Celebrating African-American heroes

Heroes often spring from unimaginable hardship. Some cases in point:

Born into slavery, Robert Smalls (1839-1915) stole the steamship “Planter” right out of the Charleston harbor in 1862, aided by nine other slaves. The group escaped to freedom, handing the ship over to the Union army. Smalls eventually became a U.S. congressman, and helped establish Port Royal (now known as Parris Island) as a military training ground.

Also born into slavery, Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was first sold when she was only 9 years old. Truth — who bore lifelong scars from a vicious beating with red-hot metal rods — became a famous traveling preacher. She walked thousands of miles across the United States to promote an end to slavery and equal rights for all people.

In unsuccessful attempts to rescue his wife and daughter from slavery, Henry Bibb (1815-1854) escaped seven different times and was nearly beaten to death by his owner. He eventually made his way to Canada, where he published the first African-American newspaper in that country.

These are just three of the 10 heroes featured in the new nonfiction book for young adults, Slaves Who Dared: The Stories of Ten African-American Heroes, by local author and Hendersonville Times-News columnist Mary Garrison.

The book, explains Garrison, “paints a picture of slave life … based on original accounts and slave narratives. Besides providing an overview of the institution of slavery for young readers, it also demonstrates how people survive and make contributions in the midst of hardship.”

In April, Garrison visited Hendersonville Middle School, where children discussed the book and took part in a question-and-answer session.

Slaves Who Dared is now available in local bookstores.

Garrison will talk with readers and sign copies of her book on Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m.- 1:30 p.m., at Waldenbooks in Hendersonville’s Blue Ridge Mall.

Honoring Cherokee heritage

The venerable sights and sounds of Cherokee heritage will grace the WNC mountains at the upcoming Cherokee Voices Festival.

Now in its fourth year, the festival (free and open to the public) will feature storytelling, dance, gospel music in the Cherokee language, and demonstrations ranging from basketry to beadwork to blowgun-making.

The Cherokee Voices Festival began in 1999 — made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council’s Folklife Programs — and is sponsored by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, where this year’s festival will be held on Saturday, June 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

“We try to invite the elders from the community [to participate in the festival],” explains festival organizer and museum Educational Director Barbara Duncan. “People like Walker Calhoun and his family, Jerry Wolfe, Emma Taylor, and Amanda Swimmer — elders who have kept these traditions alive and who are passing them on to the next generation.”

Speaking of keeping traditional alive, for the first time this year, Cherokee potters will demonstrate the creation of old-style, stamped Cherokee pottery. Following a recnet workshop at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, potters revived this traditional style. The works are “stamped” by wooden paddles used to make designs on the outside of the pots, which are then burnished and waterproofed on the inside. (For most of the 20th century, Cherokee potters followed the Catawba style of pottery, which features a shiny, incised surface that was reportedly popular with tourists.)

Also new at this year’s festival is a photography exhibit by Cherokee youth and adults who recently participated in a workshop titled “Documenting Your Own Culture.” Sponsored by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the workshop taught interviewing and photographic techniques. Photography was taught by internationally recognized artist and Eastern Band member Shan Goshorn; interviewing techniques were taught by Barbara Duncan and archivist Bo Taylor.

For those hungry for more than heritage, a sumptuous meal of fried chicken, bean bread, greens and more will be served up, prepared by the Cherokee branch of the North America Indian Women’s Association. (Proceeds from the sale of meals will benefit that group).

“We invite everyone to come out and have a good time,” says Museum Director Ken Blankenship. “Last year’s festival was enjoyed by visitors as far away as Africa and Japan, as well as people from our own community.”

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is located on the corner of Highway 441 and Drama Road in Cherokee. For more information, call 497-3481.

Six parties. One night. 600 revelers.

It’ll be hard not to have a ball at Asheville’s first-ever Big Blue Ball.

The Ball is the Asheville Area Arts Council’s most ambitious fundraising project to date. It works like this:

Participants choose one of five themed cocktail parties — running the gamut from “Vegas” to “High Brow,” from “NascART” to “Gender Bender” — held at venues all over downtown. Then, all revelers move on to the evening’s premier party, the “Budweiser & Red Hook Big Blue Bash.”

Rick Ramsey — event chairperson and host for the “Big Blue Bash — enthuses, “I think it’s going to be a night for everyone to remember. We’ve had the most wonderful volunteers working on it since January, and for us to pull off an event this size, we’re just really excited about it. It really is going to be a lot of fun.”

The “Skyy Vodka Martini Mixer” will shake it up atop the Biltmore Building, 7-9 p.m. Marked by endless martini varieties and mambo band Mavis, the party will feature food catered by La Caterina & Il Paradiso Steak and Chop House. Dress is blue, black or white cocktail attire.

The “Gender Bender Ball” will take place at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues, 6-9 p.m, with entertainment by Roxxy Hart, Angelica Dante, Chyna, Celeste Starr and Zeke. Catered by Everyday Gourmet & Asheville Pizza Company, the required dress for this ball is blue cocktail attire.

The setting for “Viva Las Vegas!” will be Ananda Hair Studio (morphed into the City of Sin for the evening), 7-9 p.m. Replete with a wedding chapel, stand-in bridesmaids and a divorce court, this party will offer an all-the-way-buffet catered by Damon’s, and entertainment courtesy of “Frank Sinatra,” “Elvis” and all of your favorite local lounge lizards (including Tim Robbins and Jim Burns).

“NascArt” will roll onto the Wall Street Parking Deck, 7-9 p.m. Equipped with an actual race car and a “pit crew,” this motor speedway-themed party will feature a dinner of barbecue, hot-dogs and fried turkey catered by Loretta’s. Drinks will be served straight from the cooler, and country artist Lee Whitaker will provide the down-home sounds. The dress code? Blue cocktail attire or come as your favorite NASCAR driver or pit-crew member.

The “Central Carolina Bank Low Country, High Brow” party will swing into gear at Kathryn Philpothill’s Max Hill Art on Lexington Avenue, 6-9 p.m. A setting that duplicates Charleston will compliment low-country delicacies from Cindy’s Shrimp Stand at Rosebank Plantation on John’s Island, S.C. United Souls (beach, Motown, R&B) will lay down the sounds. Blue cocktail attire or what’s known in Charleston as “below Broad casual” (meaning anything you might wear to an oyster roast — khakis, capris, wrap around skirts) are the requested dress. (Socks are optional.)

And, finally, the premier event of the evening: the “Budweiser & Red Hook Big Blue Bash.” When the clock strikes 9 p.m., musicians decked in blue will lead guests from their respective cocktail parties to this main event at the new Woolworth Walk (located in the old Woolworth’s building) on Haywood Street. The theme for this event is blue, blue and more blue: Caterers will compete for the best in blue dessert, and the Blues Gang and other special guests will play the blues … for a sea of people decked out in blue.

The Big Blue Ball happens on Saturday, June 15. Tickets cost $75 per person to attend one of the cocktail parties, along with the “Big Blue Bash.” The only exception is the “Low Country, High Brow” cocktail party, which will cost $150 per person (but will get you into all the other cocktail parties of the night). All parties will feature a silent auction. A raffle at the end of the evening will garner the winner a weekend at the Biltmore Estate Cottage.

For tickets, call 258-0710 or order online at

Boogie your heart out

Let your hair down, kick off your shoes and boogie on down to the Fletcher School of Dance.

That’s where the Asheville Dance Collective gears up one Friday each month for the Barefoot Boogie. This community-based event provides not only a sound system and two DJs, but costumes dancers can choose to wear if the mood strikes them.

Boogie dates for the rest of the summer are June 14, July 12 and Aug. 9; all dances run 8-11 p.m. Starting in September, Barefoot Boogie will revert to its every-Friday schedule.

The Barefoot Boogie offers an alcohol-free, smoke-free environment for the entire family. The money collected from this event ($5/adults, $2/kids ages 10-17) will go toward the rent for the space, the sound system and other equipment.

So if you love to dance, don costumes or simply socialize with others in the community, point your feet toward the Boogie.

The Fletcher School is located at 177 Patton Ave. For more information, call Christopher Fielden at 277-3640.

Where a church and coffee house meet

The trinity of cappuccino, contemplation and conversation will drive a new Sunday-morning spiritual gathering in Asheville.

The aim of the Unity Cafe, explains co-leader Reverend Nancy H. Clark, an ordained Unity minister, “is [to provide] a warm and welcoming coffee house experience for open-minded and open-hearted spiritual seekers to come together on Sunday mornings.”

Coffee shops, emphasizes Clark, “are comfortable, informal, relaxed settings where people share life’s experiences. We feel that expressing spiritual concepts in such a setting will have a great appeal to those who do not desire to be involved in a more formal institution, but yet have a desire to be ‘spiritually fed.’ It also reflects our belief that spirituality is something we bring into our everyday lives and activities.”

Clark believes the Cafe will bring what she calls “an inclusive perspective” to spirituality.

“We are grounded in the Christian tradition,” she explains, “but our pathway is ecumenical and interfaith. Rather than preaching, we focus on teaching. Our interest is not in dogma, but in exploring ways we can live out a spiritual life in our daily activities within our local and global community. The Unity Cafe is a place to experience and explore the Divine within the heart of all people, all faith traditions and all creation.”

Licensed Unity teacher Dorothy St. Clare will also co-lead the Cafe, which is part of a member ministry of the Association of Unity Churches.

The Unify Cafe begins on Sunday, June 16, 10-11 a.m. at the Golden Horn Restaurant (48 Biltmore Ave.) in Asheville.

For more information, call Nancy Clark at 254-8488 or Dorothy St. Clare at 236-3115.

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