Community Action Comes to South Hill in the 1960s
by Carl Vest
As a community, South Hill was experiencing major changes in the 1960s. This transformation was convincingly brought to the attention of Rev. Paul Hackett who arrived on South Hill in 1967. He had been sent to the area by the United Presbyterian Church to start a new congregation, having spent the previous several years in Saudi Arabia pastoring in the petroleum industry. His ecclesiastical efforts were eventually successful leading to a house of worship being formed, named the Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church. It is still a viable local force.
Paul clearly remembers his early impressions. He found that the mix of people living on South Hill was in transition. It was changing from an area devoted to farming to more of a concentrated suburban community. Many of the people he first encountered were rooted in the old rural lifestyle and their thinking reflected that background. Yet, he noted that there was also a steady influx of newcomers who had a different point of view of the world. These differing assessments posed a challenge to a member of the clergy who wanted to serve the entire community.
To try and find common ground, and to bridge the gap between groups, Paul and several others set about creating a community-wide, grassroots action organization, known as the Township 19A Association (T19A); the name derived from the fact that all of South Hill is within the boundaries of Township 19. The objective was to integrate the thoughts and desires of all the people on South Hill and to build a better community for all citizens.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, T19A was reasonably successful. One of its first undertakings was to do a community survey, basically asking citizens what they wanted their neighborhood to be in the future. The work was completed in 1972 with 1,532 households having been interviewed. This effort verified that nearly two-thirds of the population (62%) had lived on the Hill less than six years. It is believed that T19A was the first community action alliance organized on the Hill. Before it was formed the local citizens had used PTAs, the Grange, and various agricultural groups to propose development projects and to work with the established political establishment. These groups had not been all that effective because they were small and did not have a common objective. T19A eventually evolved into the South Hill Community Council which is still in existence.
Paul remembers that getting the local political organization to react was not easy. The present day seven member county council did not yet exist. Rather, a board of three commissioners represented the entire county. And, in a fast changing environment the time the commissioners could allocate to local problems was very brief. This disorder continued to worsen and eventually contributed to political reorganization in 1980, when the present form of county government was established. Thus it is gratifying to note that a grassroots effort on South Hill contributed to a change we all enjoy today.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.