Category Archives: History

New Events on our Calendar

Please check out and show up for some of these upcoming events just added to our calendar. You can see more details on the links provided or in our calendar.

Feb 13, 7pm – 9:00pm
Advance Care Planning Workshop
UNC Asheville – Reuter Center 102, The Manheimer Room

Feb 13, 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Film Showing: The African Americans – Many Rivers to Cross
Into the Fire (1861-1896)
UNC Asheville – Highsmith University Union 114 Intercultural Center

Feb 14, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Public Lecture: Incarceration Nation (expired link)
UNC Asheville, Humanities Lecture Hall

Feb 14, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Public Lecture: The Contagion of Freedom: Anti- Slavery, Women’s Rights & Economic Justice
UNC Asheville – Lipinsky Auditorium

Feb 15, 1pm – 3pm
Honoring African-American Women from Then… On!
Linwood Crump Shiloh Complex, 121 Shiloh Rd.

Feb 15,  4pm – 6pm
Community Garden Networking and Collaborative Planning Event
Conference Room at United Way Building
South French Broad & Hilliard, Asheville

Feb 18, 6pm – 8pm
Voting Rights Update
Pack Memorial Library

Feb 20, 6:30- 8:30pm
Watch n Learn: “Four Little Girls” Documentary by Spike Lee
Highsmith Student Union 143 – Grotto

Feb 22, 2pm – 4pm
Reaching Back, Moving Forward
Stephens-Lee Recreation Center
30 George Washington Carver Ave, Asheville

March 21, 11:30-12:30
Public Lecture: Black Freedom Struggle (expired link)
UNC Asheville, Humanities Lecture Hall


Mrs. Elenora Mitchell Walker

Black History Month Spotlight – Elenora Mitchell Walker

Stephens-Lee Faculty circa 1920's

Stephens-Lee Faculty circa 1920’s
Elenora Mitchell Walker, center left

Elenora Mitchell was one of six children born to William and Altona (Anderson) Mitchell of Raleigh, North Carolina. She and two of her sisters each had a part in Asheville’s history. Elenora and her sister Annabelle both earned college degrees at Shaw University. Elenora then taught mathematics in Raleigh public schools until 1904 when she married John Wakefield Walker. John Walker was the son of Amanda Walker, and the brother of Emmaline and Hester Walker. (Hester was the wife of Walter S. Lee, and Stephens-Lee Highschool was named in part after her.)

Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection
UNCAsheville Ramsey Library
(l – r) William Trent, John Wakefield Walker

Dr. J. W. Walker was a best friend and classmate of William J. Trent at Livingstone College. William was the first president of YMI, and just a few months before his friend James wed Elenora, William married Elenora’s sister, Annabelle. Annabelle came to Asheville from Raleigh to teach in Catholic Hill Elementary School and also taught piano lessons at home. William Trent was known for his tenor voice, and J.W. Walker was known for his deep voice and also sung bass. They were both members of the Livingstone College choir. I imagine the Walker and Trent homes were often full of music. Both of these men and their friends and associates were strong race men, founders of the YMI, and early leaders in Asheville’s African American community.

Dr. Walker became a specialist in the treatment of tuberculosis, eventually opening a sanitarium and later becoming head of the tuberculosis sanatarium for black people at the North Carolina State Sanitarium. He returned to Asheville after three years and remained in private practice here until his death.

Elenora taught mathematics at Stephens-Lee High school, and also taught piano in her home. She was remembered by Mrs. Lucy Mae Harrison who was one of her students as a child. Dr and Mrs. Walker were the parents of three children, John, Amanda Lee, and Annabelle. Elenora also was a mother to her niece Altona Trent after the untimely death of her sister, Annabelle Mitchell Trent at age 25. Unfortunately Elenora’s life was again marked by sadness as she lost her youngest daughter Annabelle at age 4 after a hernia operation. Later, her husband Dr. Walker took his own life in 1932 at age 57. Mrs. Walker was still in teaching in Asheville in the 1940 census. After Mrs. Walker’s retirement, she moved to New Jersey with her daughter Amanda.

Elenora’s sister Altona Maywood Mitchell attended Miner Teachers College, then worked as a kindergarten teacher in Washington, DC. She married George Richards, who owned a grocery store and also cut hair in a hotel in Asheville. Their children were Miriam and Frank, and they lived in a home at 101 Hill Street that later became the Hill Street School. Frank Richards graduated from Stephens-Lee High School, and left Asheville shortly after when both his parents had passed away. He went on to become a surgeon, who worked in the struggle to bring about racial equality in St. Louis Hospitals. His son, Dr. Frank O. Richards Jr. is an expert in parasitic and tropical diseases, and he is Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program among other programs at the Carter Center.

Women’s stories are often untold in the history books. Even in some obituaries, which might be the only time in a woman’s life where her name will appear in print, I might see the woman listed as Mrs. James Smith, completely erasing her separate identity, and often even in this space rather than telling about her life, the writer lists accomplishments of her husband.  In this post, I have not only focused the lives of these three sisters but also that of their husbands and sometimes their children. Years ago and sometimes today, a woman was often measured by her status as a wife and mother, and judged by the failure of her marriage or her children. These sisters were women who pursued and earned college degrees when that was a rarity for black women. They worked in education, touching lives in ways that often go unmarked, although we know how good teachers can shape young people in innumerable positive ways. They married accomplished, hard working men, and together they provided their children with opportunities.

Please consider talking to the elder women in your family, and learn about their lives, dreams and accomplishments. Write their stories down and honor their work and sacrifice, and the love they poured into their children and grandchildren in hopes of a better future.

Mrs. Maggie Jones

Black History Month Spotlight – Mrs. Mary “Maggie” (Foster) Jones

Heritage of Black Highlanders
UNC Asheville Ramsey Library
Maggie Jones: bhcP77.

Mary Maggie Foster was born November 19, 1877 in Jonesville, South Carolina, the second of three children born to Edmond and Lucinda (Brown) Foster.1

She was married in Buncombe County in 1897 to William Davis,2 and is listed in the 1900 census as a dressmaker, living with her mother on Grove Street.3 Her marriage was short-lived, however, and by 1905 she was married to Dr. Henry Edward Jones,4 of Aldrich, Alabama, the son of George & Lora (King) Jones.5 The 1910 census shows them living on Knob St., Henry working as a pharmacist and Maggie as a seamstress.6 Maggie Jones is listed on the website of the Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection and remembered as a pioneer in work among black women.

A great organizer of clubs for community improvement.  Organized first Asheville branch of NC Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs  and was a charter member of the state organization.  She was a great community worker for the uplift of black women.   Her husband, a pharmacist working in the early 1920’s, was one of the first black doctors to practice here.

She organized the Girl’s Industrial Club whose aim was to develop Christian leadership and skilled employment.   The club later became part of the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YWCA.

She was a charter member of the Negro P. T. A. in the Asheville community and an active member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Mrs. Jones involvement in this work of social uplift was part of a movement on the part of African American women across the nation to uplift the black race through ending racism and lynching, encouraging education, access to health care, women’s suffrage and helping the poorest of their race. (see more here)

Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection
UNCAsheville Ramsey Library
l-r: Thomas Moore; Dr. Jones; Dr. Torrence

Henry E. Jones of Greensboro was listed as having passed his license examination at a meeting of the North Carolina board of Pharmacy on March 8, 1904.7 The corner drugstore in the YMI was Dr. Jones’ place of business.

Ms. Jones was also an early member of the Ladies Auxilliary of YMI and she is remembered by Ernest McKissick and YMI Secretary William Trent for having played a vital part in fundraising to help purchase the YMI building.8 After the black community demanded their own hospital, rather than being relegated to Memorial Mission’s segregated ward, Maggie was among the fundraising canvassers who helped to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Hospital.8

Dr. and Mrs. Henry Jones were the parents of one son, Henry E. Jones, Jr. born in 1908, but sadly he died of a gunshot wound in 1948 at age 39.9 Mrs. Mattie Jones passed away at the age of 83 on September 24, 1961,9 and Dr. Henry E. Jones died three years later on January 19, 1964.9 As we celebrate Black History Month, Mrs. Maggie Jones’ life of service is especially worthy of remembrance and celebration.

  1. North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
  2. “North Carolina, Marriages, 1759-1979,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 03 Feb 2014), William Davis and Maggie Foster, 28 Dec 1897.
  3. Year: 1900; Census Place: Asheville Ward 4, Buncombe, North Carolina; Roll: 1184; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0140; FHL microfilm: 1241184.
  4. “North Carolina, Marriages, 1759-1979,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 03 Feb 2014), Henry E. Jones and Maggie Foster, 08 Nov 1905.
  5. North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
  6. Year: 1910; Census Place: Asheville Ward 1, Buncombe, North Carolina; Roll: T624_1099; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0005; FHL microfilm: 1375112.
  7. American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Volume 44 (Google eBook) American Druggist Publishing Company, 1904, pg 178
  8. Hornsby-Gutting, Angela. Black Manhood and Community Building in North Carolina, 1900-1930. Gainesville: University of Florida, 2009. Print.
  9. North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

Dr. William Harvey Higgins

Black History Month Spotlight – Dr. William Harvey Higgins

Dr. William Harvey Higgins‘ story is just one of many that helps to show the interconnectedness of Asheville’s African American community. Though Asheville was his home only a brief part of his life, he went on to achieve prominence and touch many lives through his family’s legacy of work and service.

Darin Waters, Phd. wrote about Harvey Higgins in Endeavors magazine, recounting how he was

…a young Biltmore butler who dreamed of becoming a doctor. Vanderbilt paid for Higgins’ tuition, books and travel costs for attending Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC. Then Vanderbilt covered costs when Higgins attended medical school at Shaw University and saw to it that Higgins eventually became a prominent doctor in Providence, Rhode Island.1

William Harvey Higgins was born in 1873, likely in Marion, McDowell County, NC the son of Alfred Higgins and Clerisa Greenlee. (As an aside, William’s sister Florence was married to Samuel Barnes, who worked keeping the grounds at the Biltmore Estate and was the Biltmore Forest Country Club’s first greenskeeper. Samuel’s grandson Samuel Abdul-Allah continues to honor his family’s legacy by sharing their history and wider African American history with the entire community.)

On December 28, 1898 William married Bertha Grant Delard (or Dillard) in Manhattan, NY. Bertha was once a dressmaker, but

…her real genius was for manipulating the social fabric. She plunged waist-deep into every important civil rights cause of the early 20th century, from the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill to woman’s suffrage.2

William and Bertha moved to Providence Rhode Island in 1903.2 Their only child, Prudence Higgins Irving, became Rhode Island’s first black social worker. She received her BA degree from Howard University, her BS degree from Simmons College and master’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Boston University. She was a member of many clubs including the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Rhode Island Council of Community Services, Providence YWCA, LINK’s Inc. and more.  She passed away in 1987 with no immediate family survivors.3

In addition to his work as a physician, Dr. William Harvey Higgins was an editorial writer for the Providence Advocate, a trustee of Watchman Industrial School, member of Providence City Council, Trustee of Winter St. AME Zion Church, Grand Master of Rhode Island and Director of the endowment department of the Odd Fellows, and a member of the Knights of Pythias.4 Sadly Dr. Higgins took his own life on May 23, 1938, after suffering from poor health. Although he ultimately didn’t make Asheville his home, I have to think his family encouraged him to reach for every opportunity, and through his own hard work and the support and philanthropy of George Vanderbilt and others he was able to achieve great heights. He is another son of Asheville we can be proud of!

  1. Waters, Darin. “More than Biltmore” Endeavors Magazine 1 Sept 2009. Web. 1 Feb 2014.
  2. Liberman, Ellen. “Bertha Higgins: Marshaling the black vote” Black Women: Then and Now Providence Journal Bulletin. 6 Mar 1997.
  3. “Prudence H. Irving, at age 74; 1st black R.I. social worker” Providence Journal. 20 Feb 1987.
  4. Mather, Frank Lincoln. Who’s who of the colored race: a General Biographical Dictionar of Men and Women of African Descent. 1915

An Evening with Isabel Wilkerson – Lenoir-Rhyne University

If you haven’t read Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, I highly recommend this book.  As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of my own ancestors who left Surry County, NC for Pittsburgh, PA; Wytheville, VA for Newark, NJ, seeking better lives for themselves and their children. This book tells the how, the why, the tales of those left behind and those who picked up and left.  I couldn’t help but think that many of us have living relatives now who lived this history, yet it remains unspoken. Please talk to your elders and hear their stories. Write them down! And if you are able, please come hear this wonderful author and scholar in her own words. LINK

Isabel Wilkerson is the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in the history of American journalism. She is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a New York Times and international best seller. In writing on the great migration, Wilkerson used the story of her parents’ migration to fuel her fifteen years of extensive research. The result was, according to Tom Brokaw, “an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation.” John Stauffer of the Wall Street Journal claims that “The Warmth of Other Sunsis a brilliant and stirring epic. . . . [Ms. Wilkerson] humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.” The Warmth of Other Suns was a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner and named one of the best books of the year according to the New York TimesThe New Yorker, and theBoston Globe, among many others.

  • Date: Thu. Feb. 20, 2014
  • Time: 7:00pm-8:00pm
  • Location: Belk Centrum
    Lenoir-Rhyne University
    625 7th Avenue NE
    Hickory, N.C. 28601

Applicants Sought for New African American Heritage Commission

Talented and dedicated individuals with an interest and/or knowledge of Asheville’s African American history are being sought to sit on the newly established African American Heritage Commission. Applicants with knowledge of economic development, marketing, and promotional strategies for the cultural/heritage tourism sector are needed. The positions will be appointed by the City of Asheville.

Below is a description of the AAHC as published by the City. At the end you’ll also find a link to the Resolution that was passed establishing the AAHC which should help you more fully understand it’s vision.

To apply, please contact the City Clerk’s Office at 828-259-5601 or by e-mail at for an application form. The deadline for receiving applications for this opening is Wednesday, February 5 at 5 p.m.

“AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE COMMISSION – The Commission shall have the following powers and duties: (a) Develop rules for the conduct of its business, including but not limited to meeting schedules, election of officers, voting, subcommittees, et al.; (2) Develop a plan to identify, create, encourage, promote and implement projects that will recognize, increase and expand the awareness of the contributions of African-Americans throughout the City-County area; and (3) Create plans to identify and recognize sites in the community that are significant to African-American history; encourage and promote economic activity related to the African American community; and propose other projects that are consistent with the goals of the Commission.”

Mars Hill’s Anderson School historic site

The MLK Association of Asheville is one of the groups working towards the preservation of the Anderson Rosenwald School of Mars Hill, one of very few remaining Rosenwald schools still standing in western North Carolina.

The Anderson Rosenwald School was abandoned in the 1960s, but now an effort is under way to restore the old school. The school represents the initiative that provided quality buildings and reliable access to public education for African Americans in the South. Because “you can just feel the history there,” the community is working to preserve and renovate the school into a Community Cultural Center dedicated to promoting a fuller understanding of black history in the Blue Ridge region. The Mars Hill initiative is part of a nationwide movement to preserve Rosenwald Schools which is coordinated through the National Trust for Historic Conservation. For more information, go to

YMI Exhibit: Freedom for All

The Path to Emancipation

During the 150th year of the 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a traveling exhibit of illustrated informational panels outline the struggle for freedom by the enslaved people in North Carolina and the nation. It will travel to state history museums, historic sites, libraries and other academic and cultural venues from July 12, 2013- August 10, 2015.

“‘Freedom for All’ on exhibit at YMI this month conveys how securing freedom was more of a process than a single act or proclamation and the exhibit highlights North Carolina’s unique role in that process,” notes Earl James, curator of the African-American History at N.C. Museum of History.

“Freedom for All” focuses on the status of North Carolina before the Civil War events leading up to Lincoln’s issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and outcomes and results of the document in the state and nation. The exhibit also examines some of the differences between the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the final Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

Event Details

Where: YMI Cultural Center
When:  January 5, 2014 – February 5, 2014
During Regular Business Hours: Tues – Fri 12-4pm
Cost:  Free

Slave Deeds of Buncombe County

When you visit Pack Square in downtown Asheville, you can’t help but notice that monument to Zeublon Vance, Confederate military officer, and former slave owner. It is less well known that the site of Vance monument also marks the location of the courthouse, where slave auctions were once held.

Since the late 1700’s the records of the buying and selling of slaves as property were kept in the Buncombe County Deed Books. These books have now been scanned and digitized by the office of the Register of Deeds. Drew Reisinger, Register of Deeds, and Deborah Miles of the Center for Diversity Education worked to have these records indexed so that this history: the names of the enslaved people, and those who bought and sold them, is no longer hidden away.

The Buncombe County Register of Deeds has produced a video about these deeds and the importance of exposing them to the light of day. These are valuable for family historians, for historians seeking to learn about Western North Carolina’s slaveholding past, and for ordinary citizens, black and white to have a full picture of their community history.