Asheville, N.C., Moves to Address Reparations for Its Black Residents

By Shani Saxon Jul 17, 2020

Asheville, North Carolina’s city council on Tuesday (July 14) voted unanimously to approve a Reparations Resolution to address the issue of redress to its Black residents, NPR reports. All seven city officials agreed to apologize for the Asheville’s role in slavery and “for participating in racist and discriminatory policies that have led to the continued oppression of African Americans,” according to NPR. It continues: 

The slave economy and complete subjugation of Black people in Asheville are inextricably linked to the region’s financial success and growth. In 1860, on the brink of the civil war, there were 1,907 slaves and 283 slave owners in Buncombe County at a time when the total population was 12,654, according to records collected by the Buncombe County Public Library system. Only about 111 Black people lived out of bondage.

Councilman Keith Young, a chief advocate for the resolution and one of two Black members of the Asheville City Council, spoke to NPR about what truly made this resolution possible. "The blood capital that we have banked to spend today to fight for significant change came predominantly not from our allies but from Black men, women and children who died," he said. 

In addition to aiming to repent for the sins of slavery, this resolution seeks to address injustices like the “systemic issues of segregation and exclusion,” according to NPR. Black people "have been unjustly targeted by law enforcement and criminal justice procedures, incarcerated at disproportionate rates and subsequently excluded from full participation in the benefits of citizenship that include voting, employment, housing and health care,” the resolution states. 

One concrete goal is for the city manager to find ways to create “generational wealth and to boost economic mobility and opportunity in the [Black] community,” NPR reports continuing: 

Within the next year, the city council commits to convening a commission to examine how to create equity among the city’s Black residents on issues including education, public transportation and home ownership.

Rob Thomas, a community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition, which led the push for reparations, explained to NPR that the reparations mentioned in the resolution don’t specifically refer to monetary payments to Black residents. Instead, they will focus on creating financial investments in various community programs. The resolution is "asking you to look at the facts, and saying, yeah, this happened. … This many people died. This much money was taken out of the Black community and it would equal this much today," Thomas told NPR. 

"We’re asking for people to do what is right," he said. 

Kimberlee Archie, Asheville’s Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, told Colorlines that she and her team have been working for two years to get the mayor and city council of Asheville to apologize "for the harm and trauma heaped on Black people in Asheville."

"I am hopeful that the Reparations Resolution is a beginning step of acknowledging the harm and trauma inflicted on Black people, that a focus of racial healing will come about, and that City government along with other anchor institutions that have a role in Black lives will come along to transform our systems and structures to work for Black people to thrive," Archie said. "We all won’t be free until Black people are free. And until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter."