History comes alive with the Black Cultural Heritage Trail


Asheville's Black Culture Heritage Trail was unveiled in December 2023, marking a significant milestone in the growing effort to amplify and preserve Affrilachian heritage. The trail includes 14 stops and 20 panels that reach across three historic Black neighborhoods and unearths intimate and fascinating stories of dignity, struggle and resilience. The trail highlights local landmarks like the YMI Cultural Center, one of the oldest Black community centers in America, everyday citizens like William R. “Seabron” Saxon, who refused to give up his bus seat four years before Rosa Parks to well-known figures like Nina Simone, who attended boarding school in Asheville.

Travelers and locals can explore each leg of the three-part trail – Downtown, Southside, and the River Area, also known as the River Arts District – and enjoy an immersive experience of the past while walking through historically significant sites and accessing additional digital content that brings history to life with inspirational music and videos. 

Now, as you're walking the trail, there's no reason not to enjoy Asheville in its present day! Below is our quick overview guide of the Black Culture Heritage Trail, some ideas of what to do near the trail and how to support local Black-owned businesses in the process.

Noir CollectiveDowntown: Renaissance of Black Businesses on The Block

The downtown section of the trail includes five stops that takes you through The Block, the historical center of Black innovation and creativity that is experiencing a renaissance of Black-owned small businesses. Noir Collective AVL is a boutique vendor for Black artists and creators and LEAF Global Arts is a gallery and retail space that produces an annual multicultural festival. Visitors will also learn about Asheville's historic Black churches and the enduring legacy of the YMI Cultural Center, one of the first Black community centers in the country that was designed by Biltmore architect Richard Sharp Smith, and will host a grand re-opening in 2024 after extensive renovations. 

MORE: Celebrating Black-Owned Businesses in Asheville, NC (exploreasheville.com)

Looking for lodging on The Block? Visitors can stay at The Foundry Hotel, which once crafted bricks for the Biltmore Estate and now hosts a free live Jazz night every Saturday and is a great place to grab a cocktail. There are dozens of great restaurants within close proximity of the downtown trail! Let this link be your guide.

Southside: “Urban Renewal” + Local Murals + "Afro-lachian" Cuisine

The four stops on this portion of the trail explore the dark history of urban renewal – a series of policies in the mid-20th century that ultimately demolished homes of half of Asheville’s Black residents. The trail also celebrates local Black luminaries like Dr. John Wakefield Walker, the first Black pulmonologist in America, who opened a tuberculosis clinic in 1915 when patients were flocking to Asheville for its clean mountain air. 

Don't miss a chance to explore the Southside's rich collection of public art with Mountain Mural Tours, including artist Jenny Pickens’ “Black Lives Matter” mural in the center of downtown. You can also check out SoundSpace, an art studio and music rehearsal space co-owned by Ween drummer Claude Coleman, Jr., who helped revitalize a Green Book-era landmark in the historic Rabbit's Motel.

Good Hot FishFor a quick off the trail food adventure, don't miss Ashleigh Shanti's new restaurant Good Hot Fish, a play on traditional fish camps with Black Appalachian and Southern cuisine honored on the menu. Good Hot Fish items include her popular fish sandwiches, hot crab dip, Sea Island red peas, hush puppies, shrimp burgers and more. Shanti, a James Beard semifinalist for "Rising Chef of the Year" and a Season 19 contestant on Top Chef, describes her food as "Afro-lachian"

MORE: The future of Asheville's cuisine is rooted in Appalachian past

The River Area: Meet A Living Legend

The River Area, also known as the River Arts District, exists today as a colorful mecca for creatives of all stripes, and the new art-inspired boutique hotel, The Radical

However, the River Area was once a historic center of Black business. One of the five stops honors Asheville's Matthew Bacoate, Jr., a Civil Rights icon who integrated a local bowling alley and golf course, opened the first Black-owned textile factory in North Carolina, counseled Presidents Nixon and Carter on Black entrepreneurship, and continues to run the Skyview Golf Tournament; the oldest Black golf tournament in the nation.


Also located in the River Area is Black Wall Street AVL, which operates as a business incubator and events space. Co-founders J. Hackett and Bruce Waller Jr. own GRIND coffee shop, also located in the River Area. Black Wall Street AVL hosts an annual celebration of Black entrepreneurship called GRINDfest.

Here's a great guide to finding out what else you can do in the River Arts District and 50 other things you shouldn't miss during you trip to Asheville!

Updated March 28, 2024