Around Town: Celebrating Juneteenth

COMMUNITY CELEBRATION: Pack Square Park will be the site of a two-day Juneteenth festival on Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18. The celebration will mark the end of a week of Juneteenth events. Photo of last year's festivities courtesy of Aisha Adams

A weeklong celebration of Juneteenth began June 12, will culminate with a two-day, free family festival in Pack Square Park on Saturday, June 17, and Sunday, June 18. Organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, in partnership with the city of Asheville, the week’s events include Black Asheville 411 lunch-and-learn sessions, local Black and brown artist tours and an Asheville Juneteenth Black film series, African Americans in Film.

On Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sunday 1-6 p.m., events will include live bands, spoken-word performances, walking tours, vendors, food trucks and a children’s art station. On Sunday, local church choirs and groups will hold performances celebrating spirituals, gospel and contemporary praise music.

Historically, Juneteenth celebrations served the purpose of educating communities about the end of slavery, as well as strengthening community through self-improvement.

“Juneteenth provides an opportunity for communities to come together, honor those that came before in the fight for equality and embrace working together toward self-determination,” says Joseph Fox, former vice president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Association. “It provides pride and hope to communities that have long been underserved and underresourced.”

Fox adds, “Juneteenth celebrations are extremely important in recognizing and honoring the resiliency of our communities that are forged from the struggles of our enslaved ancestors. It is a time to remember them, build upon their courage and embrace the freedoms we have today using collective impact and community-based strategies.”

For more information, visit

Leah’s story

On June 17 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Vance Birthplace State Historic Site and the American Myth Center will partner on a Juneteenth presentation of Leah & the Rabbit: A Conversation Around Resiliency & Reclaiming Narratives.

A tour of the reconstructed Vance house and the slave dwelling, which dates to 1790, is the first in the three-part presentation. The play Leah & the Rabbit, which tells the story of Leah Erwin, an enslaved woman who lived on the Vance plantation, will follow the tour. The third and final portion will be a moderated discussion of the play, the romanticization of the Old South and the reclaiming of African American collective histories.

Mikayla Wilson, who wrote the play, was approached last March by American Myth Center co-founder and curator Aaron Snook about creating a piece with Vance Birthplace specifically for Juneteenth. “The staff wanted to focus on Leah Erwin, one of the people enslaved by the Vance family,” says Wilson. “Aaron thought it might be a good idea to combine Leah’s story with the stories of Br’er Rabbit because both of their stories were taken away from them and repurposed for white audiences. This was a chance to re-contextualize and take back their narrative. … After reading through the stories, I found a lot of inspiration in the trickery and ingenuity of Br’er Rabbit, and I thought that could be connected with Leah’s ability to live through the harsh realities of slavery to see emancipation.”

Lauren May, assistant manager of Vance Birthplace, says historical drama programs seem to have a big impact on visitors. “We have seen our visitors connect with these programs in a more personal way than with a traditional tour or lecture,” she says. “These programs also spark more discussion, which is necessary for museums striving to share an inclusive narrative.”

Wilson adds, “By having a Juneteenth event in Asheville, we are recognizing that the enslaved people who were here are not forgotten and that their stories are worthy of being told.”

Registration is encouraged, as space is limited for the free program. Donations are welcome.

Vance Birthplace State Historic Site is at 911 Reems Creek Road, Weaverville. For more information, visit

Swiping Asheville

The location of the first episode in a new romantic documentary dating series from HBO Max may look familiar to Western North Carolina viewers. The debut of “Swiping America” on Thursday, June 15, features the four leads going out on dates in the Asheville area — with locals.

Subsequent episodes of the LGBTQ-inclusive series will take the leads, all singles from New York City, to seven more cities following Asheville: New Orleans, Miami, Austin, Texas, Santa Fe, N.M., Boulder, Colo., Seattle and Honolulu. The producers of the show use dating apps to find dates for the leads as they travel to each location.

Season one, episode one: “Asheville” is described in a press release: “Exhausted by the New York City dating scene, singles Ashleigh, Kesun, Kris and Reagan put their hearts, and dating apps, in the hands of their film crew, who take on the task of swiping for them in eight different cities. First up: Asheville, where the group plunges into a chilly Appalachian rebirth to meet their very first matches.”

The date sites are Hot Springs, The Whale in West Asheville, downtown’s The Montford Rooftop Bar and the Botanical Gardens at Asheville.

Creators and executive producers Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren say they chose Asheville as the first visit because “we love a fish-out-of-water love story, and Asheville is the perfect first stop as it’s a small town compared to NYC — but surprising with lots of singles, Appalachian romantic dating adventures and a world-class restaurant culture that left us with no choice but to ‘swipe right’ on Asheville.”

Lead Ash Warren says her favorite thing about being in Asheville was its surrounding natural beauty. “We stayed on a charming ranch that offered breathtaking views and plenty of opportunities for beautiful walks.” She adds, “I also had a nature-focused date that really allowed us to enjoy the beauty of Asheville. We don’t see this kind of scenery in NYC, so it was refreshing.”

Reagan Baker adds: “Asheville was a great place to start the journey because the people were so welcoming — the suitors I met there were some of the most respectful and polite out of anywhere.

“I grew up in East Tennessee, so I loved the chance to see similar nature to my childhood — big blue skies with puffy white clouds, rolling hills with a million trees everywhere. I’ve lived in New York for so long, I almost forgot about meadows and streams.”

For more information, visit

Preserving Appalachia

The fifth annual Blue Ridge Heritage Weekend Arts & Crafts Festival will be held Friday, June 16, and Saturday, June 17, at Shelton House, a 147-year-old, 8.5-acre Waynesville farmstead and museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The event will feature arts and crafts, artisan demonstrations and food vendors while Appalachian music is played on the house porch.

“We have over 100 artisans who will be selling their art as well as several who will demonstrate,” says Dannehl Strautz, museum director.  “We started our festival five years ago to continue the tradition started by Mary Cornwell when she opened the museum 43 years ago to help preserve and share the crafts of our great state.”

The music lineup includes Alex Travers, Appalachian Consort, Cold Mountain Bluegrass Band and Cider Ridge. Food and beverage will be available from vendors such as Woof Street Bistro, Appalachian Smoke BBQ, Harvest Moon Crepes, Nothing Bundt Cakes and more.

The festival is free; donations are welcome.

Shelton House is at 49 Shelton St., Waynesville. For more information, visit


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About Andy Hall
Andy Hall graduated from The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. After working at the United States Capitol for ten years, she has returned to her native state to enjoy the mountains — and finally become a writer.

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One thought on “Around Town: Celebrating Juneteenth

  1. Taxpayer

    Except for the people shot and the cancellation of the event, it was great. 🙄

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