Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail Brings Focus to Black History in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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From L to R: Matthew Bacoate, Jr., Catherine Mitchell, Vice Mayor Sandra Kilgore, Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides and others in front of an Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail panel.
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For the first time, Asheville’s Black heritage and culture is on permanent display around the city through a new walking trail. Unveiled in December 2023, the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail is the first of its kind in Western North Carolina and one of a few Black heritage trails in the 13-state Appalachian region. It marks a significant milestone in the growing effort to amplify and preserve Affrilachian heritage, granting visitors an opportunity to retrace compelling narratives that make up Asheville’s Black history – including stories that have never been shared in a public space.

From well-known figures like Nina Simone, who attended boarding school in Asheville (her nearby childhood home will soon be open to the public), to community landmarks like the YMI Cultural Center, one of the oldest Black community centers in America, to everyday citizens like William R. “Seabron” Saxon, who refused to give up his bus seat four years before Rosa Parks, the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail unearths intimate and fascinating stories of dignity, struggle and resilience. The trail comprises 14 stops and 20 panels across three historically significant Black neighborhoods.

 

Community activist Catherine Mitchell, who shepherded the trail to completion after years of extensive community efforts, said, “Our goal was focused on lifting up Black history in an inclusive way by illuminating stories of resilience and resourcefulness. The trail’s completion represents a moment of celebration, unity and remembrance.”

NEWS HIGHLIGHTS: Featured below are insights on how to experience the three-part Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail (and ideas for where to step off the trail and into local culture), how to plan a trail visit around a variety of new and ongoing multicultural festivals, as well as other important community efforts reclaiming Affrilachian culture.

“Where are the Black people?” – The Broader Context of the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail in Reclaiming Affrilachian History

“Affrilachia” is a term coined in 1991 by Kentucky poet Frank X Walker to describe the Black legacy in Appalachia, a region where Black history and culture is deeply rooted but has historically been erased. As Asheville native and Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides, who is featured on the digital trail, stated at the ribbon cutting, “Asheville’s Black Cultural Heritage Trail will finally tell the stories of our unsung heroes and under-recognized achievements so that Black communities, students and visitors can answer the question you often hear: ‘Where are the Black people?'”