Exploring Local Archival Evidence of African American Expressions of Resilience in Asheville

The sixth annual African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia Conference, which will highlight the African American experience in Southern Appalachia with a lens towards history, culture, community, and enterprise, begins this Thursday, October 17 and runs through Saturday, October 19. This year’s theme is “Existence as Resistance: Expressions of Resilience.”

African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia Conference; https://aawnc.unca.edu/

UNCA’s Special Collections is assisting with the conference, and as such, revisiting some of our collections regarding this topic. One such collection is our Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, a rich and vibrant African American collection which is helping to dispel the myth that Southern Appalachia owes both its society and culture to one homogeneous background.

E.W. Pearson Jr. First African American Disc Jockey, WLOS Radio, 1950; Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

This collection is a collaboration of donations from individuals such as Mrs. Lucy Saunders Herring, Mr. Johnny Baxter, and Mrs. Jean McKissick McNeil, and the former Southern Highlands Research Center, now UNC Asheville’s Special Collections and Archives, along with the YMI Cultural Center. The Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection focuses on material that illustrates how African Americans helped to build an environment that was integral to both the culture and economy of Western North Carolina, and whose lasting effects can still be seen today.

“Candy Land,” Business on Eagle Street, 1929-1930; Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

This Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection encompasses material from churches, schools, businesses and workers, portraits of people, civic, social, and political organizations, military service photos and records, and several other print and web resources. Over 200 photos in the collection have been digitized and are available for viewing through DigitalNC.

NAACP National Conference; From the Eugene Smith Scrapbook, Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The University of North Carolina Asheville’s Special Collections and University Archives is excited to share in this resource, along with several others highlighting this scholarship, and we are looking forward to a conference which will help better illustrate the intrepid history and ventures of the African American experience in Southern Appalachia and Western North Carolina. We hope to see you there!

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