Homecoming: Hill District, USA is a multimedia public art project in Pittsburgh, PA. It is sponsored by the city’s Office of Public Art and the nonprofit Neighborhood Allies, and is a partnership with the Hill House Association. The Hill District is one of Pittsburgh’s most historic neighborhoods. In its early days it served as a haven for the many immigrants flocking to Pittsburgh, and by the mid-20th century it became known as an influential center of black American culture. For all of the artistic and political contributions the Hill has made to the world, it also represents a complicated history of the African-American experience. Discriminatory housing policies, the stifling of activism, and the introduction of drugs into the community are just a few of the injustices that are part of the Hill’s story, and also of countless other black communities in America.
Still, these factors alone do not define these neighborhoods—the people who reside in them do. This project is about documenting the everyday lived experiences of the residents who have made the Hill home over the years. Between 2016 and 2019, artist/multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie conducted oral histories, collected photos, took photos, and gathered archival materials from dozens of Hill District residents, libraries, and archival collections. This has resulted in two products; a series of public art installations on the neighborhood, as well as the website you’re visiting now. Both reflect a people’s history of the Hill District.
The public art installations are digital montages that feature images of Hill residents from the past and today. Mounted on building exteriors, these “gatherings” help us imagine what conversations would be shared across generations of people in the Hill. This website is a digital archive that features a compilation of oral histories and photos, arranged to tell a roughly 100 year history of the neighborhood through the people who have called it home. It also features an interactive map that utilizes primary sources to highlight some of the key the spaces and places in the neighborhood.
What you’ll find in this project are just a few, among thousands and thousands of Hill District stories. It’s somewhere to hold space for ancestors, leaders, and loved ones who the history books may not name. Among the joy, pain, and love in these stories, there’s room to reflect, to analyze the past, to ask questions of the present, and to reimagine new futures. This is a Pittsburgh story, and this is an American story. Welcome to the Hill District, USA.