Third Annual African Americans in WNC Conference Scheduled for Oct. 27-30 at YMI Cultural Center and UNC Asheville


The third annual African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference will be held Oct. 27-30, 2016 at the YMI Cultural Center and UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center. Conference activities are free and open to everyone, and they include an evening reception on Oct. 27, panel discussions and documentary films on Oct. 28, and Buncombe County’s celebration of “Unsung Heroes” on Oct. 30.

The conference starts on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the YMI Cultural Center with a 6:30 p.m. reception and special presentation for community service, followed by a keynote speaker for The Jesse and Julia Ray Lecture.

Friday, Oct. 28 will feature panel discussions in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center, as well as invited presentations introducing two documentary film projects. The films will include Beneath the Veneer, which explores race, class and income mobility by taking a glimpse beneath the veneer of life in a progressive, affluent, Southern city as seen through the eyes of its "invisible black boys," and Testify Beyond Place, a documentary film that pays homage to the Mount Zion AME Zion Church and its relationship to Western Carolina University.

UNC Asheville also will plant and dedicate a tree in memory of Don Locke, at 5:15 p.m. at Karpen Garden on campus. Locke, an author, education advocate and longtime champion for diversity, served as director of Diversity and Multiculturalism at UNC Asheville. He also served as director of the Asheville Graduate Center and director of the NC State University doctoral program in Adult and Community College Education at the Asheville Graduate Center. Locke passed away in June 2016.

Buncombe County’s celebration of “Unsung Heroes” will be held on Sunday, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m. in Lipinsky Hall on UNC Asheville’s campus. This inaugural event recognizes African American and Latino leaders in the community and is sponsored by Buncombe County Health & Human Services, in addition to UNC Asheville. The emcees for the celebration will be Kahlani Jackson, Miss Asheville 2016, and Alejandro Adron. The house band for Unsung Heroes will be led by Terry Letman, and the celebration will include storytelling, music, and dancing.

“The university is pleased to host this third conference on the history of African Americans in Western North Carolina,” said Darin Waters, assistant professor of history and conference organizer. “From its inception, the goal of the conference has been to raise awareness about the presence, and contributions of African Americans to the history and development of this region of our state and nation. This year’s conference will be provide further evidence of how this goal continues to be met. We are excited about the broad range of scholarship that is being done on the historical experiences of African Americans in this region.”    

Conference Events for Thursday, Oct. 27

DeWayne Barton, founder and CEO of Hood Huggers International, will be honored during the evening reception. Barton is a sculptor and poet who combines his creative practice with community activism.  His mixed-media, found-art installations have been featured at Duke University, Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art, Upstairs Gallery in Tryon, N.C., and August Wilson Center for African American culture in Pittsburgh as part of the exhibition Common Ground: Affrilachia! Where I’m From.

His company, Hood Huggers International, offers sustainable strategies for building support pillars for resilient historically African American neighborhoods, providing a framework for community capacity building while increasing the effectiveness of existing service programs. Barton also is co-founder of the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens and serves on the African American Heritage Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County, is a founding member of CoThinkk and Everybody’s Environment. He is the co-founder of Green Opportunities, a job training program designed to prepare Asheville-area youth and adults for “green-collar” careers.

A native of Asheville, Barton grew up in Washington, D.C. and is a Gulf War Veteran. He attended Norfolk State University from 1996-1999, majoring in social work. He is the author of two books of poetry, Urban Nightmare Silent Screams and Return to Burton Street, and has been involved in community improvement and youth development for over 20 years.

Conference Events for Friday, Oct. 28

The morning panel begins at 9 a.m.:

  • Diane Tower-Jones and Sekou Coleman, independent producers: “Beneath The Veneer: A Documentary Film Project on the African American Experience in the Appalachian City of Asheville, North Carolina”
  • Phil Jamison, coordinator of Warren Wilson College Appalachian Music Program: “African Americans and Mountain Dance Traditions in Western North Carolina”
  • Forrest Gray Yerman, graduate student at Appalachian State University: “Exhuming Boone’s Past: American Segregation in Life and Death”

The afternoon panel starts at 1 p.m. and is followed by a closing reception at 5 p.m.:

  • Katherine Cutshall, UNC Asheville graduate and local history docent, and Catherine Amos, UNC Asheville history student: “Sarah Gudger’s Journey to Freedom: A Digital History Project/Exhibition”
  • Doris Davenport, educator, literary and performance poet with ten published books: “Beauty, Passion & Integrity: Cultural Heritage of Black Appalachia”
  • Enkeshi Thom, doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville: “Black Knoxville: At The Intersection of Race and Region”
  • Marie Cochran, artist and founding curator of The Affrilachian Artist Project: “Testify Beyond Place: A Documentary Film Project”

The conference is sponsored by UNC Asheville, including the Deans of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Howerton Professor of Humanities, NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, History Department, Humanities Program, Africana Studies Program, Office of the Provost, and the Center for Diversity Education. Conference partners include The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, The YMI Cultural Center, African American Heritage Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County, CoThinkk Giving Circle, Date My City and Hood Huggers International.

Additional Information

Conference-goers are also invited to an exhibit from the Isaiah Rice Photograph Collection, titled The Way We Were, on display at WCQS, Western North Carolina Public Radio, through November. WCQS is located at 73 Broadway, Asheville, and the exhibition is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The full collection contains more than 1,000 images taken by Isaiah Rice, which were donated to UNC Asheville’s Special Collections by Rice’s daughter Marian R. Waters. The exhibition is curated by the photographer’s grandson Darin Waters, assistant professor of history, and Gene Hyde, head of Special Collections at UNC Asheville. The photographs document Asheville’s African-American community from the 1950s through the 1970s, with many on display for the first time. The collection was unveiled on Oct. 23, 2015 at the second annual African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference at UNC Asheville. The 2016 exhibit is sponsored by The McClure Fund, Troy & Sons, and UNC Asheville.

For more information, contact Jo Steininger, UNC Asheville Department of History, 828-251-6415 or