There is much to be learned by closely observing others. Asheville and South Carolina have associations that date back to the antebellum era. South Carolina enslavers found the mountains in Western North Carolina to be a relief from the oppressive heat and fevers associated with summertime in the low country. Vacations in the mountains meant transferring households, including the enslaved, to a more moderate environment.
Fast-forward to 2015: Gentrification and the transfer of wealth continue with a few modern differences. Real estate, then as now, continues as a sound investment for securing the status of elites. Rather than enslavement and forced migration, today we find the flip side of that coin to resemble some of what is happening to African-Americans in Asheville today.
Market forces, then and now, are difficult to resist. In South Carolina, many spaces that are now attractive to world-class golfers, island lovers, beachgoers and town dwellers once belonged to the formerly enslaved Gullah people. Hilton Head Island is one such example. Local government and developers worked hand in hand to replace the local people with a wealthier class. As land values increased, taxes did too. Black people were forced out of their homes and businesses as they accepted offers on property that had once been their community. Who would suspect today that it was part of what was once known as “Little Africa”?
Who will know that Eagle/Market Street was once the heart of black Asheville? As Asheville officials fold to the demands of a marketplace that “develops” as it simultaneously destroys historical legacy, should it surprise anyone that housing, too, follows this path? Why be racially exclusive when even more money can be made when the areas of poor and middle- and working-class whites are included? Maybe the South Carolinians who bought “The Block” have a story to tell us all.
— Dwight B. Mullen
Professor of Political Science