Commissioners Formally Apologize to Black Community

Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides
Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides

 Pledge Continued Investments

For centuries of disenfranchisement, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has apologized for its historic role in supporting or allowing slavery, discrimination, and denial of basic liberties to Asheville’s African American residents.

The Board approved the resolution to support reparations for Black people by a vote of 4-3.

“I hope we have the guts to finish what we are starting,” said Commissioner Al Whitesides during the Board of Commissioners’ meeting on August 4, 2020. The County’s first African American commissioner passionately explained the adversities of growing up Black in Buncombe County in the 1950s and ’60s. “It’s not always going to be comfortable. I’ve had this fight all my life, so it’s something I’m used to.”

The resolution to support reparations for Black people, using investment, contracting, and other tools, in part through greater focus in its 2025 Strategic Plan, is designed to combat systemic racism head-on. And, said Whitesides, “We’ve got to deal with it.”

In 2013, North Carolina became the first state in the country to pass a law intended to compensate the surviving victims among the 7,600 people who were sterilized under a decades-long eugenics program. The victims, primarily African Americans, were largely poor or disabled. State lawmakers set up a $10 million fund to compensate them.

Advocates of eugenics believed that involuntary sterilization of individuals deemed inferior would strengthen the gene pool and reduce poverty. North Carolina is among 32 states that ran such programs, although most abandoned them after World War II because of the movement’s association with the practices of Nazi Germany. North Carolina, however, actually expanded its program in the postwar era.

Highlights from the resolution

The County Commission of Buncombe County:

(1) apologizes to the Black community—including descendants of people who were enslaved in Buncombe County—and seeks to make amends for Buncombe County’s participation in and sanctioning of the enslavement of Black people;

(2) … for Buncombe County’s enforcement of segregation and racist, discriminatory policies and practices during that era;

(3) … for Buncombe County’s participation in an urban renewal program that harmed multiple, successful black communities;

(4) will appoint representatives to and fully participate in the new Community Reparations Commission that the City of Asheville is creating;

(5) calls on other organizations and institutions in our community that have advanced and benefitted from racial inequity to join in these steps;

(6) calls on the US Congress to pass H.R. 40, which would establish the federal Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans, which would examine the legacy of slavery and discrimination in the United States and make recommendations to Congress to address their lingering impacts;

(7) calls on the state government of North Carolina to complete a parallel process;

(8) directs county staff, including the newly formed Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, to continue prioritizing racial equity in the implementation of the Buncombe County Strategic plan, including but not limited to the following urgent priority areas for Black residents of Buncombe County:

  • increasing quality early childhood education opportunities;
  • increasing Black homeownership, business ownership, and other ways to build generational wealth within the Black community;
  • reducing health disparities including infant mortality; and
  • reducing racial disparities in the justice system.
Commission Chair Brownie Newman
Commission Chair Brownie Newman

“What might reparations look like in our community? I don’t have answers, and it’s important for us to listen more than talk,” said Commission Chair Brownie Newman. “I would like to see new investments for Black families that want homeownership, and to start businesses. Racism can’t be solved by local government alone, but we can help by working on education, justice, and other areas.”

Commissioner Whitesides also noted, “We want to see changes. We want our kids and grandkids to be successful, and most of all give Black people a level playing field. That’s all we’re asking for.”

One of the thorniest problems with making reparations to victims of sweeping historical injustices is deciding who is included and who is not.

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