Letter writer: As in South Carolina, demands of marketplace destroy African-Americans’ historical legacy

Graphic by Lori Deaton

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
UNC Asheville

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3 thoughts on “Letter writer: As in South Carolina, demands of marketplace destroy African-Americans’ historical legacy

  1. AVL LVR

    Actually, I would have thought the low-country whites thought all the land belonged to them and that the blacks were only living there because they allowed it. They brought them there and they could remove them anytime. Seriously, though, we are now in the 21st century. Its time we stopped segregating ourselves. “Blacks” will be free to use this hotel. Really though, a colorblind society doesn’t go by black or white or African or European but American.

    • AVL LVR

      Dwight B. Mullen surely makes enough $$ to stay at Hilton Head Island and “The Block” anytime he likes unlike most of us whites.

  2. Curious

    Are there still African-American owners of property on The Block? Are local African-American leaders involved in the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation? Or have white people taken over that effort? This reader is not clear what Professor Mullen is advocating. That The Block stay undeveloped and in a state of decay? Could Daryl Hart or Marvin Chambers or other black leaders respond to Professor Mullen and clarify for MountainXpress readers?

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