Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and Asheville Black Lives Matter regarding the vandalism at the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site.
The holiday season is generally a time of celebration for residents of Western North Carolina — a chance to come together and enjoy the arrival of winter, observe religious holy days and welcome a new year.
In 2017, however, the political and racial turmoil that has captured headlines for much of the year is making its presence felt this holiday season, as several recent incidents across WNC illustrate.
In Haywood County, attendees at the town of Canton’s Christmas parade on Dec. 7 were met with a new display that had nothing to do with the holidays. According to a resident who attended the parade and spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, the parade route down Canton’s Main Street was speckled with recruitment flyers for Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group that has ramped up its activities in the region lately.
In March, Western Carolina University’s campus was peppered with the group’s recruitment flyers; on Aug. 21, incoming students at Appalachian State University in Boone were greeted by an Identity Evropa banner hung from a bridge above Rivers Street as they arrived on campus for the new semester. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Identity Evropa as a white nationalist group with an estimated several hundred members across the country.
At UNC Asheville, recruitment flyers for the group were found on campus earlier this fall. Now, it appears the group has expanded to efforts to small-town holiday parades.
According to Xpress’ source, the Canton Police Department has been alerted about the flyers. Flyers could still be found hanging along the parade route in Canton several days after the parade. The Canton Police Department did not respond to Xpress’ requests for comment. Efforts to reach a representative with Identity Evropa for comment were not successful.
Polarizing historic site draws graffiti
Meanwhile, in Buncombe County, dawn rose on Dec. 9 to reveal more than a fresh blanket of snow at the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site near Weaverville. The side of a building was graffitied with the words, “Black Lives Matter,” according to a separate anonymous report to Xpress.
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement regarding the incident:
“Saturday, December 9, 2017 at approximately 9:55 a.m., the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office was contacted reporting vandalism at Vance Birthplace. Sheriff’s deputies went to the site and found ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted in red on the original home place structure.”
The case remains under investigation, according to the sheriff’s department. Anyone with information regarding the incident is encouraged to call the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office at 828-250-6670 or Asheville-Buncombe Crime Stoppers at 828-255-5050.
Sharon Smith, a member of the Asheville Black Lives Matter education committee, says no members of Asheville BLM were involved in the vandalism at the Vance Birthplace. “We are more interested in policy change than making public spectacles,” she says.
The incident comes as the historic site was set to host a performance of “An Appalachian Christmas Carol,” developed in tandem with the Asheville-based American Myth Center. The program puts a spin on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol by telling the story through the eyes of Venus, an enslaved servant of the Vance family, and other enslaved persons who lived on the site, with Zebulon Vance in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The Vance Birthplace posted on the afternoon of Dec. 9 that performances of “An Appalachian Christmas Carol” were rescheduled to Friday-Saturday, Jan. 19-20 due to inclement weather.
East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Steven Nash, who has written extensively on Reconstruction and the history of race relations in Southern Appalachia, says the vandalism detracts from efforts like “An Appalachian Christmas Carol” to tell the story of the African-Americans who lived there. He encourages the community to consider the important role the Vance Birthplace played in local African-American history. “The African Americans who lived at the site now known as the Zebulon Vance Birthplace do matter,” says Nash. “Zebulon Vance may have been born there, but he moved away when he would have barely been out of diapers. The site is not, and cannot, be accurately and fully interpreted from Zeb Vance’s perspective.”
Rather, the site speaks to the complex legacy of the enslaved people who made the farm successful. “Their lives are a central component of the daily interpretation of the site,” adds Nash. “‘Black Lives Matter’ and black history matters; so does the history of Zebulon Vance’s family and the larger historical context in which they all lived. Those histories are deeply intertwined. I would encourage people to visit the site, hear the stories of all the men and women who breathed life into that place, and ask questions.”
Historic sites and monuments dedicated to Vance — who served part of his long political career as Confederate governor of North Carolina during the Civil War and espoused a white supremacist view of African-Americans throughout his life — and other Confederate officials have come under fire across the state this year. Protesters have called for the removal or recasting of Confederate monuments located on public property and universities. In several instances, protesters have defaced or attempted to remove various monuments.
“It’s sad anytime something like this happens at a historic site,” says Neel Lattimore, director of communications for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, noting that his agency is working with the police to find those responsible for the graffiti.
“We should be able to express ourselves without damaging property,” Lattimore says. “We’re smarter and we’re better than this. Hopefully, we can put an end to this kind of behavior.”
This is a developing story. Check back at Mountainx.com for updates.
Have any tips or information regarding this story? Please contact Xpress at firstname.lastname@example.org.