IN THE NEWS

From AVL Watchdog: What’s in a name? For Asheville, signs point to history of racism
by Peter Lewis, AVL Watchdog

Many of the monuments in the area were erected by United Daughters of the Confederacy North Carolina Division, an organization of women “who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or who gave Material Aid to the Cause.”

The Daughters did not respond to an AVL Watchdog request for comment, but a notice atop the group’s web page admonishes, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set. — Proverbs 22:28.”

Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards disagrees. Edwards said at a commission meeting June 16: “Removing monuments does not erase history. What it does is remove the constant visual reminder of a system that didn’t treat African Americans as equitable.”

The African American Heritage Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County is exploring options for “recontextualizing” Pack Square, where the Vance Monument stands near the spot where Black men, women and children were bought and sold on the steps of the old Buncombe County courthouse.

“We acknowledge and support the positive role that recent protests have played in opening the door to real and necessary change,” the Western North Carolina Historical Association board of trustees said in a statement. Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the association, told AVL Watchdog that the board is currently meeting to re-evaluate its operations toward a goal of better representing the diversity that has shaped the region. Read the full article here.

Virtual Exhibits Exploring WNC History
The Laurel, May 2020

 The Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) has made two of its exhibits available virtually: Hillbilly Land, which explores myth and reality in Appalachian culture, and 1918 vs. 2020, which examines the 1918 influenza epidemic in Western North Carolina and parallels it with the current COVID-19 pandemic. “Since we are currently closed to the public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, digitizing our past exhibits allows us to continue to fulfill parts of our mission as a nonprofit focused on preservation of Western North Carolina history and culture,” says Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the WNCHA. “It also makes these wonderful exhibits, which have been curated by some excellent and very knowledgeable historians, accessible to a far larger audience than they ever have been before, even when the exhibits were actually mounted in our galleries.”

Hillbilly Land was curated by UNCA’s Dr. Dan Pierce in 2014. “This exhibit translates really well to a digital format because the exhibit itself is primarily made up of Appalachian literature and images,” says Smith. “So the digital visitor can access some really wonderful excerpts from novels written by authors like Wiley Cash and Wilma Dykeman as well as entire poems on topics like Appalachian religion and moonshining.” The digital exhibits will be permanent and easily updatable, which Smith sees as a silver lining to the museum’s physical closure. “We can even make changes and additions in response to visitor feedback,” she says. Visit WNCHistory.org to see these exhibits and more.

Capital at Play, May 7, 2020

History from Home | Virtually visit the Smith-McDowell House Museum’s exhibits, including Douglas Ellington: Asheville’s Boomtown Architect, a look at his iconic Asheville creations.  

NC in the Great War

The Laurel of Asheville, April 2020
Through mid-May, the Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) presents North Carolina in the Great War, an exhibit exploring the state’s contributions to World War I. On loan from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDCR), the exhibit is on display at the Smith-McDowell House. Artifacts from the Smith-McDowell House collection will supplement the stories of local men and women who were involved in the war. “Hearing about these experiences from the Western North Carolinians who lived them can hopefully help us to empathize with them and more fully understand war’s violence to both body and mind,” says Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the WNCHA. “This is crucial during an era when the realities of war have become so far removed from most of our daily lives.”

NCDCR developed ten retractable banners that form the core of the exhibit for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI in 2018. The WNCHA has supplemented the exhibit with additional panels from the Western Regional Archives in Oteen, the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU and also some newly-designed panels. Some stories explored in the exhibit include that of Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock, an Asheville native who served as a nurse with the first British Hospital Unit in Belgium; Kiffin Yates Rockwell, an Asheville High School graduate and a charter member of the Lafayette Escadrille squadron of American volunteer pilots; and Cashus Melton Morgan, a Candler man who joined the military via selective service in 1918 at the age of 24. “We were like many small towns or cities across the US—people came together for the war effort,” says Chesky Smith. “They rationed food, volunteered their time, joined the Red Cross. So, understanding what was happening in this region during WWI can help us to understand what would have been happening most places in the US during the war. We’re a microcosm of America.”

Photo of The Old Elm by Childe Hassam (1916, oil on canvas) courtesy of the Asheville Art Museum

Smart Bets: Museum From Home

With their doors temporarily closed, art institutions around the world are offering complimentary digital access to their exhibitions and programs — including multiple Western North Carolina institutions. The Asheville Art Museum (ashevilleart.org/museum-from-home) has made its collection virtually available, along with “I Spy” games and downloadable coloring sheets for kids (and adults). Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (blackmountaincollege.org/museum-from-home) has extended its current exhibition, Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College, through Aug. 15 and added a digital portal. And the Smith-McDowell House Museum (wnchistory.org) has a pair of virtual exhibits: 1918 vs. 2020: Epidemics Then & Now in WNC and Hillbillyland: Myth & Reality in Appalachian Culture.