By Emma Castleberry
In the summer of 2019, a coalition of community organizations came together with the goal of acknowledging and remembering individuals who were lynched in Buncombe County through the Buncombe Community Remembrance Project. This coalition, led by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, is part of the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
The EJI reports that more than 4,400 African American men, women and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. In Buncombe County, there are three confirmed public lynchings on record: that of John Humphreys (7/15/1888), Hezekiah Rankin (9/24/1891) and Bob Brackett (8/11/1897). “A goal of the Buncombe Community Remembrance Project is to highlight the historical narrative pertaining to racial violence in America,” says Dr. Joseph Fox, vice president of the MLK Association and chair of the project. While historical truth is an important part of the approach, the project is also intended to heal modern traumas experienced as a result of Jim Crow Era practices, mass incarceration, police brutality and contemporary racial violence. “The current social and political climate has focused attention on the early roots of discrimination and white supremacy,” says Fox. “These acts of violence and microaggressions have moved out of the shadows of covert denials of employment, housing and loans into more overt behavior.”
The coalition is organized into several workgroups that will tackle different areas of the project. The Museums Tour Workgroup will arrange for community partners and stakeholders to visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The Lynching Research Workgroup will continue to research known lynchings in the county, as well as other possible lynchings yet to be unearthed, partnering with college and university students and living members of the community who have experienced racial violence. Another workgroup will be responsible for the Racial Justice Essay Competition available to public high school students in grades nine through 12. Other groups will work on communications, compliance, educational outreach, logistics and community engagement. Interested individuals are invited to volunteer for workgroup participation.
The coalition hopes to raise $80,000 to implement the project and accomplish these broad community goals. In September, the coalition opened a charitable fund at The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC), and CFWNC has committed to match the first $10,000 in contributions to the fund.
“This is not based on building guilt,” says Ron Katz, co-chair of the Communications and Public Relations Workgroup for the project. “It is based on having a true understanding of the history of Buncombe County. We can’t go back and change things, but we can learn about it, and we can do everything in our power to repair what occurred and have a true history of it.”