Great Smokies African American Experience  

January 13, 2020

In honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, we’re asking our friends to help fund an important 2020 project: the Great Smokies African American Experience, which supports research efforts to collect untold oral histories, personal experiences and family stories of African Americans in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This work will culminate into the creation and expansion of exhibits, interpretative and education programs, and possible publications through Great Smoky Mountains Association.



African-Americans on porch in Great Smoky Mountains Circa 1890-1903 - W.O. Garner Collection
African-Americans on porch in the Great Smoky Mountains Circa 1890-1903, Source: W.O. Garner Collection

Before this project began, we just had a few small pieces of information but no complete stories.

In Year 1, we hired PhD student, Adam McNeil to start doing research. During the summer of 2018, Adam connected with local African American groups in the area around the park but with a special focus in North Carolina.

In 2019, Adam continued his research and and worked with local researcher Lin Forney (Waynesville) to conduct oral histories. Along with our partners, we hosted two community sessions (Haywood County, NC and Blount County, TN) to locate individuals with stories or other information that will be useful for this project.


In year 3 (2020), the park will continue this work but expand the project by contracting with Latria Graham (GSMA Writer in Residence 2019) to assist in getting more information and developing an interpretative product related to the Turner family in Walker Valley.

We also will collaborate with WCU and their team that is doing ground penetrating radar studies in slave cemeteries around Western North Carolina. The intent is to be able to incorporate the African American experience in the Smokies into existing and new exhibits, interpretative and education programs and possibly GSMA and other publications.

(Total Project Cost: $20,000)