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Buncombe County Commissioners Approve Their Own Reparations Resolution

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio

Buncombe County commissioners Tuesday evening approved a resolution supporting reparations for the Black community in the county.  The resolution – passed on a 4-3 party line vote - does not create a commission to determine what reparations will be like the city of Asheville OK’d last month.  

The county reparations resolution (read here) instead reaffirms the priority of racial equity in Buncombe County’s strategic plan, which was passed last year.  Commissioner Al Whitesides noted the resolution does not mean direct payments will be made to the descendants of enslaved people, something many county residents inquired about before the vote.  "Any African American, just one family, for what they've gone through for generations...money won't repay it," the board's lone Black member said before the vote.  "But we can put in place the laws, and do the things that will level the playing field, like we are doing in our strategic plan."

Whitesides and his three Democratic colleagues voted for the resolution.  Republican Anthony Penland and his two GOP colleagues voted against it.  Penland said with strategic plan having been approved last year, he felt the resolution wasn’t needed.  "I don't need another piece of paper to tell me what we've already voted on," said Penland.  "We need to move forward, and let the past be the past, and make sure that all Buncombe County residents have the same opportunity."

The Buncombe County resolution does formally apologize for slavery, the county’s enforcement of racist and segregationist policies, and the Urban Renewal Program that devastated Black neighborhoods nearly 50 years ago.  It also allows for the county to appoint members to the Community Reparations Commission the city of Asheville created when city council approved its own reparations resolution last month(read city resolution here).  That commission will determine what form reparations will take the in the city.  The Black population in Asheville hovers around 10%, while countywide it's just over 6%.  Both resolutions seek to increase Black home ownership and Black-owned businesses.  Less than 2% of businesses countywide are owned by Black people, while only 41% of Black residents own homes, compared to 65% of White residents.

Minutes prior to the reparations vote, commissioners unanimously approved a seperate resolution (read here) calling racism a public health emergency in Buncombe County.  The county board of health made a similar declaration earlier this summer.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
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