In February 2021, we looked at Black history in Asheville to celebrate Black History Month. The monthly observation began in 1976 by historian Carter G. Woodson. Our previous post celebrated Western North Carolina’s contributions to black history, including Nina Simone, Edythe J. Gaines, Ashleigh Shanti, and the YMI cultural center. Our previous post celebrated Western North Carolina’s contributions to black history, including Nina Simone, Edythe J. Gaines, Ashleigh Shanti, and the YMI cultural center. Today, we want to explore more notable African Americans in WNC.
Allen High School and Langston Hughes
Allen High School was a private school for African American students from 1887 to 1974. It was a Christian school with a mission to teach Christian values and vocational training, specifically for teachers and domestic arts. Its most famous graduate was Nina Simone, who graduated in 1950 as valedictorian.
In 1949, Langston Hughes made a trip to Asheville to address students at Allen High School. The now-celebrated poet’s visit was not without controversy at the time. A community member praised his appearance and criticized the Citizen Times for not reporting, while others held up the opinion that his speech was an unsavory experience for Asheville. His speech may have profoundly affected Nina Simone and influenced her long-term success.
Kennedy Honors Recipient Gladys Knight
Though she’s best known for the Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight has been a long-time resident of Western North Carolina. Her husband is native to the area, and they have an estate in Fairview. Along with her accomplishments in music, Knight and her husband significantly impacted WNC during the COVID-19 crisis by sponsoring a free drive-through clinic for vaccinations.
Knight was an honoree of the 2022 Kennedy Center Honors in December. Her award celebrates her decades of music and social contributions to American culture.
Like Carter G. Woodson, Johnny Baxter was a historian and advocate in Asheville. He returned to WNC in the 1940s after living in NYC for many years. In 1976, Baxter became the founding member of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe Counties. He was crucial in ensuring the YMI Cultural Center was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The PSABC created an award in 2019 in Johnny Baxter’s name in collaboration with UNCA to recognize students furthering the study of African American contributions to Asheville and Buncombe County.
Who do you want to recognize for Black History Month?