Memorial to lost piece of WNC history dedicated this weekend
A memorial to the incarcerated laborers that built the railroad into Western North Carolina in the late 1800's will be dedicated this weekend - culminating an effort by historians and community leaders to bring attention to a crucial piece of history in the region that had long been ignored or forgotten.
The RAIL Project sought to build a memorial over the past year, and will dedicate a granite panel at Andrews Geyser outside of Old Fort Sunday afternoon at 3:30. The memorial was installed at the site last month.
According to The RAIL Project website, an estimated 95% of the laborers that built the railroad in the region in the late 1870's were inmates of the North Carolina Penitentiary - and that at least 98% of them were African American. Many were unjustly imprisoned through laws passed during the Reconstruction period which targeted Black men. Those laws focused on 'vagrancy' and incentivized arrests so the men could be loaned to local governments, which would make them work for free on projects like building railroads. At least 139 died while working on the railroad into Western North Carolina, but the number could be almost 300 according to historians.