The reputation of the Hill District as a mecca for African American arts endures as it will forever be entwined with giants of African American culture and the arts. August Wilson’s plays, the music of Billy Eckstine and George Benson, and venues like the Crawford Grill, which regularly welcomed the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and John Coltrane, all breathe life into the legacy of the Hill District as a repository of African American arts. But Wilson’s house, which is only now being restored to reflect the national landmark plaque in front of it, is still a gutted shell. George Benson’s memory has long been dimmed, and the legends of the Crawford Grill are largely only remembered by wall of the weathered stones bearing their names across from the dilapidated building that once housed the Grill.
The legacy remains, but the reality is that the Hill is full of the ghosts of legends that only exist in the public consciousness in the foggiest form.
The youth of the Hill no longer trip down the streets in zoot suits, enjoying economic stability fueled by local businesses. For all intents and purposes, the Hill is barely distinguishable from other low-income, inner-city neighborhoods around Pittsburgh and throughout the United States. Its legacy does not pump dollars into the pockets of its residents, bring investment to the neighborhood, or offer the skills and training necessary to secure a path to professional success.
However, its legacy as a grand dame of culture does earn the Hill a platform from which to share its story. This story continues today through a new generation of youth. It is hip hop that fuels them, and their passion for storytelling through the media arts is strong.
As representatives from a community with the reputation of the Hill, the three young crew of “Pride’s Crossing” will travel to Detroit to meet their counterparts: young, African-American men from another city with a fabled history in the black community. Under the auspices of former mayoral candidate, Ingrid LaFleur, the “Pride’s Crossing” trio will discover similarities and differences in background and motivation. They will then visit Oakland, California, where Ellen Sebastian, a playwright, theater director, and activist, will introduce them to their counterparts in the Bay Area, where further exploration of identity will take place. The history and rhythms that undergird future creative and economic endeavors will reveal new voices.