People of African descent have made significant contributions to every aspect of the landscape of the U.S. for centuries, from farming to commercial industry, the arts, politics, medicine and science, sports, media, gastronomy, music and more.
In Asheville, North Carolina—nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just one hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the hills of Western North Carolina, and one of the most spectacular, inviting, and quirky cities in the country—this beautiful cornucopia of influences is still very apparent today, offering unique voices and perspectives of the past, present and future.
The city has an active Asheville's African American Heritage Commission, one of several entities engaged in teaching visitors, as well as locals, about the history, culture, sights, sounds and tastes of the historical black neighborhoods here.
Several tours allow you to step foot, literally and figuratively, into the city and region’s history. Among them is the Hood Huggers Tour, operating under the name Hood Huggers International LLC, whose mission is to build “greater communication, connection and wealth in systemically marginalized neighborhoods in the Affrilachian region through the arts, environment, and social enterprise.”
The organization defines a “Hood Hugger” as anyone who restores themselves while helping to transform their communities for the good of all; and Affrilachian as African Americans living in Appalachia.
Hood Huggers tours (Thursday through Saturday) encompass a Driving Tour extoling the virtues of the Burton St. Community, Downtown and East End Valley, a Downtown Walking Tour, and a Burton Street Walking Tour. They also offer Group Tours on non-tours days, and private tours.
Some of the sights, attractions, businesses and organizations along the tours include the YMI Cultural Center (originally called the Young Men’s Institute) founded in 1893 and tailored toward African-American males to address their business, education and entertainment needs; the Just Folks Organization of Asheville, a non-profit organization focused on preserving black history & culture, and providing community service to inner-city Asheville; Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1880 by freed slaves; Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, a 3.4-acre park dedicated to the memory of the late Civil Rights Leader; and the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens, started in 2003 as a peaceful response to the war in Iraq and the war on drugs in the States.
“The Block off Biltmore” was, from the late 19th century through the early 20th century, was where you could find a virtual black city, complete with its own retail establishments, a boarding house, medical and dental offices, bars, restaurants, and mom ‘n pop eateries, a drug store, library and other entities that represented the center of the African-American community’s business district.
Asheville’s Green Book encompasses the broad expanse of African American historical profiles, businesses, entertainment venues and companies, food purveyors, media, non-profit organizations, social enterprises, stores and shops, visual artists and neighborhood associations dotted throughout the Asheville area.
Hood Huggers has received a wealth of acclaim for their tours and efforts to preserve, protect and strengthen the neighborhoods and history here, and this has continued to spur future planning efforts, including the newly opened The Foundry Hotel, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
A new restaurant paying homage to the African-American culinary traditions called Iron & Clay, created by Asheville’s most nominated James Beard chef, John Fleer, who also operates Rhubarb and The Rhu, two of Asheville’s finest restaurants, is set to open here soon as well.
Asheville’s African American history is just one vibrant part of what makes Asheville one of the best places to live and a major draw for tourists from all over the world.
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