UNC Asheville, pictured on Jan. 8. Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press

Press release from UNC Asheville:

Filling a gap in regional history – the missing story of African Americans in Western North Carolina – will be the aim of a new conference convened by history scholars at UNC Asheville on Oct. 23-24. Conference events, which will take place on campus and at the YMI Cultural Center in downtown Asheville, are free and open to the public.

Darin Waters
Darin Waters

“Until recently, little research has been done about the experiences of African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia,” says Darin Waters, assistant professor of history at UNC Asheville.

Waters has made a regional African American history a prime subject of his own research and has organized this conference to share recent contributions to the historical record by area scholars, and to share the first-person stories of those involved in key events.

James Ferguson, who began his civil rights activism as a student and continued as an attorney, will deliver the conference’s keynote address at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23 at the YMI Cultural Center, 43 Market Street, downtown Asheville. Ferguson, an Asheville native, is one of the founding members of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE), a student group which worked to desegregate Asheville’s movie theaters, lunch counters, libraries and other public facilities in the 1960s. As a lawyer, Ferguson was defense attorney for the “Wilmington 10,” – convicted of arson in the period of racial tension over school desegregation – and he continued to battle, ultimately successfully, to have their convictions overturned.

Thursday’s opening reception will include a special recognition of Asheville resident Julia Ray, a centenarian, for her many contributions to the Asheville community. Among other honors, Ray is the recipient of the Mission/MAHEC Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering service to the Asheville medical community.

The conference will feature lectures on slavery and emancipation, segregation and civil rights in Western North Carolina, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24 in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center:

9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

  • Slavery and WNC, by John Inscoe, Albert B. Saye Professor of History at The University of Georgia.
  • Emancipation and WNC, by Steven Nash, assistant professor of history at East Tennessee State University
  • Teaching American History with ALL American Youth, by LaGarrett King, assistant professor of secondary social studies education at Clemson University.

2 – 5 p.m.

  • Racial Uplift in the Era of Jim Crow Segregation in WNC, by Darin Waters, assistant professor of history at UNC Asheville.
  • The Civil Rights Movement in WNC, by Sarah Judson, associate professor of history at UNC Asheville.
  • “Twilight of a Neighborhood” photography project, by Andrea Clark, photographer.

The African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference is sponsored by many UNC Asheville offices and programs, including the Dean of Humanities, Howerton Professor of Humanities, Humanities Program, NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, Dean of Social Sciences, O­ffice of the Provost, Department of History, Center for Diversity Education and Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professorship of the Mountain South.

For more information, visit history.unca.edu or call 828-251-6415.

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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