Blue Ridge Public Radio – February 19, 2021 – The Western North Carolina Historical Association is located in Asheville’s oldest brick house – where at least 70 people were enslaved. Now the association is hosting an exhibit about the history of Black communities west of Asheville. Author and historian Ann Miller Woodford talks with BPR about why its important to learn about the region’s history – and how to apply it to the present.
“You can hear an old record playing: ‘When All God’s Children Get Together by Minister Keith Pringle.”
That’s the sound of the gospel song, “When All God’s Children Get Together” playing as part of an exhibit at the Western North Carolina Historical Association in Asheville. The exhibit is based around Ann Miller Woodford’s book by the same name. Published in 2015, it chronicles Black history in what she calls, “the far west” of North Carolina – counties west of Asheville. The book includes over 600 pages of photographs, memories and research about local Black churches, families, and the region.
She says it started when she wanted to record her father’s memories.
“So I began to call him at night when he was alone at his home and just start recording what he was saying,” said Woodford. “And I encourage people all the time to write down information from their relatives while they’re living, because we do start to forget things as well as sometimes the people just, as we used to say up and die, you know, and then you have lost the whole library.”
Woodford then decided to check the stories with her other family members and that grew into the book – plus a lot more research.
Some chapters also chronicle Woodford’s life. Born in Andrews, she explains that her grandfather came to Cherokee County after fleeing a racist mob (“ethnic cleansing”) in Cumming, Georgia. Until high school she attended a one-room segregated school.
Woodford also is an artist, entrepreneur and community activist. She also helped found One Dozen Who Care, a women-led community development organization for western North Carolina.
“My job in my life is it’s tearing down walls that divide people and building bridges. It’s very important to me to feel that I’m doing something to make this life better for others. And when I do that for them, it makes it better for me as well. And for my people,” said Woodford.
Woodford has also been doing this by touring the book and exhibit (which she created in partnership with Pam Meister at Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University) across the region for the last 5 years.