Saturday, June 30, 2001

Lincoln Heights residents savor sense of home, pride

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LINCOLN HEIGHTS — Thirty years ago, Patricia and Curtis Hill left Lincoln Heights for a predominantly white neighborhood in Carthage.

        Swastikas and “KKK” were painted on their home, which left the couple longing for the familiar in Lincoln Heights. There, they had a support system of fellow African-Americans and a lovely back yard to call their own.

[photo] Lincoln Heights resident Catherine Watkins claps as she encourages Kayinah Williams, 3, while she learns to ride her bicycle on Smith Street.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        The Hills' wish to return is coming true. Now living in North Fairmount, they recently purchased a lot in Lincoln Heights. They aim to build a ranch-style home where they can throw a Christmas party for their large family and, by summer, plant a garden of collard greens, tomatoes and hot peppers.

        “It's just a dream come true,” said Mrs. Hill, 67.

        Lincoln Heights provides the Hills and other African-Americans a sense of home, history and pride that they don't experience elsewhere. According to the 2000 Census, Lincoln Heights has the highest concentration of African-Americans in the state — 97.9 percent of the village's population of 4,113.

        Many have lived in Lincoln Heights their entire lives.

        Granted, the village is no utopia. Almost 40 percent of its residents live below the poverty level. Drug activity is rampant on some streets. There was a triple homicide earlier this month.

        Stan Fitzpatrick, 33, allegedly killed his girlfriend and her daughter at their home on Chicago Avenue before also killing a well-known community activist, Elton “Arybie” Rose, who lived across the street.

        But, “it's a historic all-black community,” said Village Manager Carole Cornelison. “People like living here. There are a lot of people who want to move back.”

        Claude Audley, the village's economic development director, said people call all the time about moving back.

        “A lot have lived in Cincinnati, (but) it's the sense of community” in Lincoln Heights that draws them back, he said.

        Among those attracted to the village is renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, who teaches English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.

        She often returns to Lincoln Heights, where she grew up, and one day would like to buy a 5-acre lot there.

        “Lincoln Heights was a wonderful place to grow up, but I didn't think 'I'm growing up in a black community,' ” said Ms. Giovanni, 58. But, “you have a community behind you. Everybody tells you 'yes, you can.' ”

        “You always felt like you knew everybody there and everybody knew you. It's an ambitious community. You were expected to do something.”

        She isn't Lincoln Heights' only claim to fame. There's also the Isley Brothers, gospel singer Charles Fold and former University of Cincinnati basketball star and coach Tony Yates.

        Ms. Giovanni remembers entertainment competitions, starring the Isley brothers, at Wayne High School and thinking that “the Apollo's got nothing on us.”

        “Because of segregation and the lack of money, we had to make our own entertainment,” she said.

        William Myles, principal of Lincoln Heights Elementary School, said this pride starts in the home but is fostered at school, too. Every year, he tells graduating students to hold their heads high when they start at Princeton Junior High School.

        “We tell them that you need to walk with your head held high because you are from Lincoln Heights and people are depending on you to portray those positives,” he said.


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