The State of Black Asheville and Reparations

The City Council and County Commission have resolved to reduce and eliminate racial disparities in the outcomes of public policies.

Dwight B. Mullen, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of UNCA.
Dwight B. Mullen, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of UNCA.
By Dwight B. Mullen, Ph.D. –

Jim Crow Segregation was ended by federal legislation in 1964.

The Civil Rights Act prohibited official bigotry. Local, state or national levels of authority could no longer harm or disservice citizens because of their color, religion, national origin, or sex. Schools, hospitals, courts, and businesses could no longer negatively discriminate. With the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, real estate sales and rentals also could no longer legally exercise bigotry. The US Supreme Court supported the Congress by confirming the end of de jure segregation in case after case that followed.

In the 2006-07 school year at the University of North Carolina Asheville, undergraduates investigated whether the laws were, in fact, actually being obeyed. Their results were offered on campus in 2007 to the public during Black History Month. Stunningly, Education, Health Care, Criminal Justice, Economic Opportunity, and Housing were each found to have behaviors and outcomes that looked like Jim Crow never ended. It had only become invisible to official eyes.

It was not, however, invisible to the thousands of African Americans living in the City of Asheville and Buncombe County. Individuals experienced various forms of discrimination daily. And student researchers confirmed it each year for the next ten years.

Their project, The State of Black Asheville, annually reported on the outcomes by race and gender in areas that legally prohibited discrimination.

For example, in education the differences in the performances of Black and White students on end-of-grade and end-of-course exams are well known and profound. For specific numbers please view the results on the NCDPI website. In addition, it has been found that the rates and severity of disciplinary actions experienced by African American students differ radically according to the race of the student being punished. The public schools in the city and county do not differ much in their treatment of the children.

Health Care is best received if you are White rather than Black. For instance, Black babies and Black mothers die at a rate that is 3 to 4 times higher than their White counterparts. The top ten causes of death for local Black people are not the same as those for White people. And Black life spans are shorter than Whites. Access and quality of care are just two of the reasons.

Economic Opportunities and Poverty are two contributors to the “Opportunity Gap” in Education and to the “Social Determinants” in Healthcare. Discrim-inatory wages, higher unemployment, and meager support from financial institutions combine with other factors that keep Black citizens’ wealth at the lowest levels. African Americans who live in the city or county are very very frequently subject to economic forces that dictate impoverishment.

Housing reflects these conditions of local life. Black home ownership has declined while the stress of monthly rental payments has increased. Whites might see living in Asheville’s historically Black communities as exercises in diversity that also fit their budgets. However, the overall effects amount to a decline in the city’s Black population as gentrification and higher property taxes force Black emigration from the area.

As a collection of neighborhoods, it was decided long ago to pool resources as children were educated and public health was maintained. We constitutionally decided to work and live together. Unequal outcomes, though, can be predicted based on race and gender. The Civil Rights Era did not end this. Being colorblind has only intensified it.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others were murdered. The world, including Asheville and Buncombe County were rocked with demonstrations that called for an end to police brutalities faced by Black people. “Black Lives Matter” signs appeared in front yards. Corporations declared their commitment to Racial Equity. Churches incorporated lessons on the sins of White Supremacy. How, though, was the “talk” going to be transformed into reality?

Two intertwined routes present themselves. The City Council and County Commission have resolved to reduce and eliminate racial disparities in the outcomes of public policies. They will coordinate efforts to address the ongoing inheritances of Jim Crow segregation. A Commission will be appointed and community committees will meet to design plans to close gaps. Final proposals are to be adopted by 2023. But more will need to be done.

Closing disparities addresses only present-day outcomes. The City and County have also committed themselves to facing the outcomes of historic racial discriminations including Enslavement, Urban Renewal, Mass Incarceration, and Lynchings. How will official promises be kept? When?

One of the most important inheritances of the era of Segregation is that it still affects how we think about each other. Much of what has been discussed in the preceding paragraphs seems to only benefit Black people. In fact it might even be argued that what will be gained by “them” will be because something is taken from “us.”

Consider this—reparations will improve education, health care, housing, justice, and economic opportunity for Asheville and Buncombe County. Isn’t this what we all want together?