With Cherry Hill and Beacon on 5th, more people live in Johnson Village than a decade ago
The Johnson Village development, which now lends its name to a wider neighborhood, became part of Charlottesville during a tumultuous time in Charlottesville that wasn’t so long ago.
In 1963, the city annexed thousands of acres of land from Albemarle County, including the Johnson Village development.
That added more than 2,500 acres of land to the city, expanding its boundaries to include not just Johnson Village, but parts of present-day Fry’s Spring, Belmont, Locust Grove, Greenbrier and The Meadows.
At the same time, though, the city was tearing down other, long-standing neighborhoods, ones where Black and poor white residents lived. In the name of “urban renewal,” a process underwritten by the federal government and its Office of Housing and Urban Development, white city officials declared these parts of the city slums and demolished them throughout the 1960s. First the city razed Vinegar Hill, then Garrett Street. Many of the families were relocated to Westhaven, the city’s first public housing community, completed in 1964.
(For more on the history of Vinegar Hill, watch the Raised/Razed documentary.)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made illegal segregation by race, color, national origin, religion or sex, but much of the city remained segregated, in part because of covenants in property deeds that for years prevented Black, and in some cases Jewish, residents from buying property in certain neighborhoods.
Even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 deemed racially restrictive covenants illegal, segregation in residential neighborhoods persisted, said Jordy Yager, director of digital humanities at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Yager leads the Mapping Cville project, which has combed through every property deed in the city to see which neighborhoods had them in an effort to see how they shaped, and continue to shape, the city.
“From what we know, Johnson Village was not explicitly racially restricted, [but it was] certainly in practice,” said Yager.
Ray Bell, who was active in the local chapter of the NAACP throughout the Civil Rights movement, described that practice in a December 1980 interview for the “From Porch Swings to Patios” oral history project.
During this time, young white families were moving into Johnson Village’s single-family homes with yards and quiet streets. But when Bell and others from the NAACP visited the neighborhood during open houses to inquire about the homes, they were turned away. Developers in Johnson Village, and elsewhere in the city, refused to show these new homes to Black people, said Bell.
In the course of his research for Mapping Cville, Yager said he’s heard stories about Black families sending white proxies to look at homes for them, homes they’d later legally purchase. An upcoming Mapping Cville exhibition will tell the stories of the first Black families to integrate neighborhoods throughout the city.
Among Johnson Village’s residents is Charles Barbour, who became the city’s first Black city councilor in 1970 and mayor in 1972.
The initial Johnson Village development of single-family ranch-style homes still exists — the sign is still up at the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Shamrock Road — but a larger, more varied neighborhood has grown around it. It’s a place that many families, and, according to the data, a growing number of seniors, call home.
A comparison of the 1994 and 2021 Google Earth views of the neighborhood (below) offers a look at how the Johnson Village neighborhood has grown in more recent decades.
Two major, and recent, additions to the neighborhood are the communities of Cherry Hill (in the northwest area of the neighborhood) and Beacon on 5th (in the southeast area).
The Cherry Hill development, located off of Cherry Ave. and near Johnson Elementary school, added nearly 100 three-story townhouses and single-family houses to the neighborhood in the late 2000s. About a decade later, in 2017, the Beacon on 5th Apartments opened on Fifth Street, adding another 242 one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Both communities have broadened the types of housing available in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood has grown and its demographics have shifted: In 2013, the Census reported no Hispanic or Latino residents among Johnson Village’s 1,720 residents. Just four years later, in 2017, that started to change and by 2020, more than 300 people who identified as Hispanic or Latino on the U.S. Census in the neighborhood, making up more than 15% of the neighborhood’s population of about 2,026 people.
In that same time frame, more white people moved into the neighborhood too, and have come to make up a slightly larger percentage of Johnson Village’s overall population.
Bell and other members of the NAACP worked hard to get Black families into this entirely residential neighborhood decades ago, but in the past 10 years, Black residents have been moving out of Johnson Village. The 2013 Census recorded 455 Black residents, making up about 31% of the neighborhood’s population at the time. By 2020, that number fell to 360 Black residents, making up about 18% of the neighborhood’s population.
This isn’t unique to Johnson Village, though. Overall, the city’s Black population is decreasing while the populations of other races and ethnicities — particularly white and Hispanic and Latino — rise.
As the graph shows, the neighborhood’s Asian population has dropped as well.
Johnson Village residents are becoming more affluent, too. In 2013, a Johnson Village household had a median income of $75,625; in 2020, it rose to $120,765. Furthermore, the share of households making over $200,000 annually has risen from 2% to 25% over the same time period.
Shifts in Johnson Village residents’ occupations show a decrease in folks working in entertainment (which includes restaurants as well as the arts) and retail industries. There’s been a significant rise — 29% to 55% — in the percentage of residents working in the education and healthcare sector.