UNC Asheville and the YMI Cultural Center will host the inaugural African-Americans in Western North Carolina conference Thursday-Friday, Oct.23-24. Organizers say the free event invites the public to hear scholars from universities throughout the region discuss a historical narrative that has been largely overlooked.
The conference will include lectures on the regional effects of slavery and emancipation, Jim Crow-era segregation, the Civil Rights movement and urban renewal. Darin Waters, assistant professor of history at UNCA and the event’s principle organizer, says the conferences’ speakers include “pioneers” of researching the African-American experience in WNC.
“We believe this event will raise awareness about this history, but we also want to stimulate further exploration of these issues by other people — not just academics and scholars,” Waters said. “We would like to see people exploring other dimensions of the African-American experience, not just in Western North Carolina, but in the state and in Southern Appalachia.”
The conference will commence with a keynote address by James Ferguson, a civil rights activist and founding member of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, which led desegregation efforts in Asheville in the 1960s.
Additional speakers include Sarah Judson, associate professor of history at UNCA, and Andrea Clark, who created the Twilight of a Neighborhood photography project that examined urban renewal in Asheville’s East End neighborhood. Scholars from East Tennessee State University, Clemson University and the University of Georgia will also speak.
Waters adds that the conference will not only examine the historic record, but will explore issues that are relevant to the African-American community in the present day. “We want this community, and all communities, to know that the research we’re doing at UNCA will be of interest to them and relevant to their experience,” he said.
The keynote and opening reception will be held Thursday, Oct. 23, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the YMI Cultural Center. Lectures run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24, in UNCA’s Sherrill Center, with a two-hour break for lunch. Waters said participants may attend individual lectures if they are unable to stay for the entire conference.