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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
Dawn Trowell Jones updated their profile
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Will Harris, race relations, and Thomas Wolfe--eye-opening programs

Harris murders and Wolfe story inspire look at race in Asheville

by Rob Neufeld


            In the anthology, “Race in Appalachia,” African-American scholar Darin Water notes, John Inscoe, the editor, “points out that, although we’ve had increasingly more research done recently on African-Americans in Southern Appalachia, the one thing that is missing are their voices.”

            One of the places where some of their voices do emerge is in a pubic repudiation of the murders committed by Will Harris, a black man who, on Nov. 13, 1906, killed five men around Pack Square, fled, and died in a posse’s barrage.

            The incident haunted Thomas Wolfe, who struggled for years with how to present it as, in the view of Wolfe scholars, his awareness of race relations matured.

            When “The Saturday Evening Post” published “The Child by Tiger,” Wolfe’s story based on the event, in its Sept. 11, 1937 issue, “a thrilled Wolfe danced around like a wet Russian bear,” notes Joanne Marshall Mauldin, author of “Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin?” and other Wolfe books.

“Often they would turn and come again,” Wolfe’s narrator says of the characters involved in the tragedy, “these faces and these voices of the past, and burn there in my memory.”

            The African-American community does not talk much about Will Harris, Waters says.  Its leaders at the time published a resolution that “commend(ed) our white fellow citizens for the absence of any and everything that could suggest in the least degree feelings against us as a race.”

            Asheville, a tourist town, played down fears.

            It seems to have been a missed opportunity, in some ways, for, as Wolfe illustrated, Harris, whose fictional representation he named Dick Prosser, reflected the unbearable pressure put upon African-Americans seeking dignity, as with Richard Wright’s “Native Son.”

            Waters and Mauldin address the stories and the Asheville context of Harris and Prosser in a series of programs at the YMI and Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Nov.27 and Nov. 29.


What we know


            Karen Loughmiller, organizer of the program for Buncombe County Libraries, has discovered that someone named Will Harris, not long before the shooting spree, had filed a suit against Hans Rees Tannery in Asheville for non-payment of wages.

            It is not known if that is the same Will Harris.  If it had been, it would have marked him as a trouble-maker in the racial climate of the day. 

            Oral history adds more.  Waters has talked with “Urban News” publisher Johnnie Grant, and “she had heard, growing up, that Will Harris may have been like the character Thomas Wolfe creates…a former military man.”  Black soldiers “came back from fighting wars for democracy and freedom and recognized that they didn’t have that here.”

            Bob Terrell, in his book, “The Will Harris Murders,” identifies Harris as an escapee from a convict work gang, who had come to Asheville from Charlotte, and gotten drunk over a girl.

            Loughmiller points out that we don’t even know if the man whose bullet-riddled body was displayed in a South Main Street funeral home had been Will Harris.  There had been no trial.

            We do know that an African-American man walked from an Eagle Street house to Pack Square and killed five people, including police officer Charles Blackstock and patrolman James Bailey.   And we do know that African-American leaders distanced themselves from the horror at a time when hate-crimes against black citizens were common occurrences.


What they knew


            Around the time of the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, in which many African-Americans were killed, the Asheville Citizen published a political cartoon featuring a vampire-like African-American demon bearing down on a cringing white woman.

            In 1900, in New Orleans, a posse hunted and gunned down Robert Charles, who’d killed a police officer in self-defense, according to current accounts, after the officer had begun rousting Charles, a black man, from a stoop in a white neighborhood.

            Two months before the Will Harris murders, several African-Americans were killed in the Atlanta Race Riots, fomented by a gubernatorial campaign which sought to disenfranchise black voters and that broadcast stories of rape of white women by black men.

            “Some of dese days yo’all gwine be free, just like de white folks,” an old woman told Old Fort slave Sarah Gudger on their plantation before the Civil War.  Gudger at age 121 recorded her story for the Federal Writers’ Project in 1937.

            “But we all laugh at her,” Gudger related.  “No, we just slaves,” she said, “We always have to work and never be free.”


Bringing it up to date


            The disillusionment that has followed Emancipation, Reconstruction, world wars, and Civil Rights has been fierce for African-Americans, Waters affirms.

            Isolation and invisibility in the Asheville community remains a strategy for African-Americans in the wake or urban renewal and in the context of disproportionate arrest rates, poverty levels, unemployment, low-wage employment, and high school dropout rates.

            “Survival mechanisms can become impediments,” Waters notes.

            Great-grandson, on his father’s side, of a freeman from Edneyvillle; grandson, on his mother’s side, of Burton Street world travelers, Waters, born and raised in Shiloh, had laid low at T.C. Roberson High School.  “I was invisible,” he says.

            It wasn’t until he attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and N.C. State University, where he got his Masters degree, that he began developing his interest in the social, economic, and political development of the black community in Asheville.

            “Life beneath the Veneer” is the title of his Ph.D. thesis, completed at UNC Chapel Hill, with the encouragement of Harry Watson, Director of the Center for the Study of the American South, and the late John Hope Franklin, author of “From Slavery to Freedom.”

            At the graduation ceremonies this May, Waters relates, “there was (an African-American) family from Memphis, Tenn. who was there to see their daughter receive her Ph.D. in chemistry.  They waited outside the Dean Smith Center because they wanted to meet me.  They said, ‘We just want to know if you saw what we saw today.  You were the only African-American male (out of about 300 graduates) to get a Ph.D., and we just want to congratulate you for that.”

            Waters had felt guilt pursuing his achievement, for it took him away from his wife and two sons, but now feels that he has done for his sons “what my grandparents created for me.”



Scholars Joanne Mauldin and Darin Waters at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.  Courtesy Thomas Wolfe Memorial.



“Race, Truth, and Fiction in Thomas Wolfe’s ‘The Child by Tiger,” features Dr. Darin Waters of the History Department at UNCA presenting “African-American Survival Strategies in Asheville.” 6:30 p.m., Nov. 27, at the YMI Cultural Center; and Wolfe scholar Joanne Mauldin presenting “Thomas Wolfe and Race:  An Unfound Door?” 6:30 p.m., Nov. 29 at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

Free copies of “The Child by Tiger” are available at Buncombe County Public Libraries and at The Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

The Thomas Wolfe Memorial hosts a Reader’s Theatre production of “The Child by Tiger,” Thursday.  Tickets are $5.00 and can be picked up at the Memorial.  A related exhibit is also on display.

The reading and discussion series, sponsored by Buncombe County Public Libraries and The Thomas Wolfe Memorial, has been made possible in part by a grant from the NC Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit and an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Additional sponsors of the programs include The YMI, The Friends of Mountain History, and The Urban News.

For more information, call the library at 250-4740.

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