Guest blog post written by Duke Communications Intern, Pengfei Ye.
This summer Dogwood Alliance new staff and interns arrived at Stephens Lee Recreation Center, excited to start the Hood Huggers International Driving Tour.
Hood Huggers International Driving Tour, launched by DeWayne Barton, is an opportunity for visitors and local residents in Asheville to explore and learn about historical African American neighborhoods and communities in Asheville.
Stephens Lee Recreation Center initially served as the gymnasium and fitness center for Stephens Lee High School and has now become a recreation center, offering various recreational programs for local residents in Asheville. During segregation, Stephens Lee High School was a secondary school for African American students in Western North Carolina. It accommodated students from local Asheville community and attracted students from surrounding areas, including Madison County, Haywood County, and Yancey County. Though the other buildings of the high school were sadly bulldozed, Stephens Lee Recreation Center still provided us with a great opportunity to learn about the rich history of the Southside community.
In the hallway of the Stephens Lee Recreation Center, numerous excellently preserved photos and posters hang in the recreation center to tell the history of Stephens Lee High School and to demonstrate its large alumni network.
Although the main building of Stephen Lee High School no longer exists, photos of the historical building still hang to present the past scenery of the school.
Stephens Lee Alumni Association has sponsored a room in the recreation center dedicated to displaying its alumni and their achievements. During the school’s history, there were many outstanding alumni in various industries, including music, education, and business.
Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park is located just outside of the recreation center. It has many types of edible fruits and vegetables, including persimmons and apples. There’s also an outdoor basketball court that overlooks unique downtown Asheville with its modern architecture and historical southern buildings.
The next stop of the Hood Huggers Tour was a historic icon in downtown Asheville on Eagle Street: the YMI (Young Men’s Institute) Cultural Center. Financed by George Washington Vanderbilt and completed in 1893, the YMI is a three story building designed to enrich the lives of the black community. Inside the YMI, Ray Auditorium is a spacious ballroom available for multiple purposes, and there is a gallery is space available for artwork exhibitions. On the day of our visit, the gallery hosted an art exhibition about gun control and peace.
Triangle Park is located a block away from the YMI, and it’s named after its unique triangle shape. The most interesting part of the park is the graffiti on the walls of the park. It features notable figures in the history of Asheville like Isaac Dickson and The Stephens Lee Marching band as well as developments, transitions, and important events in the history of Black Asheville. Bold and colorful paintings were used in these pieces, and the contrast between vivid graffiti and verdant trees attract people to relax and learn.
With all the rapid development in Asheville, a hotel, an apartment complex, and other buildings will be finished near Triangle Park. Even worse, Triangle Park faces threats of being developed into a parking lot. This would be a tragic loss of the history and art of Black Asheville.
At the end of the tour, DeWayne showed us The Hood Huggers International Green Book. Inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, a book that served as a travel guide for African Americans during segregation, it includes local black businesses and organizations, aiming to raise awareness of these places and connect people to them.
From this trip, I am impressed by the awareness of African American culture preservation and development from social activists, such as DeWayne Barton. Hood Huggers International Tour serves as a great tool for people to understand African American cultures and the stories belong to Asheville’s history. Many cities in the US have different races of people, and they all make great contributions to the prosperity of cities and leave unique cultural marks. Many of these cultural marks are ignored, but they should be respected and known to citizens.