In the Quest for Reparations, Asheville, North Carolina Leads the Way

With the protest movement across the world now at a simmer, Asheville, North Carolina has taken the first step in true equality.

The City Council apologized for the city’s historic role in slavery, discrimination and denial of basic liberties to Black residents; then they voted ‘YES’ to reparations.

It has always been the final and most crucial component of the plight for equality and social justice in America. However, there has always been a roadblock in the conversation about repaying the debt owed to the descendants of the formerly enslaved.

However, from this point on the history books will reflect that Asheville, North Carolina led the way with a 7-0 vote on the night of July 14.

“‘Hundreds of years of black blood spilled that basically fills the cup we drink from today,’ said Councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the body and the measure’s chief proponent.

‘It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with issues that are systemic in nature,’ Young said.”

How Does it Work?

Of course, everyone wants to know how it works as this could be the template for additional cities across the country.

First, the unanimously passed resolution does not mandate direct payments. Instead, it will make investments in areas where Black residents face disparities.

“The resulting budgetary and programmatic priorities may include but not be limited to increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice,” the resolution reads.

The resolution calls on the city to create the Community Reparations Commission and invited community groups and other local governments to join.

It will be the commission’s job to make concrete recommendations for programs and resources to be used. This is in response to a backlash from non-Black residents.

The council had gotten emails from those “asking, ‘Why should we pay for what happened during slavery?'” said Councilwoman Sheneika Smith to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“(Slavery) is this institution that serves as the starting point for the building of the strong economic floor for white America, while attempting to keep Blacks subordinate forever to its progress,” said Smith.

A History of Trauma

Back in August 2017 in Asheville, Johnnie Rush was going home from a long shift at a Cracker Barrel restaurant when he was assaulted by police for simply jaywalking.

The brutal attack was caught on body cam and showed Officer Christopher Hickman beating Rush in the face repeatedly and choking him.

His cries of, “I can’t breathe” were ignored and he almost became another victim of police brutality.

Hickman resigned from the police force in January 2018 and all charges against Rush — impeding traffic, trespassing, assault on a government official and resisting a public officer — were ultimately dropped.

In 2009, local historian Terrell T. Garren compiled the report Slavery, Civil War and Freedom: A Period Study of African Americans from Buncombe County, Henderson County and Madison County, North Carolina for The Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville. The study includes 1860 census records for the three counties. According to these records, Buncombe County had 1,907 slaves and 283 slave owners, Henderson County had 1,371 slaves and 207 slave owners, and Madison County had 213 slaves and 46 slave owners.

Among Buncombe’s 283 slave owners, 54 owned 10 or more enslaved people. Nicholas Washington Woodfin topped the county’s list at 122.

In Henderson County, which at that time included today’s Transylvania County, 38 slave owners owned 10 or more enslaved people. Daniel Blake topped the county’s list at 59.

Finally, in Madison County, five slave owners owned 10 or more slaves. J.A. Gudger topped the county’s list at 22.

Asheville understands that it has to make amends for its past and hopefully that will be the spar the country needs to move towards equality in the wealth department nationwide

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