Friday, October 23, 2009

Lincoln in Asheville

On Wednesday, I was in Asheville and stopped by Pack Memorial Library to view the current Lincoln exhibit. Interestingly, I would never call myself a Lincoln scholar, and at times, I am even a Lincoln detractor. That being said, I worked through Lincoln’s papers while working on the Hanover Court House book, and I’ve been to the Lincoln Museum and Library In Springfield while working on another project.

The exhibit is entitled “Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation” and is located on the main floor. According to a blurb I found online: “The exhibit is sponsored by the American Library Association with underwriting from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is brought to Asheville by Buncombe County Libraries and the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The free exhibit will be on display at Pack Memorial Library in Downtown Asheville and will also feature the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War on the citizens of WNC.”

Besides the standard traveling exhibit, the library had pulled some of its own items out of its collections and placed them on exhibit. These include oil paintings of Lee and Vance, a pre-war painting of Asheville, and a couple of items from UCV reunions in Asheville after the war. There was also some information regarding the battle of Asheville fought at the end of the war.

There was an attempt to focus a little more on slavery locally. Someone had gone through local newspapers and printed out advertisements regarding slave sales and rewards for runaway slaves and placed them in notebooks on a table. The book also mentions the activities of people of color in the local newspaper continuing into the decade after the war. I would have liked to have seen more information about local slaves: how did the lives of mountain slaves differ from the lives of enslaved people in the deep South or along the coastal plain? How about a map showing some of the larger plantations in Buncombe County? Or, There are stories here in my section of western North Carolina of slaves who refused to leave their homes after the end of the war. Are there such stories in Buncombe County? Where there any enslaved men who stole away and joined the Federal army, serving in one of the many black regiments? I also did not see any mention of Sarah Gudger, a Buncombe County slave who was interviewed in the 1930s as a part of what is now known as the Slave Narratives. Maybe I just missed it, but here was a great example of what life was like for someone who lived through being a slave in Bumcombe County. Had I been putting this exhibit together, I would have attempted to find some way to bring this to light.

The exhibit runs through the end of the month. If you are in Asheville, stop by Pack Memorial Library and check it out.


jshuster said...

Dear Mr. Hardy,
Thank you so much for your comments on the exhibit. I am the Program Director of the Center for Diversity Education. We do in fact talk about many of the topics you mentioned. In the exhibit, one can find information about WNC slave owners, the treatment of local slaves, a portrait of slave life, how it differed from that of the Deep South and, how the African-American community contributed to Asheville and WNC. This information can largely be found in the PowerPoint slide show we have set up in the exhibit. This slide-show has been a part of the exhibit for over 1200 local students this month. To make the slide show, we asked local children what they would like to know about slavery in WNC, and answered their questions. If you missed viewing this slide show, I would be happy to send you a copy. Also, we had our own exhibit hanging in the windows of the library hallway, “An Unmarked Trail.” This exhibit was put together by local high school students' research of local slave deeds and documents, most of which came from the Asheville courthouse and Pack Library. The exhibit discusses the historic life and contributions of African American citizens in WNC. Here, Sarah Gudger is profiled. Anyone may also view this exhibit online by going to our website and it, along with any other of our exhibits are available to rent in the physical form.Lastly, if you are interested in more stories of local slavery, on the research table in the middle of the exhibit, we have numerous binders set up with firsthand accounts, again here you may Sarah Gudger's account, along with many others. Again, thank you so much for your story about the exhibit! If you or anyone has any other feedback, I welcome it. Just write me an email at and please visit our website
Kind Regards,
Julia Shuster

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming to take a look and for reporting on the exhibit! We are glad you came and found it interesting!

One of the notebooks on the table contains Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, including Sarah Gudger's testimony. Also, there is often a PowerPoint presentation running that focuses on the Civil War and slavery in Western North Carolina - it was developed as a resource for everyone but particularly geared towards student groups that come through. This includes an excerpt from Gudger's testimony. The ppt also includes information on the type of labor slaves were used for in this area and the fact that there was not much large scale farming here at the time. It speaks about Stoneman's Army and slaves leaving to join the Union troops.

If you have time, I would go back to look at the PowerPoint as well as the exhibits posted up in the windows as you walk down the hallway into the library. This (and the ppt) was produced by The Center for Diversity Education. The exhibit overlaps with the information in the PowerPoint, but is covered in far greater detail. You can find the exhibit in the hallway, called 'The Unmarked Trail' at the Center's site here:

Thanks again and I hope some of this information helps!