I took a weekend trip to Charlotte and "dropped" by the Biltmore Estate. The mansion was lovely, and it made for great photo ops. While I was there, I couldn't help but think of the African American communities before George Vanderbilt decided to occupy acres of land. How did the Black communities live in the mountains of Asheville, N.C.?...What I found made the history detective in me twerk.
Let's begin with a little bit of History on the Biltmore Estate. The Mansion is a historical museum and a very high tourist attraction. George Vanderbilt began building the mansion in 1889. I can't recall how many rooms are in the mansion, but the thing is massive! Can you believe I lost my information pamphlet at the very end of my trip? I was able to hold onto that thing for three days. It gave intimate details of the mansion, like how many rooms, prominent figures in history that visited, and all that jazz. Click here to learn more about the estate. It was worth the two-hour drive from Charlotte. I did get a little jealous over the library, but who wouldn't? It literally had secret passageways and numerous first editions. I'm glad I went, and the stops along the way made it even more worth it.
So, as I mentioned, the history detective was activated and ready to dive headfirst into the rabbit hole of African American life in Asheville. I started by digging up information around the 1880s-90s. Actually, I started with the Antebellum South (1783-1861), but I began to get frustrated, so I stopped. I came across resources and sites that tried to debunk "myths" about slavery in the mountains. According to some, slavery was "better" or did not really exist in the mountains. Are you guys laughing too? I know I was. Click here if you are interested to learn more about slavery in Asheville, N.C.
After I got over my historical rage, I went back to work. I discovered The Colored Enterprise newspaper which served the Asheville African American community from 1896-1898. Thomas Leatherwood founded the newspaper. The only known surviving copy was discovered concealed in a box at the Vance Monument. It was hidden in the basement for over a century. If I'd known about this sooner and the world was normal, I would attempt to set an appointment at the Western Regional archives to look at the newspaper in person. How glorious would it be to read the Black voices during this time?
Ok, so here is the best part of the trip. I actually felt like I was walking through history when I discovered this bit of information. I came across some sources that mentioned an African American brickmason by the name James Vester Miller (1860-1940). I was intrigued! I dug a little deeper, and I discovered that he was a prominent brickmason in Asheville contracted to build quite a few buildings not far from the Biltmore Estate. His work included churches, government buildings, and private projects. When I discovered that most of his buildings were still standing, I literally started twerking. I jotted down a couple I wanted to visit and took a little road trip. The first stop was the Municipal Building, built in 1924. It is now the home of Asheville's Police and Fire Department. There is a plaque commemorating Miller on the side and front of the building.
The second stop was the J.A Wilson building. The building accommodated two doctors, two dentists, three beauty parlors, and a Barber shop during its time.
I came across so much information on the African-American community in Asheville. Way too much for this blog post. But, would I be me if I didn't leave you tools to do more research? Click here for a timeline of Black history in Asheville, N.C.