Saturday, September 22, is the 150th anniversary of the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On September 22, 1862, five days after the decisive victory at the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln put his hand to a document that read “…on the first day of January, 1863... all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Immediately, 20-50,000 slaves were free. Many of the men joined the Union Army. By the end of the Civil War in April, 1865, 4 million new American citizens were freed.
As part of the local commemoration, the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville has worked with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds to provide accessibility to the slave deeds that are a part of the documents in the County’s historic collection. Drew Reisinger, Register of Deeds, shares “I have long been impressed with the Center for Diversity Education and their commitment to exploring, understanding and sharing the history of Buncombe County. Our office presents these records to help remember our past so we will never again repeat it. In an effort to bring light to this issue, your Buncombe County Register of Deeds office has compiled a database of the documents that recorded the trade of people as slaves. This is available at buncombecounty.org/slavedeeds.”
Andrea Clark, the granddaughter of James Vester Miller who was enslaved in WNC, shares “It is very important to see where you came from to know where you are going. History has been kept from African Americans and now we are learning more about our heritage. Our ancestors were strong, honorable, caring, and decent people who wanted the best for their community."
Priscilla Ndiaye, Chair of the Southside Advisory Board, adds “As a matter of respect for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the foundation for the Civil Rights movement, public access to the slave bill of sale for Asheville could not have happened at a better time. The value of historical records is immeasurable. Historical records help one to identify areas for improvement and it also gives way to identity. Having insight into the life or development of the African-American population in Asheville grants the opportunity for broader understanding of our connection and value. What a wonderful chance for community members to share with their children and teachers to share with their students. Southside community members are thankful.”
Sasha Mitchell operates Memory Cottage and researches genealogy for clients with a special expertise in families of color. She shares “Digital access to Buncombe County's slave deeds will open a new window into our shared history. For many African Americans, slave deeds are among a precious few types of records that contain the names of their ancestors, giving descendants an opportunity to locate their families in a place and time, confirm the names of former owners, and in some cases document records of their family units. While I know from experience that there is a particular kind of sadness in finding your ancestors listed as pieces of property, there is often a great deal of joy in being able to find their names at all. In addition, for descendants of the named slaveholders, these records offer a look at a facet of their ancestor’s lives, and a past that may not have been widely known. For any student of history with an interest in WNC's slaveholding past, these records shine a light on the dark reality of slaveholding in this area of the state. Having the ability to access them digitally offers a new way to explore our history that in the past would have taken a great deal more time and effort. In addition, these fragile documents will now be protected from the damage made by repeated handling. Thanks to all who helped make this possible.”
Additional activities are planned with the upcoming exhibition of “Lincoln: the Constitution and the Civil War” which goes on display at Ramsey Library at UNC Asheville October 15 – November 16.
“Currently, over 1,200 students are registered to attend this exhibit,” shares Deborah Miles, Executive Director of the Center for Diversity Education. “What an amazing resource this collection of slave deeds will be for all the teachers that are bringing students to that exhibit. I urge all citizens to open up one of the slave deeds online. Squint your eyes till you see the words ‘Negro child, age 3, named Rose, is sold, to have and to hold’ to this or that grantee or grantor.’ This should give each American citizen a moment of pause in deep gratitude that liberty and justice continue to unfold in our day.”