Year in review: Evolving race relations in Asheville

Quentin Miller swearing in
HAND OF THE LAW: Sheriff Quentin Miller stands with his wife, Karen Sconiers, as he is led in his oath of office by Judge Calvin Hill. Photo by Able Allen

Asheville has gotten whiter over the past two decades. The proportion of African-American residents in the city dropped from 17.6 percent in 2000 to 12.3 percent in 2016, a change city officials attribute to a combination of white influx and black exodus. For the people of color who remained in Asheville, 2018 proved a mixed bag.

  1. Johnnie Jermaine Rush beating scandal: The February leak by the Citizen Times of body camera footage showing a white former Asheville Police Department officer beating a black resident led to widespread criticism of the APD among the black community, as well as the March ouster of former City Manager Gary Jackson. Citizens called for APD Chief Tammy Hooper to resign and demanded changes to policing policies.
  2. Black leadership in local government: At the city level, Sheneika Smith served her first full year with fellow African-American Council member Keith Young, and in October, the body appointed Debra Campbell as Asheville’s first black manager. In county government, Quentin Miller won a definitive victory as Buncombe’s first nonwhite sheriff.
  3. Disparity study shows minority businesses lagging: Completed in November, the city of Asheville’s disparity study found that only 1.6 percent of city government contracts from 2012-17 went to minority-owned businesses. BBC Research and Consulting concluded that there were “substantial disparities” for black, native and Asian American contractors.
  4. Equity and inclusion efforts intensify: Asheville committed roughly $250,000 in its most recent budget to the expansion of its Equity and Inclusion Department, led by director Kimberlee Archie. The city also established the Human Relations Commission of Asheville in June, which Young called “the most important citizen board” at the time.
  5. Black tourism gets a boost: In October, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority pledged $1.6 million in grants to fund projects that will boost the visibility of black Asheville to the city’s visitors. The money includes $800,000 for improvements to the historic YMI Cultural Center and $100,000 for museum-quality exhibits at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center.
  6. UNCA honors groundbreaking black professors: Also in October, UNC Asheville renamed its humanities building as the James & Mullen Humanities Hall, recognizing a quartet of African-American educators who joined the university in 1984. Professors Deborah “Dee” Grier-JamesCharles James, Dwight Mullen and Dolly Jenkins-Mullen were among the school’s first black faculty and helped develop the African-American Colloquium, which supports first-year black students on campus.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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2 thoughts on “Year in review: Evolving race relations in Asheville

  1. jonathan wainscott

    Shout out for the Honorable Judge Calvin Hill! He was appointed to the District 28 bench in 2006 and “won” re-election in 2008 by gaining 100% of the vote in that election, and he won with 100% of the vote in 2012 and 2016. Not a single vote has been cast against him. Now that is some kind of success in the democratic process! That’s like a baseball player pitching a perfect game and batting for the cycle with a grand slam… in every game he’s played in. That’s simply amazing and that level of success shouldn’t be ignored. Oh wait, that’s not a great simile. Baseball players face opponents in their victories. What is the relative validity of an election that offers only one candidate from which to “chose” ?

    • Lulz

      None. But it also applies to one party rule where the differences come down to what you identify as, what famous relative you have, what your sex is, what color your skin is or what non profit you’ve ran. In the end all the policies are the same. It’s just seeing who can get a bigger piece of the pie.

      One particular hotel owner has a conflict of interests with AirBnBs for sure. But conflicts of interests here are the norm. You have another former council member serving in the County board who for all intents and purposes is a crook. And made his living directing public monies to his business or similar ones in his field. Not one call for government to open up the books to satisfy questions about the legitimacy of those dealings. Ignorance is bliss of course.

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