In October, I posted about the first every African Americans in WNC history conference, which was held at the YMI Cultural Center and UNC Asheville. This event was extremely educational and important. The conference was introduced as being created in part to address the “invisibility” of African Americans in WNC. Bringing the history of African Americans in WNC to light will go a long way towards creating a more inclusive community. As one speaker at the conference pointed out, history is usually told by the “winners,” and the stories of those who have been oppressed by our institutions are often overlooked. You can click here for Mountain Xpress recordings from the conference.
Dr. Darin Waters highlights the value of “democratizing our collective historical memory” in this powerful column. An excerpt: “Evidence of the lack of African-American involvement in constructing our collective public memory is readily visible. One need only consider the monuments that dominate our landscape. In the heart of downtown Asheville stands the Vance Monument, which pays homage to Civil War Gov. Zebulon Vance, Buncombe County’s native son. Major thoroughfares around town bear the names of prominent white citizens, but there are no comparable monuments commemorating the African-Americans who called this city home, other than a few rec centers tucked away in historically black neighborhoods.” (I encourage you to click here to read the whole column).
Luckily, Dr. Waters is working hard to make more stories available to us. He and fellow UNC Asheville professor Dr. Marcus Harvey have launched a radio show on WRES FM 100.7, The Waters & Harvey Show. Airing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon, this show features stimulating discussions about African American history in this area. If you aren’t able to tune in to the show when it airs, archives of the show are posted on the Waters & Harvey Show Facebook page.
If you are interested in learning more about African American history in WNC, I encourage you to check out the Center for Diversity Education’s exhibit “The Unmarked Trail” – you can click here to see a PDF of the exhibit. A powerful read about urban renewal is “Twilight of a Neighborhood.” Also valuable is the Buncombe County Slave Deeds project – click here for more information. And the Color of Asheville website has an interactive history timeline – click here to view.
Of course, this is just a starting place. Stay tuned for more.