Carolina, Diggs highlighted the work of 35 African American artists native to North Carolina or whose art has been influenced by their lives in North Carolina. Three of the Ascension artists – William T. Williams, Michael Cunningham and Chandra Cox – have been chosen to complete community heritage projects based upon the history of the Winston-Salem community over a 2 year period. Themes of history (personal and collective), family, ancestry, community, church and other ideology represented in the Winston-Salem State University mural Ascension by John Biggers will be explored.
Diggs Gallery will capture and illustrate aspects of this history through a series of community visual arts projects. Through the Pride and Dignity program, professional artists will not only document the contributions of individuals, but build community bridges through the exploration of our local and personal heritage. This history will be captured through multiple art forms – architecture, sculpture, quilts, drawing, painting, photography and videography.
History of Happy Hill
During the 1770s, the Moravians purchased Blacks from South Africa and the Caribbean to enslave them in Salem. Since individual Moravians were not permitted to own slaves, the enslaved people were owned by the Moravian Church, which rented them out to Whites. Blacks enslaved in Salem lived separately from Whites in a nearby community called Happy Hill. Happy Hill is one of the oldest African American communities in this region.
In 1823, when advised by the Moravian Church that they could not attend the church, about 30 enslaved African Americans from Happy Hill built themselves a log church in Salem and began to teach reading and writing along with religious instruction at the church until the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law in 1830 banning the education of slaves.
Worship for this African American Christian congregation in the log church was a major historical event. (For perspective, the Underground Railroad was not developed until 8 years later, around 1831.) By 1860, the church edifice had become too small to accommodate the increasing numbers, and measures were taken to erect a large brick church for its enslaved members. The church opened on December 15, 1861 and was filled to capacity.
On May 21, 1865, Rev. S.G. Clark of the 10th Ohio Calvary Regiment, announced that the Civil War had ended by reading the Emancipation Proclamation from the pulpit. The Church diary for that day concluded: "May this great change turn out to the eventual well-being of these people, and the furtherance of the kingdom above them."Formerly enslaved African-Americans could now pursue education and work for themselves. The brick church's Sunday School played an important role in the formation of the newly freed community. More than 300 scholars of all ages attended Sunday School at its peak after the war. This formed the foundation of an educated population of African Americans in Forsyth county and gave rise to other educational institutions like Winston-Salem State University, which emerged in 1892 as Slater Industrial Academy. The book, African Americans in Winston-Salem: A Pictorial History, tells the wonderful story of survival and success of African Americans in our region, highlighting the contributions of numerous trail-blazing individuals.