WCU Digitizes Oral History Archive Of WNC Black History

Apr 1, 2021

Western Carolina University’s Special Collections library has digitized a new collection called Western North Carolina Tomorrow Black Oral History Project. The collection is made up of interviews with Black residents from Western North Carolina during the late 1980s. All the subjects were over the age of 69.

The Western North Carolina Tomorrow Black Oral History Project features Black residents who lived in Jackson, Swain, Haywood, Cherokee and Buncombe counties.

In 1986, Juanita Jones was interviewed by Edward Clark Smith for the project. She remembers growing up in Asheville during the Great Depression.

Smith asked, So now on Eagle Street was kind of the main district for Black people then?”

“Yes, that and down on Southside. Down at the corner of Southside and French Board. I can’t recall that man’s name. He had a restaurant down there. Two or three Black people had restaurants down there…But all that’s gone,” said Jones.

Susie Bryson, is another one of the interviewees. She remembers attending a one-room segregated schoolhouse and the Mt. Zion AME Zion Church on what is now Western Carolina’s campus. Bryson said the school then moved to Cullowhee.  

"We rode a bus from Cullowhee to Sylva to come to school at that time. See, schools weren't integrated. And Black kids, they rode a bus from Cullowhee to Sylva and that's how I finished. I didn't finish high school. I only went to the 9th grade because it wasn't any higher than the 9th grade. After the 9th grade, you would have to go to Asheville," said Bryson in the 1986 interview

The collection also includes nine interviews with members of the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cullowhee. The church is a cornerstone of Black history in Jackson County.

The hope is for the digitized collection to further share documentation of the important contributions and historical experience of Black people in WNC, explained Jason Brady, interim chief of Special and Digital Collections.

“These interviews give fascinating glimpses into the experiences of African Americans in Western North Carolina through much of the 20th century and contribute to our goal of providing inclusive content to the study of the history and culture of Southern Appalachia,” said Brady in a press release.

For more information, contact Hunter Library’s Special and Digital Collections at 828-227-7474 or specialcollections@wcu.edu