The Asheville area sees no shortage of historical reenactments. For better or for worse, most of them pay tribute to events and personalities from various wars, the Civil War being the most common. But come this weekend, Asheville will witness a reenactment saluting the history and heroes of another struggle: the fight to win civil rights for this area’s black citizens.
Key to that struggle was securing full access to public facilities, from movie theaters to libraries to lunch counters. It took years of patient, nonviolent demonstrations, sit-ins and negotiations to desegregate such places, and it took an organization of brave, persistent young people — the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality (ASCORE) — to win some essential victories.
The leaders of ASCORE were students from Stephens-Lee High School who acted with the support of an older generation of African-American preachers, business owners and other mentors. On Saturday, Oct. 1, students from the W.C. Reid Center for Creative Arts will stage two reenactments of ASCORE’s activism.
The first will take place from 10 to 10:30 a.m. at the Fine Arts Theatre at 36 Biltmore Ave., which was the Strand Theatre during the Jim Crow era. Rose E. Davis, who was then an employee of Roland’s Jewelry, where ASCORE met, will speak.
The second will take place from 11 to 11:30 p.m. at the Woolworth Walk lunch counter at 25 Haywood St. There former ASCORE members Mary Fair Talford and Al Whitesides Jr. will speak.
The reenactments are the opening events for a series of programs marking the 10th anniversary of the Center for Diversity Education, which is based at UNCA. “We pass by these places every day and don’t realize the history that is imbedded in them or the different ways community members view these stories from the past,” says Deborah Miles, the Center’s executive director. “Painful stories often take decades of reflection before a community is ready to unpack the past, face it, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward.”
The Center recently conducted oral history interviews with former ASCORE members in an effort to document their work to desegregate Asheville. In one interview, Whitesides, who went on to help lead sit-ins that desegregated Durham while he was a student at North Carolina Central University, recounted how he and his fellow high-school students took the lead in desegregating a downtown grocery store by leading a months-long boycott.
“The students initially caught a lot of fire from the black community for starting the boycott,” Whitesides recalled. “In the beginning, the black community would cross the line, but by the end, no one did.”
— Jon Elliston
• Sept. 29 mayoral candidates luncheon: The Council of Independent Business Owners is holding a mayoral candidate forum and luncheon at the Country Club of Asheville on Thursday at noon. Buffet will be available for $15; call 254-2426 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Sept. 29 council/mayoral forum: UNCA students will host and moderate a candidate forum at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Highsmith Union Alumni Hall. City Council and mayoral candidates will be included. The forum, organized by UNCA’s ASHE: Active Students for a Healthy Environment, will follow a traditional debate format and is free and open to the public.
• Oct. 5 candidate forum: The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2005 Candidates’ Forum for Asheville mayoral and Council candidates takes place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Resort. Reservations are required (including lunch, $10/members, $20/nonmembers) and can be made by calling 258-6118.
• Oct. 10 town hall meeting: Asheville Citizens for Quality Government will hold a town hall session to assess candidates for City Council on Monday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the Haywood Park Hotel. Asheville citizens, along with the ACQG steering committee, will be seeking consensus on candidate “grades.”
• Oct. 17 council forum: Finalists for the Asheville City Council election will participate in a public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel at 7 p.m. Mayoral finalists will also be on hand for a meet-the-candidates session.
• Primary voter deadlines: One-stop absentee voting is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Board of Elections office, 189 College Street. One-stop voting ends on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 1 p.m. To vote by mail in the primary election, the last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 4; ballots must be returned by Monday, Oct. 10. The primary election date is Tuesday, Oct. 11, with voting at all county precincts from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. For further information, contact the Buncombe County Board of Elections at 250-4200 or visit www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/Election.
Candidates, organizations and citizens: Send your campaign-event news — as far in advance as possible — to (fax) 251-1311, or “Campaign Calendar,” Mountain Xpress, P.O. Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802.
PARC says “no parking”
A grassroots group that played a key role in opposing the Asheville City Council’s plan to sell downtown parkland to the Grove Park Inn for a high-rise development has weighed in against the city’s proposed Battery Park parking deck. People Allied for Real Conservation held a downtown press conference Sept. 22 to kick off its campaign. The five-story deck would wrap around the Battery Park Apartments, eliminating mountain views and fresh air for many tenants (who have launched a campaign to block the project) and sharply reducing the visibility of the landmark Basilica of St. Lawrence.
PARC spokesperson Julie Brandt told a small crowd: “The city continues to do business behind closed doors using any tool they can to mislead or simply not inform the public. This is a story about people of wealth and power taking advantage of the elderly, disabled and low-income citizens who live in one of the few affordable-housing projects in downtown. What this boils down to, folks, is a class issue.”
Many Council members, Brandt charged, receive campaign money from developers and then create opportunities for those contributors to profit. “Political cronies should not be profiting from a plan to wrap a parking deck around the homes of low-income, elderly residents, many of whom are in poor health,” she said.
The project was first proposed in 1998 as a way to encourage shoppers to patronize the Grove Arcade, then under renovation. In 2002, however, Aaron Zaretsky (who was then the director of the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation) told Xpress, “There is ample parking available in the city decks around or near the arcade.” And in the meantime, the estimated cost of the deck has climbed from $8 million to almost $21 million.
If the proposed deck and associated structures are built, the front of the basilica will be visible only from the sidewalk immediately across the street from the historic church (see “The View From Battle Square,” Sept. 14 Xpress).
Brandt concluded by noting that City Council candidates Robin Cape, Chris Pelly, Bryan Freeborn, Jan Howard, Matthew Hebb and incumbent Holly Jones have spoken out against the deck. Jones is one of two current Council members who voted against the plan.
— Cecil Bothwell
Groove is in the heart — and hands
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many locals found that they had a personal connection to the disaster — a family member or friend impacted by the destruction. In that way, the catastrophe is a reminder that we are all only a few degrees of separation from the rest of humanity.
It’s fitting, then, that this year’s One Degree of Separation music festival will donate their proceeds to the local disaster-relief group Hearts With Hands. The festival was created three years ago by a collection of Asheville-based bands that had all shared at least one member in each of their musical projects — hence the name — and it has already become something of an annual mainstay for Asheville’s jam, groove and funk-loving crowds.
While the festival has always donated the funds raised at the event to a local charity, this year’s choice has a particular resonance. Based in Asheville, Hearts With Hands been on the front line of the Katrina recovery effort, providing dozens of tractor-trailer loads of food and urgently needed supplies to areas of hurricane-thrashed Mississippi.
“We were looking for a nonprofit organization that was local,” says event coordinator and local musician Ian Reardon. “We decided on Hearts With Hands because they really get in there, and you know that 100 percent of your donations are going to a good cause, instead of some giant institution.”
This year’s festival is headlined by local favorites Marsupial and features music by local notables Electro Dog, DR Ensemble and Davenport. The festival starts mid-afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville. The show is free, but monetary donations are strongly encouraged.
— Steve Shanafelt