Part 1 | Southside behind the Red Line

by Asha Gowan

Southside Community Farm was born out of necessity. In order for you – our supporters, donors, and friends – to understand why saving our farm is so crucial…we need you to know this story

Donate here. 

Sign our petition to fight for our future.

Find more ways to support and protect the farm.

A Legacy of Resilience

1937 HOLC map of Asheville, in which all but one of the areas marked in red are majority black. Photo credit: https://ashevilleblade.com/?p=241

Redlining, a racist practice implemented in the 1930s, classified neighborhoods with high minority populations as “hazardous” for investment, outlining them in red on maps. 

Southside, or East Riverside as it was more commonly called at the time, was home to more than “50% of Asheville’s black population.” The bustling black neighborhood was labeled as “hazardous”, and thus became an area cut off from access to home loans, bank loans, and other critical wealth-building resources. 

This systematic divestment left homes and neighborhoods in disrepair, making it harder for people of color to invest in and uplift the communities they called home. But it wasn’t always this way.

When Southside didn’t Need a Free Food Resource

Southside, Asheville was once a thriving black economic center. After Reconstruction, enterprising black leaders fought tirelessly to secure resources in a hostile climate. Black entrepreneurs worked to build a thriving community:

Original graphic depicting historic Southside black businesses prior to urban renewal.

Just to name a few of historic Southside’s many resources: 8 apartment houses, 7 churches, 1 hospital, 1,100 homes, and 14 grocery stores centrally located and servicing virtually all consumer needs of the families depending on them.

These accomplishments were impressive. However, as one statistic from the late 1920s read,

Whites owned 30x more parcels of property than blacks” (167). White property was “valued at more than $10 million against a little more than $50,000 dollars owned by blacks.” 

That’s a 95% wealth disadvantage for Southside’s people of color. The long-term effects of these economic disparities continue today. 

As one Citizen Times article explained, “Two-thirds of white households — 65.9% — owned their own homes in Buncombe County in 2020, compared to 41.3% for Blacks, a gap of 24.6 points. This is only slightly better than the national 26.8-point gap in 1960, before the 1968 Fair Housing Act was passed.” 

Urban Renewal or Urban Removal?

As if redlining wasn’t enough, urban renewal projects from the 1950s to the 1970s displaced thousands of black families from their homes. The City of Asheville’s urban renewal project in Southside ended up being the largest in the southeastern United States.

Urban renewal proponents would say the projects were aimed to “revitalize” areas deemed “blighted,” but conveniently leave out the systematic neglect and denial of home loans behind that “blight”.

In an ABC News report, 59-year-old Southside resident Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson, as someone who has felt the effects of urban renewal, said:

“In our neighborhood, we had everything we needed, from the cradle to the grave. We had grocery stores there. We had laundromats. We had beauticians.” 

After the displacement and community disruption caused by urban renewal, none of Southside’s 14 small grocery markets returned to the neighborhood. Many other black-owned businesses closed for good after their land was possessed by the City of Asheville for low prices through eminent domain.

Stand with Us

Our farm is not a project isolated in time, nor put together by a resourceful few. We are actively healing the long-lasting and devastating effects of redlining, urban renewal, and food apartheid

Southside Community Farm is part of a larger movement for transgenerational liberation. Having made partnerships with several, we stand with organizations like: 

As Leah Penniman, founder of Soul Fire Farm, worded it, land has long been the “scene of the crime” for people of color. But BIPOC communities are repairing the wounds and reclaiming their land sovereignty. 

We are united in healing “from the violent history of slavery and sharecropping, to the forced removal and genocide of Indigenous peoples, to the victimization and exploitation of predominantly Latine farm workers.” | See Our Mission here

Take Action Now!

Southside Community Farm needs your help to continue this vital work. 

Donate here. 

Sign our petition to fight for our future.

Find more ways to support and protect the farm.

Part 2 Coming Soon! “Resilience in the Face of Food Apartheid” will explore:

  • What is food apartheid?
  • How did Southside Community Farm respond to food insecurity?
  • What does the Southside food apartheid look like today?
  • What difference has the farm made?

<< Back to Community Impact Timeline

>>Forward to Part 2: Resilience in the Face of Food Apartheid (Coming Soon)


About the Author

Asha Gowan is an eco-conscious copywriter, conservancy advocate, philosopher, artist, and poet with a multiethnic background. Asha has over 7 years of experience as a copywriter, and is transitioning into full time eco-conscious/sustainability writing.

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