When I last wrote, it was wonderings on water. Today, I am examining earth; specifically the patch of soil upon which I live. The rooted love I feel here.
My spirit holds so many stories of this place, stories I’ve lived and stories I’ve only learned about. All within a few square miles. From the days when the Anigiduwagi were it’s stewards until now, this land holds countless tales.
Montford & Stumptown Stories
Last Spring Elizabeth Lashay Garland and I went for a walk and talked about the varied perspectives on the history of the neighborhood where she spent a significant amount of time growing up and where I now live. A cultural organizer, Elizabeth is one of the forces behind STM Multimedia, Slay the Mic, and WBMU Jamz (“Where Black Means Unity”) radio station. I shared how I have been collecting stories of the neighborhood’s past. We also talked about the Montford & Stumptown Fund of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust.
Thinking of her family that still lives in Stumptown and others, Elizabeth suggested we team up with STM Multimedia collaborators Major Moments to create a series of videos of stories of the neighborhood – starting with Black voices – as a way to highlight recollections and explore future possibilities such as the fund.
So over the last several months we did just that. In addition to ourselves, both Slay the Mic and my company, Garnet Prose + Projects, involved City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA) interns in the production of the videos. Shout out to Zion Mosley and Corrina Richardson. What is storytelling if not multigenerational?
The result is the first four videos of the “Montford & Stumptown Stories” series, featuring current and former Montford and Stumptown residents sharing memories and dreams. We are so grateful to these wonderful people for engaging in this truth telling.
Listening to David Jones, Jr., Jenny Pickens, William Ray, and Kimberly Collins, talk about their lived experiences in Montford and Stumptown illuminates perspectives not found in the dominant narratives of the neighborhood.
The beautiful videos can be found at montfordandstumptown.com, along with a number of resources to start to put the stories in context.
For example, it’s a little discussed fact that in 1980, Montford (census tracts 2 and 3) was over 70% Black. This was in part because, during urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s, as Black families were displaced from their neighborhoods, many moved into the previously white sections of Montford opened up by white flight. Mr. Jones shares a story of how he helped integrate Montford Hills (which had racial covenants), by sending in white doctors to inquire about properties in advance of Black families, and challenging the discrimination this uncovered.
Jenny, William, and Kimberly tell about what it was like living in Montford and Stumptown during those recent decades when the neighborhood was majority Black. They describe a caring community, cultural richness, and supportive ties. They reflect on how the systemic mechanics of gentrification (which has benefited white people like myself) broke those ties. They point to the pain of the resulting losses, and question what’s next.
Significantly, over the years, neighborhood PR has erased their realities. An interpretive panel at a bus stop on Montford Avenue tells the story as, “Later in the 20th century, Montford had brothels, crack houses and group homes, especially as more affluent families moved to the suburbs. The neighborhood began to rejuvenate as the larger homes were converted to bed and breakfasts, and tax credits became available to help homeowners renovate these older houses.” Rejuvenate by and for whom?
Or, as a 2018 promotion for a neighborhood history talk at the Chamber of Commerce read, “Montford was designed to be the premier subdivision near Asheville, later to become a blighted area full of drugs and crime and brave new pioneers.” In my opinion, omitting any mention of race presents a false illusion of neutrality in the policies and practices that have been at play. Though there is nothing neutral about the phrase “brave new pioneers.”
We have a lot of reckoning to do.
In my neighborhood and beyond, there is a need for honest narratives that center those most impacted by structural violence, as well as the honesty of those of us on the winning side of a rigged system. Conversations that, perhaps, can help move us towards healing, repair, and transformative change. Despite, or perhaps because of, the complexities. Or so my heart tells me.
And, in and of itself, sharing stories has incredible value.
To put it more poetically, “Truth telling is medicinal,” as I was reminded by Marisol Jiménez, during a potent conversation I was lucky enough to have with her and Tamiko Ambrose Murray. That conversation came right on time, offering me a refreshed orientation to these inquiries. Actively practicing hope in community requires authentic connections as well as grounded intentions and expectations.
As I take part in bold experiments to address gentrification, I will offer my gifts to storytelling and the curation of collective spaces for grief and joy and imagination and love.
May they help carry us along path to the next world.
[Note: In addition to insights from Marisol and Tamiko, inspiration from this post came from this generative conversation between Alynda Segarra (Hooray for the Riff Raff), adrienne maree brown, and Ann Powers about Alynda’s fantastic new record, Life on Earth, which was inspired by brown’s essential book Emergent Strategy. ]
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