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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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-James, Charles 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.