History and news: Writer Thomas Calder reflects on 2019

THE PAST IN MIND: Writer and historian Thomas Calder keeps the past alive with his weekly column, "Asheville Archives." Photo by Deborah Robertson

What trends did you notice in your 2019 news coverage?

Perhaps not surprisingly, much of my attention focused on local history. Outside of my weekly column, “Asheville Archives,” I also previewed a number of events, exhibits and grant initiatives related to our region’s history. The North Carolina Room at Pack Library featured prominently in many of these stories. This year, the special collections team conducted a series of research projects concerning Asheville’s African American history (avl.mx/5vr and avl.mx/6rr). The N.C. Room also celebrated the publication of its book Hidden History of Asheville (avl.mx/6d3).

How would you characterize the city based on your news coverage this year?

First, as noted above, we’ve got a very dedicated group of individuals and organizations committed to preserving, researching and promoting the region’s past — be it new books by local historians including Daniel Pierce (avl.mx/6rs) and Bruce Johnson (avl.mx/66y) or ongoing community projects from organizations like The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County, Hood Huggers International and the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center (to name only a few). Second, based on my reporting on both mass incarceration and the Christopher Hickman plea deal (avl.mx/6li), I would say our community is interested in policing and criminal justice reform.

What stories uplifted you in 2019?

In May, for our spring nonprofit issue, I reported on the new nonprofit WNC Superheroes, which raises funds to cover unanticipated expenses incurred by community members in distress. Since its launch in January, it has distributed over $19,000 to community members in crisis (avl.mx/6rt).

I was also impressed by Youth Arts Empowerment, a free arts program led by local artist Cleaster Cotton. Taking place in the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center, the program serves students 11-17 years old. This past February, Cotton’s latest group of students presented and sold their works at Pink Dog Creative Gallery (avl.mx/5qs).

Which Asheville Archives was the most interesting to research?

I had a blast learning about Ida Jolly Crawley, who owned and operated the House of Pan: Museum of Art and Archaeology from 1919-1946. I don’t often get out in the field when I’m researching my articles. (I’m usually either scouring newspapers.com or pestering the ever-kind and endlessly patient staff at the N.C. Room at Pack Library). But for this piece, I visited Crawley’s former domicile and museum, which Howard Hanger (founder of the interfaith Jubilee! Community) purchased in 1973. Howard took me on a tour of many of the home’s 25 rooms. Amazingly, many of Crawley’s original paintings still line the walls (avl.mx/65w).

Which story/topic from 2019 do you anticipate revisiting in 2020?

I have a pretty strong hunch that I’ll be following up on the progress of Christopher Hickman’s restorative justice plea deal.

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