Liberty hill hart family - leizanna

Leizanna Hart, 105, sits on the living room of her son's Hassell Street home on Friday, Nov. 16 in Liberty Hill. Her son, Sam Hart, built this home on the same lot of land where Leizanna Hart raised her seven children. Today, she lives two houses down the street from her son. 

In Leizanna Hart's lifetime, she sent her children to segregated schools, worked as a pipe fitter at the Charleston Naval Shipyard during World War II and later traveled to New York to be a domestic worker. 

For most of her life, she did it alone as a single mother, raising seven children in her three-bedroom, shotgun-style house in Liberty Hill, North Charleston's oldest neighborhood. 

Today, Hart, 105, is one of Liberty Hill's oldest — if not its oldest — residents. Founded in 1871 by the families of four freed black men, Liberty Hill has borne witness to several eras of Charleston's history. As the neighborhood grew and evolved throughout the 20th century, Hart saw it all.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Hart sat in her black leather wheelchair in the living room of her eldest son's house. A grey scarf wrapped her shoulders and a thick green and purple blanket draped over her crossed legs.

Hart suffers from relatively few health issues given her age: some weakness in the knees and dementia. She recently become hard of hearing and relies on a white board and red dry erase marker to communicate with her children. 

But ask Hart about her childhood, and her face lights up. 

"I grew up in Dewey Hill in Charleston and went to Burke High School," she said. "I married in 1929."

Her history parallels much of the 20th century. She witnessed the arrival of some of the first cars, running water, airplanes, astronauts on the moon, telephones, radio, television, computers, iPhones and Twitter. She also experienced decades of oppression for African Americans across the country. In her home, her children said, black children had the same talents and skills as white children — even though the racially structured South did not agree. 

"We have seen a lot of changes," said Sam Hart, 87, her eldest son. "Liberty Hill is over 100 years old. She's seen all of that. And she's still going strong." 

In the mid-1930s, her husband and their two eldest children moved to Liberty Hill, where her mother, Lucille, had a few plots of land. The family lived at Montague and Hassell avenues.

The roads were mostly dirt then. A large oak tree was planted in their front yard. Sunday mornings were spent a few blocks east at Charity Missionary Baptist Church, which, like Hart, still stands today. She served there as a church trustee, her children said.

Liberty Hill Hart family - sam hart

Sam Hart, 87, sits on the living room sofa of his Hassell Street home on Friday, Nov. 16 in Liberty Hill. He built this home on the same lot of land where he grew up. His mother, Leizanna Hart, who is 105, lives two houses down the street. 

Hart loved to cook and was famous among neighbors and family for her deviled crab, sweet potato pie and pork fried rice. She made her children try vegetables that other black families didn't cook, such as Brussels sprouts and asparagus, her youngest child Jocelyn Hamilton said. 

Hamilton, who was born in 1953, never met her father. He died shortly before she was born, she said. 

Even though she was a single mother, Hart had enough love to go around the whole neighborhood, Hamilton said.

Her house was always, without question, the place where friends ended up for a hot-cooked meal and play time. Her cooking was so popular that she began running a makeshift cafe out of her side yard. 

But make no mistake, their mother also was incredibly strict, Sam Hart said.

"She was of a stern disposition," he said. "And it worked. We were never in trouble. Never been to jail." 

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The ability to provide an education for her children was her most important principle, her children said.

She sent Sam and one of his sisters to downtown Charleston for schooling at Avery Institute, which was then a private but segregated school for black children. Hamilton attended her Liberty Hill Elementary but later moved to Harleyville, where Sam Hart had moved, to finish high school. 

Even some in society disregarded her children, Hart worked tirelessly to inspire them to embrace their potential. 

"She taught us that you are an individual," Hart said. "But she said, 'Remember, the law is the law of the land. Don't get yourself in trouble.'" 

All seven of her children either attended college or pursued skilled careers; Nathaniel Hart became a welder, Harvey Hart a dietitian and Hamilton went on to be a chemist and school teacher. 

Like her brother Sam, she went to Claflin University in Orangeburg.

In 1971, Leizanna returned to Liberty Hill from New York. In 1982, Sam moved back, too, and he built a larger brick home on the same lot where he grew up. His younger brother Willie "Junior" moved in next door. And his mother moved into the house on the other side of Junior's. 

About a decade later, with the closure of the Navy shipyard on the horizon, Sam Hart ran for a seat on North Charleston City Council — a position he has held for the past 27 years. 

By her most recent count, Hamilton said Hart has more than 108 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Many live in Liberty Hill. Hart and Hamilton vowed to never move their mother into an assisted-living home. Just as she took care of them, they said, they would take care of her. 

"The family is just like an African compound," Sam Hart said. "It was like a little village. Well, Liberty Hill was like a family." 

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Reach Hannah Alani at 843-937-5428. Follow her on Twitter @HannahAlani.

Hannah Alani is a reporter at The Post and Courier covering race, immigration and rural life across the Palmetto State. Before graduating from Indiana University and moving to Charleston in 2017, her byline appeared in The New York Times.