ASHEVILLE’S AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE TRAIL MOVES FORWARD
Community is invited to offer input to shape the trail’s themes and content; idea-starters on display at YMI’s Community Impact Center during Goombay and throughout September
(ASHEVILLE, N.C.): Plans for an African American heritage walking trail connecting historic Black communities in and around downtown Asheville continue to move forward and organizers are seeking input to help shape the themes and content.
The African American Heritage Trail will present stories from historic Black communities by way of themes discovered during an earlier round of community input. (See below in FAQs.) Sites and stories will range from well-known landmarks visible in the community today to the unsung heroes and under-recognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in the past.
Beginning Sept. 4–5 during the Goombay festival and throughout the month, storyboards will be on display at YMI’s Community Impact Center on The Block downtown. These will offer samples of content that could be featured on the trail to help tell an inclusive story of Asheville’s history.
The public is invited to drop in during the festival or on Sept. 11 or 18, review the boards and offer feedback and ideas in a survey onsite or online. Groups can also schedule times on other dates during the month to provide input. Virtual viewing sessions will be available as well. (See schedule below.)
“We are glad to be moving forward with this much-needed project that celebrates and shares the legacy and contributions of African Americans in our community,” said River Front Development Group Executive Director Catherine Mitchell who is spearheading the effort. “We welcome the public's continued involvement in this collaborative effort to preserve and protect Asheville’s African American history and culture.”
“The African American Heritage Trail is a step in the right direction towards inclusive storytelling,” said Aisha Adams, founder of Equity Over Everything. “We are proud to partner with River Front Development and Explore Asheville to help uplift the often overlooked and under-told stories of Blacks in Asheville."
These input opportunities are part of a community engagement process that builds on ideas gathered at a series of presentations and listening sessions that took place in 2019 and early 2020 to introduce the project, involve local residents, and foster collaboration. Plans for design and construction, originally slated for 2020 and into 2021, were paused due to the pandemic.
The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is funding the project through its Tourism Product Development Fund grant program. River Front Development Group, an African American founded nonprofit, submitted the grant application in 2018. Adams is helping to provide oversight on an equitable development process. The Buncombe County TDA will maintain the trail markers as part of its wayfinding signage program.
For more information, visit: AshevilleCVB.com/AAHT.
COMMUNITY INPUT SCHEDULE: AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE TRAIL
At the YMI’s Community Impact Center, 39 S. Market St., Asheville
- Saturday, Sept. 4, during Goombay Festival
- Sunday, Sept. 5, during Goombay Festival
- Saturday, Sept. 11, during Sankofa Market AVL
- Saturday, Sept. 18, during Sankofa Market AVL
Virtual Viewing Sessions via Zoom*
- Monday, Sept. 13, 7 - 8 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 18, 10 - 11 a.m.
- Tuesday, Sept. 28, 6 - 7 p.m.
*Visit AshevilleCVB.com/AAHT to register for a virtual session.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is the African American Heritage Trail? Initiated by River Front Development Group, a local African American community development organization, the project is conceived as a walkable trail in and around downtown Asheville that will honor and preserve the rich heritage of the local Black community. Sites and stories will range from well-known landmarks visible in the community today to the unsung heroes and underrecognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in the past.
How is the project being funded? The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is funding the project with occupancy tax revenue collected from visitors staying in Buncombe County lodging as part of its Tourism Product Development Fund grant program. The trail markers will be installed and maintained in perpetuity by the Buncombe County TDA.
How will it be decided what sites and stories become part of the trail? Input is being gathered from community engagement efforts including online surveys, focus group discussions, and listening session workshops. Additionally, an advisory committee will be established in late 2021 with the support of Equity Over Everything.
Will the trail also be available online? Yes, there will be an accompanying website that will include a map of the trail as well as additional information such as photos, videos, and oral history recordings.
Will the trail be expanded outside of Asheville? The current phase of the project is focused on creating a walkable trail in and around downtown Asheville. Additional sites may be included in the digital version of the trail.
When will the project be completed? The project is expected to be completed in late 2022. Upon completion, the Buncombe County TDA will promote the trail on Explore Asheville’s marketing platforms to preserve, share, and amplify the stories to a broad audience.
What was learned in the first round of community input? A series of community engagement efforts have been conducted since the project began in 2019 including online surveys, focus group discussions, and listening session workshops. Efforts also included participation in the African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia Conference at UNC Asheville and hosting a “Telling the Whole Story” talk by thought leader Dina Bailey at the YMI Cultural Center. Through this outreach, several themes, or types of stories, arose when people talked about the history they felt should be included in the trail:
- Accomplishments and contributions of the Black community in Asheville
- Highlighting groups that supported the community
- Agency and the capacity to express individual power
- Combating misconceptions and preserving history for future generations
What is the proposed route? Some sites and stories are well known; others have received less attention through the years. This trail aims to represent a broad range of history including renowned landmarks and leaders, such as the YMI Cultural Center on The Block and James Vester Miller, to the unsung heroes and underrecognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in Asheville.
How can I get involved? Share your feedback: Fill out the survey onsite at the YMI or access the survey online. Submit your contact information in the survey form to receive email updates on the project and invitations to future community input sessions.
Artist's rendering of proposed trail markers on Asheville's African American Heritage Trail
Kathi M. Petersen, Director of Public Information