Asheville – Memories of a long-established community off Hendersonville Road in Asheville were revisited last Thursday, August 12. A panel discussion on the history and legacy of Shiloh, a well-known African American neighborhood, was held as a zoom webinar with questions and answers following the presentation. The Western North Carolina Historical Association and Olli at UNC Asheville brought this lively multi-generational panel discussion to listeners. Community historian Anita White-Carter and a young filmmaker activist Ria Young both spent many years in this neighborhood and shared their fascinating stories. The contrast in ages and difference in presentations added greatly to a better understanding of the past, what changes the Shiloh community has experienced over the years, and the steps needed to best preserve its legacy. Trevor Freeman, the Public Programs Director at the Smith-McDowell House Museum, introduced the panel; and Jefferson Ellison, the Principal and Editor of Jawbreaking Creative, was the event moderator.
Anita White-Carter gave a slide presentation with photos, illustrating the early beginnings of the Shiloh Community, from 1889 to the present.
She grew up in Shiloh and remembers it as a very loving, caring community, where families knew each other, prayed together and played together. She felt safe. All her family participated in the many activities of the Boy and Girl Scouts for many years. Although families in the area, including her own, struggled financially, she always felt loved and cared for by all around her. She never felt poor. It was a wonderful place to grow up, and she is working tirelessly to preserve its legacy. After White-Carter retired from 30 years as a Public Service Librarian, she has been very active in researching the history of the neighborhood. She established the Shiloh Little Free Library located in the Shiloh Community Garden. She participates in many of the activities of the Shiloh Community Association as well.
In her zoom presentation, she spoke about the fact that in the late 19th century a small African-American Community with about two dozen owners and ridge top farms—called Old Shiloh — was on property that is a half mile north of Biltmore House. The residents sold their parcels to Vanderbilt and moved to what is now called New Shiloh on the East side of Hendersonville Road. White-Carter mentioned that one resident held out much longer than others and didn’t sell until the mid-1910’s. A log church was in Old Shiloh known as Shiloh A.M.E. Church of Zion. Mr. Vanderbilt helped the residents relocate this church, paying the church members to move their dead and re-inter them at the new church property. In addition he contributed stained glass windows to the new church. Sadly this church has since burned down and records as well as the windows seem to be lost. Currently on Biltmore Estate property there is a Shiloh Road.
White-Carter spoke about Shiloh’s first school for African-American students, which was a two-classroom building that burned in the early twenties. In 1927, a new, six-room elementary school was erected on a 5-acre site on Shiloh Road next to Shiloh Church. The school was built with public money and a large contribution from the Rosenwald Fund, founded by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Company. Some may have visited the Rosenwald school in Mars Hill a few years back.
Shiloh Elementary educated African-American students from grades 1-8 from Shiloh, Brooklyn, Petersburg, Rock Hill, and from the more distant communities of Arden, Concord, Fletcher and Weaverville. The school was a meeting place for local clubs, athletic events, and theater productions. In the segregated society of the time, African-American residents relied on the school as their social and cultural center. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s during the era of desegregation, most African-American schools in Buncombe County and Asheville were closed and African-American students enrolled in previously all white schools.
Maria “Ria” Young also hails from the Shiloh Community but is considerably younger than Anita White-Carter, thus giving another viewpoint. She is a former collegiate All-American Basketball Player, writer, author, screen and playwright from Asheville. In 2017, Maria released her memoir “Lost In A Game: The Road To Self-Discovery” detailing her collegiate journey as a black athlete with little to no self-identity navigating the trials and tribulations of collegiate basketball at a PWI. She mentioned on the zoom conference that she is thrilled to be working in the coming year with the Asheville Community Theater. Young showed the zoom audience a powerful, poetical short film she had produced. She spoke of how living in Shiloh felt like living in a village, and some of her many memories growing up there, which can never be taken away. She spoke of the trauma and joy of the Black experience. Her presentation also emphasized how important it is to her to maintain the legacy of Shiloh in the future.
This virtual zoom program, “Shiloh, Past & Present,” can be seen on the Western North Carolina Historical Association website.
You can find a number of interesting activities, virtual historic programs available, as well as the calendar of upcoming events at the Smith-McDowell House Museum on Victoria Road in Asheville. Go to www. wnchistory.org. for more information.