Transcript: Kimberly Collins for Montford & Stumptown Stories

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My name is Kimberly Collins and I was born in the Montford area. I grew up here probably from the early 70s through 1987.

Growing up in the Montford area was just wonderful as a kid. I literally was raised at the top of Montford, so where the bridge is and where I-240 cuts across, I could sit on my porch and look at I-240 and watch the cars go by and the cars come off I-240 to get onto Montford.

Here in this area it was just rich with wonderful families, wonderful black families. From aunties, extended aunties and uncles, and cousins, the family cohesiveness was great here. But it was greater before I was ever born. So, I could take you way back just from stories I have heard and kind of will give you a framework of what happened to Asheville along the way, for the Black community in the Montford area.

Right, so literally the parking lot next door was my backyard. At the top of Montford you had a dry cleaners, my house literally sat behind that dry cleaners. I believe where this building, or the next, the building next door, was the William’s convenience store and ironically talking about the family cohesiveness, behind our house, which our backyard is connected, was my grandmother’s house. So, I had family all around.

Ok, so when my grandmother moved here, my grandmother moved up here from South Carolina. She was born and raised on the plantation that her mother and her grandmother, and her grandparents lived on and worked on, as slaves. When she got older, she left, fleed basically, and moved north, this was north, you know, and came to Asheville. She had an uncle that lived here on Short Street and there was an apartment house. So, Short Street was houses and apartments and some of them were owned by black families, some of them were owned by, you know, white families and she moved in with her uncle and later she married my grandfather.

And, they moved across the street to what is called Gudger Street, which flows into Gudger Alley, which sat behind William Randolph Elementary School. So, literally just right across the street. She lived there for years, that’s where my, you know, my mom grew up for a good portion then they moved back to this side. This house became available and she moved into this house and she had seven children that she raised on Short Street. So between Gudger Alley, half of them or I think the majority of them were born there to being raised and getting up and out on their own as adults here on Short Street.

So, Asheville was just booming for kids. We had, not only did we have the rec centers, but we had people that were connected to the people who owned the rec centers that kept activities going for us. So the most famous is the Hillcrest program, elder Johnny Hayes, may he rest in peace, that is by far probably the premier organization for children at that time. And it was mainly for those individuals in Hillcrest, but we had Montford Center. Ms. Oralene Simmons, she kept us busy. There was always something to do.

We had the after school programs, or the center was always open after we got out of school, we could go there. During the summer, they had the summer programs where we would go and spend the day, where our families, you know, were off working. When we couldn’t afford babysitters, the center became our babysitter. And they had just great programs for us. Anything from pottery to learning how to double dutch to tennis, I mean just a wealth of activities for us kids. We also had Ms. Arene Ruff, who had the 4-H cloggers. Yes, black people clog! And, let me tell you something: they were bad. They would put anybody to the shindig on the green to shame.

So, and that was right here, in this Montford community. It was just great. The centers, the parks and rec really invested in us. They always had activities going on, so when the school year came around, we could still go there after school, but they also had block parties and just like haunted houses for Halloween, there was just always something.

It was at Montford Center that I got to meet Ms. Shirley Chisholm, the great Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president. Who can say that? How many people can actually say that? Jesse Jackson came to the Montford Center. Those individuals saw potential in us where others in this community just saw us as, just they’re going to be derelicts when they grow up and we’re just going to throw them to the wolves and let them fend for themselves. No! Our elders really put into us and instilled in us that we were black, we were beautiful, we were intelligent, and we should be proud, for all of that. And, yeah, so growing up in this community was great.

Klondyke Apartments

So, for my family, my mom and dad, they were together for several years, married for thirteen and they decided to get divorced. And my mom being now a single parent couldn’t afford to keep our house anymore. So that’s how we ended up in Klondyke, which was great.

It is, I mean that’s the end of it, right? Montford spills into Klondyke. You know, I never really knew that we were poor, that was never a thought for me. I don’t think any of us kids knew that our families couldn’t afford to own a home. We just knew we were moving to Klondyke, we didn’t know what a project was. That word was just, you know, foreign to me.

But, yeah growing up in Klondyke was great because we could still walk to everything. So, walking to Montford we had all these shortcuts. We could get to the Montford Center very quickly. Montford Park was just right there so when there were times for the block parties, it’s right there at your doorstep. It breaks my spirit to see that these kids today have been deprived of such richness.

And I hope I am conveying this properly. It was a great time growing up in Asheville from the seventies to the early to mid nineties, just great. I’m getting a little emotional thinking about it, just great. And it grieves my spirit that these kids have lost that. They’ve lost that sense of community.

Urban renewal

That, that’s what Urban Renewal did. It jerked the rug right out from under black families. I would argue to say that had that not happened, the dynamics of Asheville community would be totally different, it would look totally different. Cause you would have families that grew up in those homes and still had family members in those homes and they would in turn pass it down to other family members and it would stay, that’s how you build generational wealth, right? You continue that cycle of passing it down, but it was stripped, it was stolen, it was taken from us, in a systematic fashion.

Okay, so if we take it back just a little bit before the urban renewal started, I-240, black families. There literally, there were houses, either owned or rented by black families. And when they decided to connect 40 to, I guess, the Mars Hill area going straight through to the, getting towards the other side of 40 to the Tennessee side, they had to take those homes. Eminent domain. I’m not exactly sure what the options for those families were, where did they go? And, I asked my mom that very question: where did those families go? And, of course, she was young, so you know, her memories of that time are, you know, unsure, like did they go to Hillcrest, did they go to Lee Walker Heights, but you have to know that there were families ripped apart from the communities that they grew up in. And, I’m pretty sure just devastated those families for generations to come.

All of these houses in this area are grand and beautiful. It costs a lot of money to keep them, and so because of that, the city sees that, they counted them as blighted areas and they came in and said, “we have a solution.” What’s that? We call it Urban Renewal, that’s where we are going to come in and we’re going to take you out of this older home, which you are struggling to keep up and maintain, and we are going to put you in something brand new, how does that sound? Well, brand new? I know brand new for me sounds great. But what, how I interpreted it is that it was a great bait and switch. They promised them one thing and gave them something totally different. The initial promise of Urban Renewal was new home ownership. That’s not what happened.

…that’s what Urban Renewal did. Instead of coming in and renewing the urbanness, they stole the urbanness and gave us what they wanted us to have so that they could what? Claim the land. And that is probably one of the detrimental things that happened to this area in particular. From the building of 240 to taking the houses that were behind Randolph Elementary School, the Gudger Street, Gudger Alley, going into Stumptown, all down there, that land was taken from all those individuals. And they were told that now this is where you are going to go stay because face it: because of racism. We couldn’t get along. Even if they were prosperous, you know, teachers, or railroad workers, or, had just great jobs, what bank was going to give them a loan so that they could build another house or to even fix the house? It was all by design, right? Yeah, it’s all about design.

Current day

So, if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to what? Repeat, right? The same thing that happened back during those times with Urban Renewal and taking the land from, you know with eminent domain, it’s happening now. And how are they doing it? Taxation. Taxation. I think the taxes on homes in the Montford community alone doubled. It’s astronomical. But did they do that same thing to the prosperous, prosperous areas out in Biltmore Park? No. Did they do it to Kimberly area? Beaver Dam? No. It’s systemic. And until we address the perpetuation of systemic racism, and stop it, it’s going to continue to repeat itself, and that’s where we’re at. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to address it. No one, we, we have to stop tiptoeing and tap dancing and trying to save people’s feelings, right?

We have to speak truth to power and say no, you did this before, you’re trying to do it again, because when people can’t afford to pay their taxes, what happens? It gets sold, right up here, at the Buncombe County Courthouse, on the steps, auctioned off. That’s how they take, that’s how they take land now, right?

And we have to try to figure out a way of how we can stop it. We can’t repair what the past has done, the damages, it’s too great. It is too great. But what we can do is try to preserve as much as we can.

We have to keep telling these stories so that the history does not get lost, so the history is learned, is acknowledged, is respected and then some action being taken towards preventing the past repeating itself.

Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust

The Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust is trying to preserve what was once black-owned properties and land in Asheville and in Buncombe county and give it back to the people that it was taken from.

I think that’s what the land trust is offering, it’s offering an opportunity for people to build generational wealth here in Asheville. People who want to stay here. Everybody, you know, some people yeah, they’re fine with living in South Carolina. But a lot of people want to stay here. This is home. This is family. And their roots are here. Why should they not be able to afford to live here? And that’s what the land trust does, it’s making homeownership affordable and possible.

And I, I just thank God for the land trust and what they are offering individuals to make those steps, through education, through mentorships, and through a connection with banks and other entities to make home ownership possible. It’s just a great thing.

Montford & Stumptown Fund

We need individuals who understand what happened, understand it was wrong, and understand that they have the means and the resources and the connections to help us overcome those stumbling blocks. And there is a great community of people here in Montford….

You know, it’s, I don’t want anybody to take away from this as “oh, those poor black people.” They, you know, “we need to try to help them, we need to do all we can.” No. It’s not “poor black people,” because we are strong and mighty and proud but when faced against racism and adversity, and things that have been done against us systemically, the advocacy is what is so great and so appreciated. That’s what’s needed and we thank you, we thank you, we appreciate you for it.

And hopefully, from this fund, there will be more funds, you know, that will help save land, preserve land and then turn around and give homeownership to people who either grew up in this community or in the Asheville area.