The City of Asheville has an overdue debt to pay Black Asheville. In recent weeks, city residents have made it abundantly clear that the time to start paying that debt is now. We are calling for the City to commit to implementing reparations immediately.
We shouldn’t have to explain why.
The City began incurring this debt with its earliest non-native settlers, who brought their enslaved Africans. Enslaved labor was used to build infrastructure and our local economy – everything from the Buncombe Turnpike to the hotel industry. After emancipation, promises made during reconstruction were not fulfilled. The criminalization of Black people led to unfair arrests with Black convict labor and lives sacrificed to build the railroad that expanded our economy even further.
Years of Black codes, Jim Crow segregation, redlining, and predatory lending left the Black community with limited capacity to build wealth. Yet, despite these barriers, our community was able to own homes and businesses and to thrive within our neighborhoods and the Eagle/Market business district.
This was short-lived.
The racism that infused the desegregation process laid the foundation for deeper racial disparities.
It is part of the roots of why the Asheville City Schools (which the City is responsible for) is still unable to provide Black students the education they deserve. To add insult to injury, the City holds buildings that were once successful Black schools, and is responsible for the devastating destruction of Stephens Lee High, the “Castle on the Hill.”
Through the “urban renewal” process, the City of Asheville played a significant role in the destruction of our neighborhoods and businesses and the wealth that our community had started to build.
This process moved many members of our community into public housing, with no ownership, creating the conditions for multigenerational poverty and related issues.
The 1937 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map of Asheville. All of the areas marked in red were majority African-American.
Image from Mapping Inequality.
Urban renewal maps, with roads in bold, overlaid with the 1937 redlining districts for the areas around downtown, including Southside, Hill Street and East End neighborhoods. The red pointers are housing projects, most built during the ’50s and ’70s.
Image from Southern Redlining Collection
Since urban renewal, the City has significantly built its tax base, allowing real estate speculators and developers to profit on property taken from Black residents with minimal compensation. It has benefited financially from the unchecked growth of tourism and the spread of gentrification, both of which have further marginalized our community.
The educational and economic injustices inflicted on Black people have been further exacerbated by the over-policing, police brutality, and over-incarceration our community continually experiences at the hands of the Asheville Police Department.
While what is owed is far greater than what can ever be repaid, there is no excuse for the City of Asheville to allow this debt to continue to grow without addressing it through reparations.
(Many thanks to Ami Worthen for her work drafting this narrative.)
Links to history and data
What is owed, New York Times (June 2020)
The case for reparations, The Atlantic –
Reparations in other cities
Evanston, IL – Evanston’s Road to Reparations, Chicago Magazine, June 2020 –
Chicago, IL – City Council approves reparations resolution, Chicago Sun-Times, June 2020 –
State of Black Asheville –
Asheville Arrest data suggest discrimination against Blacks, AVL Watchdog –
Unmarked Trail, Center for Diversity Education –
Life Beneath The Veneer: The Black Community in Asheville, North Carolina from 1793 to 1900, Thesis –
Entwined with slavery, a brief history, AVL Watchdog –
Red lines, Asheville Blade –
Urban Renewal in Asheville, Mountain Xpress –
Twilight of a Neighborhood, NC Humanities – https://www.nchumanities.org/sites/default/files/documents/Crossroads%20Summer%202010%20for%20web.pdf
Urban Renewal in Asheville, Thesis –