Taking a Hood Tour, focusing on the history of the Asheville African American community, is essential for locals and tourists. Although I was familiar with some historical facts, our tour guide Daniel took us on a fun, interactive, and profoundly emotional journey around town in which we unburied layers of the past to see them come alive in the light of the present.
We cried, laughed, got angry, and celebrated this community’s history and everlasting impact while never losing sight of the bright, wholesome future we are all creating today. We also visited one of the best coffee shops in town (I will keep it a surprise for you!) and bought souvenirs at a Black-owned art gallery and shop.
The tales of hardship, hate, resilience, and also courage, creativity, and love made us sometimes share tears. But, by the end, thanks to Daniel’s stories, guidance, and non-judgmental questions, we were encouraged to take creative action and be part of the solution.
Taking this tour was a significant first step, and I’ll give you some other ideas to get involved at the end of this article. If you’re visiting from out of town, the Hood Huggers Tours will leave you with a deeper understanding of Asheville and the intention to keep exploring African American communities’ history, past, and present in your home cities and every place you visit.
Hood Huggers’ Tours have been featured nationally and awarded by TripAdvisor readers. The founder and CEO, DeWayne Barton, is a community hero. You’ll love meeting him (he’s one of the tour guides) and learning about his life-changing work.
There are three Hood Tours. The Eagle Street Walking Tour explores the East End Valley Street in Downtown Asheville, while the Burton Street Walking Tour focuses on one of Asheville’s oldest African American neighborhoods and includes a visit to the Burton Street Community Peace Garden (one of Barton’s creations), a very cool, integrative project you’ll love exploring.
I took the third tour – the longest and most comprehensive – a driving tour that takes participants to different locations around Asheville in a (very photogenic) van. Of course, I won’t spoil the tour for you, but you’ll see all the places you’ve probably been to in a completely different way. Again, the info and the vivid images of the past will increase your connection with the community and transform how you experience our city.
The driving tour started at the Chamber of Commerce in Montford, where you can plan to spend some time buying some very cool Asheville souvenirs and getting informed about local attractions by the friendliest staff in the world.
Each driving tour is unique, so the sites you visit might differ. Still, you can expect to explore various historical African-American neighborhoods and landmarks throughout the city, including downtown, Shiloh, Burton Street, and Southside.
We started in Montford, once a predominantly Black community called Stumptown, and learned about some residents, like the nurse and midwife Ive Tempie, who lived there in the early 1900s. Today, there is an active community center, playground, and park with fruit trees named after her.
We went to different neighborhoods around Montford and learned about Asheville from different angles and timelines. Daniel’s personal story intertwined with the disastrous consequences of urban renewal policies and the current local projects that work to create equity. I loved that Daniel knew everyone around. He would stop to talk to people, and we met some neighbors.
We visited an excellent Black-owned coffee shop, voted the “No. 3 Coffee Shop in North Carolina” (I’ll let you discover it!), had incredible drinks and snacks, enjoyed some wall art that honors the African American community, and got precious souvenirs.
The tour lasted about 2.5 hours and was full of information, insights, reflections, and Daniel’s poetic storytelling and sense of humor. Our last stop was downtown to explore the remnants of The Block, once the financial center of the local and regional Black people in Asheville, having a history of being forward-thinking and entrepreneurial.
There, we learned about the history of the Young Men’s Institute Cultural Center (one of America’s oldest cultural centers) and the people who founded and have sustained it.
We spent the last stretch of our time in The Block at Triangle Park, looking at the heart-warming mural that honors the history of African-Americans in Asheville and learning about the people portrayed on those walls. The Block is also home to the Noir Collective Asheville, an art gallery and shop showcasing Black art. Guess what? We got to buy more souvenirs!
We finished the tour with our hearts full of love, teary eyes, and many hugs. Daniel’s farewell question was open but not rhetoric: “What are you going to do?”
One of my favorite quotes belongs to Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, with the help of Daniel, I’ve compiled a list of local organizations that are part of the solution.
First, you can gift your time, talents, and resources to Hood Huggers. You can volunteer at the Peace Gardens, work with youth programs, or be part of the new (and thrilling!) project called Blue Note Junction, “a crossroads of health and entrepreneurship,” a space for people to heal and restore (think hot tubs and saunas), create art, do conscious businesses, and participate in community gardening.
The Montford & Stumptown Fund is designed to help repair the damage caused by centuries of racial inequities in real estate. The goal is to protect and create permanently affordable housing for Black families in Montford/Stumptown.
Did you know that Asheville City Schools has the fifth-largest race-based achievement gap in the country? These two organizations work with kids of color to support them in improving their literacy skills and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Volunteer with Read to Succeed and Literacy Together (which also features two adult education programs).
Here are some other awesome resources:
Finally, every action has an impact and a ripple effect. The good news? You don’t need grandiose gestures to create change. Start by reading bedtime stories that expose your kids to historical and present-day Black icons and heroes (I love Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long).
Love, learn, celebrate, and have fun changing the world, one step at a time!
“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
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