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Memorial to lost piece of WNC history dedicated this weekend

Dr. Dan Pierce
Stonemasons Paul Twitty (left) and Jimmy Logan (right) installed the granite panel for the memorial in September

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.

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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