Virtual Town Hall Events Explore African American History in Smokies

October 12, 2021

Ron Davis Sr. fishing in Smokies

by Julie Dodd

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are holding virtual town hall events this fall concerning the history of African Americans within and around the park.

Participants in the virtual town hall meetings have the opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans in the park by attending a 30-minute program. Following the program, facilitators lead a discussion about current research and upcoming projects.

While African Americans have been in the Great Smoky Mountains region since at least the early 16th century, knowledge of their presence is relatively low, the park has found. The park is conducting this research effort to better understand the untold history of the African American experience in southern Appalachia.

Creating full history of Appalachian mountains

“In the heart of these mountains, you can find an African American doctor who served his community for 40 years, Job Corpsmen who continued the legacy of the CCC by building roads and trails that we enjoy today, and sacred burial grounds that date back to the 1860s,” said GSMNP Science Communicator Antoine Fletcher.

“Better understanding this unique African American experience helps us better share the full history of the Appalachian mountains.”

The first town hall event was hosted by Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College on Sept. 16.

“We were elated to have close to 60 people participate in the first town hall,” Fletcher said.  “It is amazing to see so many people in the area that never knew about the history of African Americans in the Smokies. We are looking forward to building from this history with our communities and stakeholders in the future.”

Fletcher shared the story of Ron Davis, Sr., as an example, of the African American connection to GSMNP. Davis and his family helped prepare the Mebane cabin on Millionaire Row in Elkmont, before the Mebane family came in for the weekend or summer. The photo at the top of this post is of Davis fishing in the Smokies.

Registration information

Two additional virtual town hall events will be hosted by the following universities:  

  • October 14 at 6 p.m.  – Western North Carolina University
  • October 22 (time to be determined) – University of North Carolina-Asheville

For more information about the town halls and to register for the Zoom town halls, visit https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/historyculture/town-hall-events.htm

Research on the African American experience in the Smokies is supported by Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association.

For more information on how you can be involved, please contact Science Communicator Antoine Fletcher at Antoine_Fletcher@nps.gov.