This Black History Month, we decided to start here in Greenville, South Carolina and learn about the historically Black community right down the street from our Think Up office, Nicholtown. By sharing this community’s story, we hope to open more doors of opportunity for growth and awareness.
HISTORY OF NICHOLTOWN
In the 1870s, following emancipation, nine Black families settled on former plantation land near Greenville, SC. These nine families influenced more Black Americans to follow, creating a supportive community. They tended to farms, started businesses, built houses, and raised children together. According to legend, in those days you could buy anything for a nickel, thus giving birth to the name Nicholtown. “It was a real community,” says Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning novelist who based her book Brown Girl Dreaming on Nicholtown. “A place where people were genuinely concerned about you…We were safe. We were home.”
For the next 100 years, Nicholtown grew and operated as a safe space for Black Americans, until an influx of drugs and crime changed its dynamic in the 1970s, forcing its residents to grapple with the effects of the War on Drugs, gentrification, and over-policing. Despite these challenges, their legacy of collectivism, community, and support continues today.
BUILDING THE LEGACY
Today’s community leaders and organizations of Nicholtown are working to pave a path for a brighter future. Sylvia Palmer, for example, is a longtime resident and Nicholtown historian. She currently serves on the board of Sustaining Way, a non-profit created to rectify the lack of access to healthy and affordable foods, poor health conditions, and substandard housing and energy costs. She and Sustaining Way have served over 1,000 homes in the Nicholtown area and just secured a $15,000 grant to continue their work.
Cam Hill at Éleos Co-Op has renovated a warehouse on the edge of the community into a shared workspace, offering modern business essentials, conference facilities, and locally-roasted coffee. The facility was purposefully designed to bridge a gap and build community among those who may not otherwise cross paths, and to create a safe space for those who are concerned about returning to Nicholtown due to over-policing.
Additionally, Yvonne Reeder is contributing to the fight against gentrification. As the President of the Nicholtown Neighborhood Association, Reeder has been working with city officials and real estate developers to bring Nicholtown more affordable housing. Recently, she has succeeded in launching a massive affordable housing development project for Nicholtown, featuring five buildings, 112 units, and retail and commercial space. Through her work on this project, Reeder hopes to be an example to future developers on how to form mutually beneficial relationships with the Nicholtown community.
We can learn so much from dialing into our community and helping support growth. One of our Thinkers, Kristyn Dees, has volunteered with Mill Village Farms, a community garden in the heart of Nicholtown. The fulfillment she gained from the experience, she says, greatly influenced her own journey in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: “I loved seeing so many different contributors work together joyfully and enthusiastically. It makes you realize how much of an impact individuals can make.”
If you are not in the Greenville area, just remember to start where YOU are. What causes are you passionate about? What groups are local to your area? How might you best serve them? Where can you learn and grow the most? There are many communities with stories just like Nicholtown’s. Find yours and get involved!
If you are interested in contributing to Nicholtown’s progress, take a look at the resources below:
Sustaining Way uses education, collaboration, and advocacy to create sustainable, caring, and equitable communities for current and future generations.
Éleos is a neighborhood-focused ministry, working with middle and high school students in the Nicholtown community.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY CENTER
The Phillis Wheatley Community Center, founded in 1920 by Hattie Logan Duckett, has served the Greenville community for over 90 years by empowering individuals and families to grow to their fullest potential.
MILL VILLAGE FARMS
Mill Village Farms transforms vacant properties into bountiful gardens to grow locally-sourced produce for communities that often have limited access to fresh and local foods.