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Posts published in “Equity”

Black Home Ownership and the Promise of Reparations

For many, Asheville's "urban renewal" ended the American Dream

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson surveys her childhood Southside neighborhood near New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Urban renewal "destroyed" a thriving community, she said.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson looked across the empty fields where her Southside neighborhood once thrived. “It’s all gone,” she said. “One thousand two hundred businesses and homes were lost.” 

The neighborhood, where approximately half of Asheville’s Black population lived, suffered major upheaval under Asheville’s urban renewal program in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the largest urban renewal projects in the Southeastern United States. 

Ndiaye Robinson’s memories of childhood delights — a neighbor’s cupcakes, playing with chickens, charging up the grassy hills — are tainted by sadness and umbrage at what happened. “It broke up a loving community. It tore up families,” she recalled.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson

For Asheville’s Black residents it, urban renewal also undercut the foundation of generational wealth and dashed a revered piece of the American Dream. Predominantly Black neighborhoods were razed to make way for proposed highways or real estate ventures,

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Reparations, Six Months Later: So Far, Empty Promises

Asheville’s Dwindling Black Population Remains Skeptical

Valley Street, ca. 1949. Photo by Juanita Wilson

Six months ago, as part of a reckoning on racial injustice, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County both passed resolutions to consider reparations to the Black community as a way to begin making amends for slavery and generations of systemic discrimination. The votes were hailed as “historic” by The Asheville Citizen Times, and ABC News asked, “Is Asheville a national model?”

Since then, local officials concede, little has been done. Some in the Black community see zero progress.

“From my understanding, they’ve done nothing,” said Rob Thomas, community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition. 

Despite the fanfare they received at the time, the reparations resolutions are in limbo, still as lacking in specific remedies as they are in financial commitment or engagement with the Black community. The Asheville resolution called for the creation of a Community Reparations Commission to begin drafting recommendations.

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Equity Advocates Resign Amid Racial Reckoning

City director quits, cites resistance, lack of support

Kimberlee Archie

The CEO of the YWCA of Asheville has quit, becoming the second Black woman in a month to leave a high-profile job with a mission of improving racial equity in the city.

Libby Kyles resigned Sept. 18, a little more than a year after being selected to run the century-old women’s organization whose primary role is racial justice.

Her departure follows the resignation of Kimberlee Archie, the city’s first  equity and inclusion manager, who left in August.

Kyles, an Asheville native and former teacher, declined to comment. YWCA spokeswoman Catalina Slater said the resignation, submitted late on a Friday afternoon, came as a surprise.

“She’s a hard worker, puts a lot of love into her mission,” Slater said. “And she’s co-founder/leader of the recently formed Black Asheville Demands and vice chair of the board of directors at Peak Academy,” a charter school for disadvantaged children.

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Entwined With Slavery: A Brief Local History

John Haywood

By 1860, about 15 percent of the population of Western North Carolina was enslaved. Only a small percentage of the White settlers, who had pushed out Indigenous Native Americans,  owned slaves — about 2 percent of households, according to Katherine Calhoun Cutshall, collections manager, North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library — and of those, most owned one or two. The majority were owned by a handful of elite families, whose names are commemorated throughout the region. 

They used their wealth and influence to help build Asheville and surrounding communities, supporting government, schools, healthcare, infrastructure, parks and other civic improvements, for which they were honored. But the wealth that lifted them to prominence was derived in large part by the enslavement and exploitation of Black people, entwining their many good deeds with the evil of racism.

Asheville

Originally Morristown,

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What’s In a Name? For Asheville, Signs Point to History of Racism

City’s Dilemma: Preserve? Remove? Rename? Contextualize?

James Washington Patton (Patton Avenue)

Vance, Patton, Woodfin,  Henderson, Weaver, Chunn, Baird — their names are familiar  to anyone living in Asheville and Buncombe County today. All were wealthy and influential civic leaders honored by having their names bestowed on statues, monuments, streets, schools, parks, neighborhoods, and local communities.

They were also major slaveholders or slave traders and white supremacists who amassed their wealth and influence in part through the exploitation of human beings they treated as property. Of all the slaveholders in Buncombe County, no one enslaved more African Americans than Nicholas W. Woodfin, James W. Patton, and James McConnell Smith, according to census records and slave deeds. 

Asheville itself was named for a major slaveholder, as was Buncombe County. The fortunes that propelled Samuel Ashe and Edward Buncombe to prominence were wrung from the suffering of hundreds of enslaved Africans on their sugar and cotton plantations.

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Asheville Arrest Data Suggest Discrimination Against Black People

African-Americans Disproportionately Charged by Police

Police Chief David Zack

African-Americans in Asheville are three times more likely than white people to be searched by police in traffic stops and are disproportionately charged with common crimes such as marijuana possession in disparities that experts in police bias called shocking, an AVL Watchdog analysis of police data found.

Among lower-level crimes such as disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting an officer – offenses where police have broad discretion – Black people account for 33 to 40 percent of the charges while representing just 12 percent of the city’s population, according to the analysis of arrests posted on the city’s web site from 2012 through early this month.

The data suggest that Asheville, which is on its fifth police chief in nine years, has failed to guarantee equal treatment under the law for all its citizens.

“These numbers raise serious concerns about discriminatory policing,” said Roy L.

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‘Stand With Protesters’

Downtown businesses, some vandalized, show their support

Kathryn Crawford and Gus Cutty led a group of local artists that created Black Lives Matter murals downtown.

One by one, they arrived at their downtown businesses this week to find shattered storefronts and graffiti-stained walls.

The damage could not have come at a worse time, following a two-month closure from a pandemic and a sluggish reopening.

But these Asheville business owners chose not to cast blame or demand justice from the vandals.

They joined the cause.

Patton Avenue Pet Company owner Jenna Wilson, Hazel Twenty boutique owner Lexi DiYeso and others drafted a letter that they posted Thursday night in the Asheville Black Lives Matter Community Facebook group. It began with 20 signatures and by Saturday, 49 downtown merchants had signed their names.

“Several of our storefronts were vandalized, with the potential for more damage in the days to come. We’ve boarded up our windows and are already seeing a decline in business coming to our Downtown locations,” the letter reads.

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Soaring Food Need

Hannah Randall

The main floor of Manna FoodBank’s warehouse in Asheville is a beehive of activity as scores of staff and volunteers pack, load and wrap food for distribution. Boxes, pallets, and forklifts still abound, but the vibe has changed.

In her office, Manna CEO Hannah Randall shifts in her chair. The data points she sees on her computer screen are staggering. The pandemic has amplified the scope of poverty and hunger in Western North Carolina like nothing before.

The data is also forcing a stark realization that both sourcing and logistics must be reimagined on the fly. 

Randall estimates that to meet the spike in demand for Asheville and Buncombe County in coming months, Manna will need to distribute at least 508,968 pounds of food each month representing over 424,140 meals. 

“What we are seeing is that the number of people showing up at the local Markets where we directly provide food has more than doubled from 1,932 in February to 4,380 in April,” she said.

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