Joseph C. (Jake) Hill was a native of Athens, Georgia. He lived in Chicago but completed high school at Immanuel Lutheran College in Greensboro, N.C. He earned a bachelor's degree from Virginia State College and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1956. Prior to completing his graduate work, Hill served in an all-African American unit in the Army Air Force for three years during World War II.
In 1947, Hill moved to Shelby, North Carolina, where he taught and coached basketball in the public school system for four years. In 1951, Hill began teaching at Mount Zion Elementary in Greensboro. For six years he taught seventh and eighth grades, then was promoted to principal of Mount Zion. He transferred to Craven school in 1968, where he was the only African American. During his tenure as principal of Craven, the school was integrated. Hill continued to work for the Guilford County public school system until his retirement in 1979.