HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A neighborhood in northeast Huntsville called Edmonton Heights is officially part of the National Park Service’s register of historic places. It’s the city’s ninth area listed, but for Huntsville, this is more than just another title; it’s a success in piecing together part of the city’s story that hasn’t been told until now.
The historically Black neighborhood was developed in the 1950’s near Alabama A&M’s campus.
“It’s just an area that had really interesting architecture, really interesting history,” Huntsville Preservation Planner Katie Stamps said.
Midcentury neighborhoods like this one only recently became eligible for the Historic Register. To understand the significance of the title for Edmonton Heights, Stamps said it’s important to first understand what was going on at the time of it’s inception: the Federal Urban Renewal Program.
“If there was a historic old building that wasn’t being maintained, that was an area or neighborhood that was considered slums, they would clear it out for specific purpose,” Stamps said.
Huntsville was no exception to the nation’s racial discrimination in housing policy. The city was growing fast, and at the time they wanted to clear out space for more parking options. Stamps said with crowds moving away from the downtown area in the 1950’s, many unmaintained buildings were left behind, making an opportunity for the city’s own urban renewal program, the “Heart of Huntsville” program, to take shape.
“Unfortunately one of the areas in our city that was cleared out was African American neighborhoods,” Stamps said. “They were given the option to purchase a home in Edmonton Heights or live in a public housing neighborhood.”
Edmonton Heights was advertised to middle and upper class Black families in both white and Black newspapers, meaning today’s preservation team actually had leads to follow during their neighborhood survey, which Stamps said is rare.
“What we have found because of programs like Urban Renewal, a lot of the properties that were associated with Huntsville’s Black communities have been torn down, and that makes it difficult,” she said.
Stamps said the city is making an effort to piece together more of Huntsville’s Black history through other midcentury neighborhood surveys, just like this one. This is just a foundation to build on going forward.
“We can all look at it and say, ‘wow,’ that was a significant thing for our North Huntsville area, for Alabama A&M, but it’s also a significant thing for the whole city,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.