The story once told of Asheville was that heritage of slavery, so important across most of North Carolina, was never really much of an issue here. Compared with the plantations of the Piedmont, it was said, there was very little in the way of slavery in the mountains. But the deeper we dig into history, the more we learn of how little of the real story is told.
Attention lately has been focused on Vance Monument, the 65-foot obelisk downtown built a century ago to celebrate to the memory of Zebulon Vance, one-time Confederate officer, governor and then US senator of North Carolina. Vance not only owned slaves but was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Questioning such a prominent monument celebrating a slave owner, city officials had the monument shrouded as a committee is being chosen to decide what will be done with it.
But Vance, of course, was not alone. Just about every famous name memorialized in Asheville’s streets, villages and neighborhoods was also a slave owner, from James Patton to Augustus Merrimon, Nicholas Woodfin, Samuel Chunn, Michael Weaver, and Leonard Henderson. So was the city’s and county’s namesakes: Samuel Ashe and Edward Buncombe.
(For a fuller treatment of Asheville’s slave history and its legacy check out this recent video: produced by Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church:
All of this is simply evidence of how deeply the legacy of racial oppression is interwoven into our lives in ways that are not immediately apparent to most of us. The fog of history clouds uncomfortable truths, and most of us go on with our lives without giving the past a second thought. But the consequences of that oppression remain in the white supremacy culture we live with today. And without deliberate action to dismantle it, it will remain, continuing the violence it has done to generations of Black people.
It’s been said that the killing of George Floyd and the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement have offered Americans a “Moment” when real transformation – accountability of the damage done and debt owed to African-Americans – is possible, and room can be made for racial healing.
Our hope as a congregation is that we can be agents of that healing. In the coming year, we plan to offer many ways to help you get engaged in this work, from conversations that ground us, to advocacy for the work before us locally, to connections with others joined in the struggle. Look for opportunities to get involved, to learn and grow and to make your voice heard.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister