Overall Rating Expired
Overall Score Expired
Liaison Margo Flood
Submission Date Aug. 24, 2016
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Warren Wilson College
IN-4: Innovation 4

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete Expired Alison Climo
Director of Institutional Effectiveness
Institutional Effectiveness
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Title or keywords related to the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Nurturing a living memory of African-American history in Western North Carolina and promoting awareness about it

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:

The idea behind the website (southashevillecemetery.net) is to “nurture a living memory of African-American history in this region and promote awareness about it,” says global studies professor Jeff Keith, who led the project. “It’s a place of great spiritual and historical value. My goal is to celebrate that. I’m hoping the website can make it a place that people can access, even if they don’t come to Dalton Street. My hope is that this will result in it being maintained forever.”

Keith’s student team built on the work done by archaeology professor David Moore and his students. Throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s, they probed the ground to discover and catalog the graves, all but 93 of which lacked tombstones. Because the bodies were often buried in pine coffins and wicker baskets, however, they decomposed quickly, leaving measurable cavities in the earth.

The archaeology team pinpointed where the bodies had been placed. But their blueprint remained largely inaccessible to the public until the new website harnessed GIS and Google Earth technology to readily display the map to anyone with computer access. Users can now explore the cemetery digitally, zooming in on each grave and clicking it to see what information archaeologists were able to unearth.

That data, however, is limited: The digital record indicates whether there’s a carved tombstone, a simple unmarked fieldstone or any other noticeable marking. Any information on the headstones is recorded. Some give names as well as birth and death dates; others bear only simple carved hints, such as “mother” or “our darling.” It isn’t known how many of the deceased were slaves.

“I find it fantastic to use the tools of the 21st century to tell stories of the 19th century. It’s also a huge challenge,” says Keith. “This is a unique effort in Western North Carolina. I don’t know of another African-American cemetery that’s being investigated this way.”
Although much of that history has been “lost to time,” notes Keith, “The cemetery offers some clues to what African-Americans have done for Buncombe County.”

A dozen or so stones, for example, are marked with masonic symbols suggesting, he says, “that there were builders there who probably contributed to some of the iconic buildings of downtown Asheville.” And the sheer scale of the burial ground, continues Keith, also goes a long way toward countering the claim that slavery barely existed here. Because WNC lacked the large-scale plantations that popular culture often associates with the institution of bondage, he says, he often encounters people who believe there was no slavery in the mountains.

“I think Appalachia, as a place, is often racialized to be white by media representations. … Sometimes people move here and they don’t have a clear awareness of the tremendous contributions that African-Americans made to this place,” says Keith. “We have segregated imaginations: We think about the past in ways that are limited by our assumptions. But when you really engage with the past, you find all kinds of exciting stories that defy those assumptions.” The cemetery, he adds, “prompts people to ask questions about the past that they might not otherwise consider.”


A brief description of any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation (if not reported above):

A .KML file was created that allows people to see the grave soundings on Google Earth, while the map also fuses information about what--if any--gravestones marked the site at the time of the initial mapping.

A website resulted from the work of thirteen students and three faculty members at Warren Wilson College who embarked on an experimental interdisciplinary program called the Appalachian Semester. The course instructors--David Ellum, Jeff Keith, and Catherine Reid--taught a set of four interrelated courses about Appalachian landscapes that all thirteen students took during the spring semester of 2014. This meant, among other things, that the students were able to participate in numerous field trips throughout the semester. One class, entitled "Engaging Appalachia," made a sustained commitment to working at the South Asheville Cemetery. Aside from participating in clearing efforts on a bi-weekly basis, the students started a fencing project around the cemetery's perimeter, and they contributed to the creation of this website through research and organizational efforts.


A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise:
Which of the following STARS subcategories does the innovation most closely relate to? (Select all that apply up to a maximum of five):
Yes or No
Curriculum Yes
Research Yes
Campus Engagement ---
Public Engagement Yes
Air & Climate ---
Buildings ---
Dining Services ---
Energy ---
Grounds ---
Purchasing ---
Transportation ---
Waste ---
Water ---
Coordination, Planning & Governance ---
Diversity & Affordability Yes
Health, Wellbeing & Work ---
Investment ---

Other topic(s) that the innovation relates to that are not listed above:
Social/Cultural Sustainability

The website URL where information about the innovation is available:

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