Tuesday History: Controversy surrounds the merger of YWCA’s two branches, 1970

TEN YEARS LATER: The YWCA Grove Street branch merged with its South Slope division in 1971. This photo, taken at the organization's annual meeting was captured in 1981. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville's Special Collections

On Sept. 24, 1970, the Asheville Citizen reported the impending closure of the Grove Street YWCA, the local chapter’s historically white branch. Due to rising costs associated with maintaining two separate buildings, the board of trustees and board of directors of the Asheville YWCA decided to merge its Grove Street branch with the historically black, South French Broad division. The closure was scheduled for Dec. 31, 1970.

Despite the prior integration of the two branches in 1963, the news of the merger was met with some opposition. On Oct. 24, 1970, Virginia Bailey, president of the Asheville YWCA, shared with the Asheville Citizen the most common complaint the organization received following the announcement: “‘We want our white Y; it is as important to us as the South French Broad branch is to the blacks.’” In the article, Bailey goes on to express her confusion over the complaint, noting that the South French Broad location had more white attendees than black.

In an Oct. 5, 1970 letter to the YWCA, which can be found at the D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections at UNC Asheville, Shirley J. Dobbs shares her concern about the merger of the two branches:

“Having been a participant in numerous activities of the YWCA in the past, I would like to go on record as strongly protesting the recent action of the Board of Trustees — to close the Grove Street facilities at the end of this year.

It is not logical to my way of thinking to do away with a swimming pool which gave pleasure to 13,000 people last year and then have to replace swimming facilities at the higher cost of construction which prevails. If, as has been stated in the paper, the goal of the ‘Y’ has been to have only one unit, then Grove Street should not be the loser. I have been under the impression that the South French Broad unit was conceived as a ‘branch’ to complement rather than replace existing programs of the ‘Y.’

If the Board goes ahead with the above mentioned plans — you can certainly say this is a step backward for Asheville, and the families which the ‘Y’ has always served.”

Also found at the UNC Asheville Special Collections is a letter written in favor of the merger by Gayle C. Schucker, penned on Nov. 2, 1970:

“For those persons who feel that the closing of the Grove Street YWCA will be a great loss to the city of Asheville and that its present programs will suffer, I would like to point out some of the advantages, and dispel some of the misconceptions that seem to be causing the current controversy.

First, it seems economically feasible to have one central YWCA which will prevent having to maintain staff for two separate buildings. Staff members at the South French Broad Y frequently work long hours in order to have the building open for evening programs. A combined staff would allow for additional evenings and additional programs to be housed there.

There is enough space and actually ideal facilities for all programs to be continued, both those presently at the South French Broad and those at Grove Street. This includes the nursery that many of us use and enjoy. An indoor swimming pool is definitely planned to be built on the grounds at the South French Broad Y. The present pool is certainly not ideal and is constantly in need of repair.

If there are those who have racial feelings regarding the closing of the Grove Street, they should know that South French Broad is not, and has not for a long time been a ‘black Y.’ The irony of it is that many of the programs at South French Broad are being attended by predominately whites. I feel that many unique and enjoyable programs are being offered regularly to the public, and I hope that more people, black and white, will take advantage. The reasonable membership fees make this possible, for everyone. I personally feel a sense of community at the South French Broad Y that is significant to me.”

A petition was signed on Nov. 12, 1970 by 2,500 people who were opposed to the combination of the two branches. Their petition stated:

“We, the undersigned, protest the decision to close the Grove Street branch of the Asheville Y.W.C.A. We feel that the Health Education program, especially the swimming, provides needed year round instruction in recreational skills for the community and that this need will not be provided at the South French Broad Avenue branch, due to its lack of facilities and central location. Furthermore, we do not feel that Asheville can support an additional drive for building funds at this time.”

Despite the petition, the Grove Street YWCA closed at the end of 1970 and all activities and programs were offered at the fully integrated South French Broad location.

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