Document of the Day: Asheville race relations, 1964

Today is day three of Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of government openness and public access to public records.

Here at Mountain Xpress, we’re marking Sunshine Week with the debut of The Xpress Files, an online archive of papers from all levels of government. And each day this week, we’ll focus on one extraordinary Document of the Day.

Today’s entry is a February 1964 report on the local racial situation by Asheville’s then-Mayor Earl Eller and a local attorney, William E. Greene, who was chair of the Asheville Area Council on Human Relations. The report, which was prepared for the N.C. Mayors Cooperating Committee, offers a stark summary of the advances — and ongoing barriers — in the push for desegregation.

That state-level committee was created in 1963 by Gov. Terry Sanford, who grappled with racial progress and unrest at the height of the civil-rights movement. Its objective: to promote an orderly, negotiated end to segregation in the state’s major cities and towns.

The Asheville mayor’s report was one of many sent in from around North Carolina. It reflected fewer problems than were reported in other parts of the state, but still noted that much work remained to be done to ensure equal rights for the town’s black citizens. The document offers a snapshot of the state of civil rights in Asheville, circa 1964.

The information in this report was later used in a book-length, state-published study. As it appears here, it’s in relatively rough form, with hand-written notations added to a previously compiled, typed version. Some highlights from the four-page document:

• Page 1: The bi-racial Asheville Area Council on Human Relations, formed in 1961, endeavored for two years to keep its work promoting desegregation quiet. “From the beginning there was an agreement between the Council and the press, radio, and television not to publicize actions of the Council or results accomplished. This was considered a major contributing factor to the success of the Council. Since June 1963, news media have reported the Council’s actions.”

• Page 2: “Dime stores opened their lunch counters [to black customers] in 1962. Drug stores followed suit after observing the dime and variety stores’ experience of suffering no losses from this procedure. … Motel restaurants have been open for some time. Practically all drive-ins have also been opened. All local cafeterias, as well as restaurants on Tunnel Road have desegregated with practically no exceptions. These were opened through the process of proprietors meeting with the full Council to discuss their desegregation.”

• Page 3: “The public library was deeded to the City with a reversionary clause that should it ever be used by Negroes, it would revert to the donor. For this reason, it is still segregated and the Negroes know of the deed provision and, therefore, have made no demands to be served by the library. There is, however, a desegregated branch of the library in the City.”

• Page 3: “A gradual program of desegregation has worked out for both City and County schools. Asheville-Biltmore College receives qualified Negroes. There have been demands that Negroes be admitted to business colleges where they could acquire the skills needed to better their job positions. The business colleges have responded that they are members of a State organization which follows a policy of excluding Negroes.”

• Page 3-4: “The City owns two swimming pools. Both are desegregated although the tendency is still for the whites to use the previously white pool and the Negroes to use the previously Negro pool.”

• Page 4: A handwritten note says that “there has been only one demonstration in Asheville” — 1962 protests against Winn-Dixie’s personnel practices by members of the Congress on Racial Equality.

Click here to read the document in its entirety, and check back tomorrow for another Sunshine Week offering from The Xpress Files.

— Jon Elliston, managing editor

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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One thought on “Document of the Day: Asheville race relations, 1964

  1. These documents are fascinating, Jon. Thanks for your initiative on this project.

    Does anyone know more about when and how the Library was desegregated? I imagine that’s a story in itself.

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