Skip to content Skip to footer

Asheville History: New Black Heritage Trail Honors a Rich Legacy

In travel journalism, Asheville, North Carolina, is often praised—and rightly so—for its Blue Ridge Mountains scenery, artsy sensibility, numerous craft breweries, and architectural wonders such as the gargantuan Biltmore Estate.

But a new walking trail aims to preserve and pay tribute to a vital part of the city that has, organizers say, often gone “unsung” and “underrecognized”: Asheville’s Black community. 

Unveiled late last year, the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail connects 14 different stops across three historically Black neighborhoods—Downtown, Southside, and the River Area. 

The route encompasses 20 informational panels and introductory kiosks as well as sidewalk trail markers along the way to help visitors find landmarks such as the Allen School (attended by music great Nina Simone from the nearby town of Tryon) and the freshly renovated YMI Cultural Center, one of the oldest Black community centers in the United States.

(L–R: Clifford W. Cotton II in front of a mural depicting his grandfather, entrepreneur and activist E.W. Pearson, at the Burton Street Community Center; and Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides along the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail in North Carolina | Credit: Stephan Pruitt Photography / Maggie Gregg / Explore Asheville)

Other stops highlight the contributions and resilience of Black churches, entrepreneurs, newspapers, artists, and civil rights activists such as William R. “Seabron” Saxon, who, at age 75, refused to give up his seat on a bus ride from Atlanta to Asheville in 1951, fully 4 years before the arrest of Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

In a press release, trail officials describe the project as an effort to reclaim the importance of Black people in Appalachia despite historical erasure (“Affrilachia” is poet Frank X Walker’s term for the region).  

In addition to the physical informational panels along the trail, a helpful interactive website features maps, directions and walking times, archival photos, text and audio descriptions of each stop, and articles for digging deeper into the region’s Black history. 

The neighborhoods the trail goes through are chockablock with intriguing boutiques, restaurants, and eye-catching murals (a wall painting in Downtown’s Triangle Park is pictured at the top of this post). Go to the website of the city’s tourism office, Explore Asheville, for shopping and dining ideas in the city’s historically Black areas.