Press release from Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County:
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County will lead a newly formed Buncombe County Community Remembrance Project Coalition to bring public awareness and formal remembrance to citizens of Buncombe County who were lynched during the Jim Crow era, in conjunction with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (NMPJ) in Montgomery, AL. Following guidelines established by the Equal Justice Institute (EJI), which founded the National Memorial, the Buncombe County remembrance will take the form of a historical marker placed in Buncombe County (at a site to be determined) that explains the history and context of lynching as well as the specifics of identified local lynchings.
Along with the City of Asheville and Buncombe County, the Coalition will include Buncombe County’s African American Heritage Commission; the University of North Carolina at Asheville; the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and other faith-based leaders; Mission/HCA Health; and Asheville High School. Kimberlee Archie, Director of the Office of Equity & Inclusion of the City of Asheville, expressed support for the MLK Association’s leadership of the Coalition.
The MLK Association, incorporated as an independent nonprofit in 2000, has a long history of educating the public about racial justice issues. Under the aegis of Asheville City Parks & Recreation Department, it held the first Asheville Prayer Breakfast in 1982, even before Dr. King’s birthday was made a national holiday, and brought the statue of Dr. King to the MLK Park in downtown Asheville. In its 38-year history the Association has also bestowed an annual Community Service Award to leaders in the fight for racial and social justice; sponsored youth awards and an annual college scholarship; and established the COPE program (Community Outreach Providing Empowerment).
Oralene Simmons, Chair of the MLK Association, said that the organization is “very honored to be invited to lead this Coalition. There are so many people in our community, especially in the education field—Dr. Darin Waters, Professors Dwight and Dolly Mullen, and many others—who are both valuable resources and dedicated activists for racial justice. We look forward to working with all of them and all the organizations involved to bring this project to fruition on behalf of the entire Buncombe County community.”
Sometimes referred to as the “lynching memorial,” the NMPJ was established by the Equal Justice Institute to remember and honor lynching victims from across the county in the years between the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction and 1950—nearly a century of oppression and terrorism against black citizens by white supremacists. While many believe there were relatively few lynchings and that they were limited to the states of the Confederacy, in fact more than 4,400 victims have been identified across at least twenty states, including Oregon, California, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.
According to the Equal Justice Institute, the coalition must undertake several steps to bring the project to fruition, including reviewing and conducting research about Buncombe County lynching victims; crafting the language to be used on the marker; and facilitating a High School Racial Justice Essay Competition.
To date, markers have been installed in five Alabama communities, and one each in South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. The markers consist of two sides that detail the narrative events surrounding a specific lynching victim and/or group of racial terror lynching victims and the history of racial terrorism in America. One side may include the narrative of an individual lynching victim or those of all lynching victims associated with a county. The obverse includes an overall narrative of racial terror lynching as a national phenomenon, rooted in myths about racial inferiority/superiority.
Additional activities may include such additional steps as incorporating a local Soil Collection ceremony and/or exhibit prior to the installation of the marker; bringing community partners and stakeholders to visit the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both in Montgomery; and, ultimately, partnering with EJI for placement of a permanent monument through the Memorial Monument Placement Initiative.
The process of engaging and educating the Buncombe County community, researching local victims’ stories, overseeing the high school essay competition, and bringing the historical marker to fruition, is expected to take from one to three years. In addition to working with local organizations and groups of interested citizens, the MLK Association-led Coalition hopes to connect with the annual African Americans in Western North Carolina & Southern Appalachia Conference, taking place October 17-19, 2019. According to Asheville’s Archie, the theme of the conference this year is “Existence as Resistance: Expressions of Resilience.”
For more information about the Buncombe County Remembrance Project Coalition, or to learn how you or your civic organization or faith community can become involved, please contact Oralene Simmons at (828) 281-1624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.