Children stand outside the Colored Public Library once housed in the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville. The Pack Memorial Library, which was restricted for use by white individuals only, was desegregated in 1961. Photo courtesy of the Center for Diversity Education.

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From the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville, shared Aug. 26:

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The ASCORE Youth Leadership Committee, a community-wide committee headquartered at the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville, will commemorate the 1961 desegregation of Pack Memorial Library with a series of special events on Sunday, Sept. 18.

The events, which are free and open to the public, are co-sponsored by the Martin Luther King Association, the Stephens-Lee Alumni Association, the Buncombe County Library System, the Asheville Art Museum, and the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville.

Children stand outside the Colored Public Library once housed in the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville. The Pack Memorial Library, which was restricted for use by white individuals only, was desegregated in 1961. Photo courtesy of the Center for Diversity Education.

“From 1929 through 1961, the Market Street Branch Library was identified as the ‘Colored Public Library’ and was housed at the YMI Cultural Center. The ‘Whites Only’ Pack Memorial Library was around the corner in what is now the Asheville Art Museum,” said David Miles, ASCORE Youth Leadership Committee event co-chair and Asheville Middle School assistant principal.

“After being denied equal access to educational resources at Pack Library simply because of their race, high school students from Stephens-Lee and Allen School approached the members of the City of Asheville Library Board and requested that they desegregate the main branch of Pack Memorial Library, which was on Pack Square. The students, Oralene Graves Simmons and Viola Jones Spells, were members of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality or ASCORE.  Their request was approved by the library board on September 15, 1961.”

The commemoration will begin with talks by ASCORE members at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, at the YMI on Market Street in downtown Asheville. Following the talks will be a commemorative walk to the former site of Pack Memorial Library on Pack Square, now the location of the Asheville Art Museum, for a reception and photo exhibit.

Namurah Blakely, ASCORE Youth Leadership Committee event co-chair, said, “as a volunteer in the Asheville City School system and as a mother of two young men who attend (and attended) Asheville High School, it is important that our future leaders see and acknowledge the past and present leaders of our community. This knowledge will stay with them forever to help shape and mold them into our leaders of tomorrow.”

The organization is planning a series of commemorations concerning desegregation in Asheville that will be held over the coming five years and will include a summer youth leadership development program.

For more information, diversityed.org or call (828) 232-5024.

Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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