WNC’s Slaveholding Past


Deborah Miles is the Director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, and she sent me a message about the emergence of a powerful and important resource:

On Saturday, Sept. 22 another historic milestone will take place with the 150th anniversary of the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.
As part of the local commemoration, the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville has worked with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds to provide accessibility to the slave deeds that are a part of the documents in the historic collection.
Andrea Clark, the granddaughter of James Vester Miller who was enslaved in WNC, shares, “It is very important to see where you came from to know where you are going. History has been kept from African Americans and now we are learning more about our heritage. Our ancestors were strong, honorable, caring, and decent people who wanted the best for their community.”

Priscilla Ndiaye, chair of the Southside Advisory Board, adds, “As a matter of respect for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the foundation for the Civil Rights movement, public access to the slave Bills of Sale for Asheville could not have happened at a better time. The value of historical records is immeasurable. Historical records help one to identify areas for improvement and it also gives way to identity. Having insight into the life and development of the African-American population in Asheville grants the opportunity for broader understanding of our connection and value.

For many African Americans, slave deeds are among a precious few types of records that contain the names of their ancestors, giving descendants an opportunity to locate their families in a place and time, confirm the names of former owners, and in some cases document records of their family units. While I know from experience that there is a particular kind of sadness in finding your ancestors listed as pieces of property, there is often a great deal of joy in being able to find their names at all. In addition, for descendants of the named slaveholders, these records offer a look at a facet of their ancestor’s lives, and a past that may not have been widely known. For any student of history with an interest in WNC’s slaveholding past, these records shine a light on the dark reality of slaveholding in this area of the state. Having the ability to access them digitally offers a new way to explore our history that in the past would have taken a great deal more time and effort. In addition, these fragile documents will now be protected from the damage made by repeated handling. Thanks to all who helped make this possible.”

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