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Black Voices of Appalachia Oral History Project

In 2023, the park established its Black Voices of Appalachia Oral History Project – featuring interviews collected from 2018 – 2023. Great Smoky Mountain employees conducted oral histories focusing on the experiences of African Americans in the park and region. Each African American interviewee sheds light on the history of Black folks in Appalachia by sharing their story.


Season 1

4. Shirley Carr Clowney



Adam McNeil: Thank you so much for being with us today. It's a pleasure to have you. For the record, my name is Adam McNeil, interviewer, and we have our interviewee, Mrs. Shirley, Carr Clowny. And so I already said your name, but can you tell us your birthday for the record?

Shirley Carr Clowney: July 25th, 1936.

Adam McNeil: And for the record, mine is July 30th, of 1992.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Interesting. Interesting.

Adam McNeil: And so to begin, tell us about your family beginning with your parenting as far back as you know of your family.

Shirley Carr Clowney: One of the interesting things that I have learned since being a part of the Blount County Genealogical Historical Society is that my family is all from Blount County. I was able to go back to 1806 to find my father's father and mother, 1806, way before, what? What's the word I'm looking for? Emancipation, before slavery ended, it's almost unknown to be able to go back that far for African Americans. Now I want to know how they got to Alcoa, but all of my family is originally from Blount County and mostly in Alcoa Also, my grandfather owned 108 acres where the north plant is of the aluminum company. And I'm still trying to find out if they took it or if he bought they he sold it or if he got anything at all for it. But it's out there where the north plant is and where Shoneys is this on the Alcoa highway near the airport.

So that is history that I did not know until 2018 when I did the research at the courthouse here in Maryville, there are eight siblings in our family. One is deceased, happened to die in North Carolina, got ill eating something wrong over there. Could not be brought back to Alcoa. So he had to be buried there. In North Carolina, there are four brothers and three sisters. Three of us are still alive, the others all passed in their late eighties. My father was a brick mason and built a lot of buildings and community houses and communities, schools, churches. He was very well known in this area for the kind of work that he did. Two of my bro older brothers worked with him and the rest of us all went to college and he paid for us. We did not have to work while we went to college.

So that is something that is a bit unusual for people in this area. Dunno, you talk about, keep going as long as you can. Now, in 1954, the law changed something versus education, brown versus education. And one of the persons who worked with my father was a principal at Hill High School, which is the black school in Maryville, told my father, suggested to my father that I enrolled in Maryville College. And I said, huh. But there were two of my friends who graduated with me and I talked them into enrolling with me at Merriville College. I believe it was in the spring or early summer that brown versus education came about. And we went over and registered right after that, becoming the first three black women ever to be enrolled in Maryville College. There were black men enrolled in the 18 hundreds, but 1901 was the last year that African Americans attended Maryville College.

So before going to Maryville College, we went to the only black school for us in Blount County. And we walked a mile from our house to the school for 12 years. The only time we didn't walk was when it was raining and my father couldn't work and my father happened to have a car. And at that time you didn't have to have seat belts. So his car would be filled with kids in taking them to the school and we'd have to wait until he came back to take us because there would be so many going in his car. So after I graduated, I lived a mile from Maryville College, so I walked another two years. So I walked one mile to school for 14 years here in Blount County we found, but as when we went to Maryville College and we didn't stay on campus of course but I walked to school.

I didn't on campus, but we've found that we were not adequate, adequately prepared to be competitive with the white students who had had different kinds of education than we had. As a matter of fact, we got used books from the Alcoa schools to use in Hall High School. And the other thing is that all of the students took the same classes. There was no such thing as special classes or AP classes. We all took the same courses except for home economics and shop. So they were preparing the African American students, I guess, to work in homes and to do manual type labor. After two years, I told my dad, I said, look, first of all, I graduated at see valedictorian at Hall Highschool school did not mean one thing at Maryville College. So I told my dad, I said, if I can't get A's and B's I need to go somewhere else where I can. And so after two years we all stopped and I enrolled in Tennessee State University.

I got my average back up and ended up being on one of the honors societies. But after I graduated there, first of all my husband was from West Tennessee Nashville is in Middle Tennessee. I'm from East Tennessee. And so East met West in middle and remarried and started a family. After I graduated, I found that I could not find a job in home economics, which it was my subject area. And for some reason we ended up moving to New Jersey and I had to go to Rutgers to get certified to teach elementary ed. I had was, I had degree in elementary and secondary. And so I wanted to be prepared for either if a job came up and I actually got hired at my first interview. And I remember one particular thing about that interview that has stayed with me all this time, the superintendent asked me, how do you think you would will be in a classroom of all white students?

And I said, excuse me. My father taught us that people are people that we respect them no matter what. And I was hired, I was in the New Jersey school system for 28 years. So one of the things that happened though was that I ended up in the high school and the high school students were very disrespectful. And one of the things that happened to me is that I retired at age 55 because I had met the requirements for retiring after 28 years and whatever else. So I actually came out at age 55 and I have not looked back. I have been able to move forward and here I am now still doing things and not confined to a particular job. I'm doing something I really want to do. You want to ask questions?

Adam McNeil: Of course. No, no, no. I keep What were your parents' names?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Okay. My father was James Andrew Carr known as Andy Carr. And my mother was Mary Pearl nicely from North Carolina. I don't remember how they met, but I think her mother moved here from North Carolina and they were married back in 1902 I believe. So my mom was a stay at home mom. She made us get up and dust and mop the floor and do the dishes and put them away before we walked that mile to school every day. I think Sunday when we went to church we didn't have to do so much. And we were brought up in the Baptist church and were very active Sunday school, morning worship, sometimes afternoon service and evening service, which they called B Y P U Baptist Young People's Union. So we were very active in the church and we weren't able to do a lot of things. Like we weren't allowed to play cards or go to dances. So we were brought up a little, shall I say deprived. Anyway, it, it's worked out for us anyway, whether we could or not. We've managed.

Adam McNeil: It was very interesting. It was always interesting hearing about the upbringings folks and such. So that's phenomenal information. And also being able to go back to 1805, that is, that's exceptional. What are the names of any of those ancestors of yours that go back that far?

Shirley Carr Clowney: It was a Carr and we're not sure it was K E R R because when they took what they're getting ready to take now.

Adam McNeil: Census

Shirley Carr Clowney: Census, we have found that in some cases they might have been known as K E R R instead of C A R R because they just kind of wrote down whatever it is they've heard. And we have some well, we're not all together. Sure. But what we found was C A R R, what was his first name. And we also found about three years ago that they're buried out here in Maryville. And we did not know it, but their graves were overgrown. And my brother and someone here from the library, from the Genealogy Society went out and cleared that area and we found their gravestones. I probably have them somewhere, but anyway, they are buried right here in Blount County and their record is right in the Blount County Courthouse. So I don't remember Alice, Alice was her name and what was his name? Probably, I don't know. Better not say. But anyway, it's on record right here and we never ever knew it. So that's a part of history that a lot of people don't have because they have not researched it.

Adam McNeil: So not to stay there for too long. But I'm, I'm intrigued by this were, what was the actual record? Because you set up the thing such book, were they, was it a sale record or was what was the kind of record?

Shirley Carr Clowney: They have these big books larger than that frame over there and we had to climb up on a ladder to get these big books. And all of this information is in fact in the books over in the courthouse. And I don't know how it was done, but it's there in writing. And I'm not sure if my grandfather did this for me or not, but my father started working at the aluminum company when it was started here in about 1918. And he kind of worked with the builders to do a part of that. And he was on a baseball team called The Sluggers because my father was such a religious person. There was a time when the team was asked to play on Sunday. He said he put his glove on his arm and said, I go to church on Sunday, I can't play anymore. I remember that as something that he was just very good about following his beliefs. And so I mentioned earlier that we weren't allowed to do certain things on Sunday. Playing ball was one of them. So that was one thing that stood out to me for a man who took his beliefs seriously and it showed in everything that he did.

Adam McNeil: Now saying. And so you talked about your family going back to the Alcoa area, the CARR slash KERR family going back to 18 0 5, 18 0 6, rather with the record. So do you have as much knowledge about your mother's side? Is that the North Carolina?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I do not. And the person who worked with me to get that information had agreed to go with me to North Carolina to do that. It never happened, but I haven't given up on it.

Adam McNeil: Good, good, good. So talked a little bit about your family history, genealogical history, genealogical work that you've done. But can you tell us about what your earliest childhood memory is?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I remember that we well my father built this stone house in, I think it was early book19 hundreds. And it was like the only big house in Blount County. I mean they called it Oakfield it's now Alcoa. And it was a pretty big house and we would play high to go seek around the house and we were allowed to go in the street, which was, it, wasn't paved, it was rock. And we could play ball in front of the house. Now down the street there was a baseball field, but I wasn't allowed to go there and play because it was out of sight of my parents. So we could only play in the front of the house on the street. Now when I learned to skate, I had to go down the street on to Aluminum Avenue where there was a sidewalk because there was no place to skate on Hood Street.

By the way, when we moved there, when my dad moved there, it was called Hood Street just before he passed in 1989, they named that street, Andy Carr Avenue. So we have a street named for our father. A couple of months ago, there was an article in the paper about schools or buildings here with the bricks that were falling off. And I have an article that some person wrote saying they should have had Andy Carr build their house. They wouldn't have these problems. Now that to me was real special. And I still have that article somewhere because he didn't cut corners, he did the work the way it was supposed to be done. And there are houses and buildings like four 11 hotel down the road at Mount Lebanon Church of the Highway going toward the Smokey Mountains he built. So anyway, that's whats coming to mind right now.

Adam McNeil: That's awesome. That's awesome. And also too, what pride do you take from knowing that when you walk around and you drive around Alcoa and Blount County largely that you see emblems of your family history, what does that do for you?

Shirley Carr Clowney: It makes you feel humble. It makes you feel that people recognize contributions that have been made that are still alive and that people still recognize. They give credit and honor to the kind of work that was done by our four parents. One of the things that I recall is the church that we went to, St. John Baptist Church would take a bus to the Smoky Mountains or up to Cades Cove for our Sunday school picnic. And I remember that going around the mountains, some of the kids would get sick and just like it was yesterday, I remember taking, we would take a box of wooden matches and you could chew on the wooden match and that would keep you from becoming ill. The other thing is that when we moved back here in 1992, our children stayed in New Jersey. But every summer when school was out, our grandchildren would come here and stay with us for the summer. They would call our house momma's and pop pop's summer camp. And one of the things we would do is take them up to Cade's Cove and we would take our picnic and blankets and the kids would have the biggest time going out on the rocks and they would catch the salamanders and they would have so much fun. We did that every summer. It was a trip to Kate Cove was just a part of what we normally would do Now that they are grown, when they come here, we still do that. Our first grandson is now about 30 years of age and two years ago, he and his wife came here and they purchased a piece of property in Pigeon Forge and they are now looking to add to that.

I mean he's 30 years old and he went to California to do his internship, ended up getting a job, ended up making buku money over a hundred thousand dollars a year. And he's out there now still doing well. But when they come here we go to Pigeon Forge. But of course if you go to Pigeon Forge, you're going to go to Gatlinburg and to, what's the other place? Well, I guess it is Pigeon Forge. That's, that's where his property is now. So it's interesting how from California, he has come here and decided to use that as an income for he and his wife.

Now our daughter who's now 61 years of age comes every year and we go up to the old mill, which is in Pigeon Forge. She has to go to the old mill for a dinner every time she comes. And then we go shopping. And the last time she was here this summer, she got a rock at one of the places outside of the old mill with her daughter's fiance's name on it. And we are keeping it until they get married this year. But we just have to go up there and eat. And that's something that we look forward to this year. We took our niece with us who doesn't get around like we do. And it was good for her. She enjoyed that very much.

I remember years ago going up to Clingman's Dome. Now we have not been up there in a long time because driving around those curves are a challenge and one that I'm not up to and my husband doesn't do that kind of driving and the Smokies, oh, there's something interesting. I remember my dad used to take people up to the Smokies on Sunday afternoon and there was one of his friends who was in the front seat with him and my dad knew those mountains like the back of his hand. And so he's going around the curves and this man is putting on brakes and by the time they get back the Alcoa, his legs are swollen from putting on brakes. But when my dad would go around the curves kind of quickly, so that's something that I have not forgotten over the years, that he would take people up there that didn't have any other way means of getting there just so they could see the beauty of the mountains. Many times when I drive up there, I wonder how in the world could anyone ever say they didn't believe in God. There's no way men could create anything like the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. And I don't care how many times you go, you always enjoy. So we are glad we are at the foothills off the Smokies.

Adam McNeil: Definitely, definitely. And you know, spoke about your father and his experience being able to hit those windy roads and like a pro as if, he's always been there. What are some of the stories that he might've provided to you about how he reached the ability to do so and what experiences did he have as even maybe a youngster or his connections to the mountains?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I don't know about connections to the mountains, but I remember at one point there were no jobs here and he caught a train and went to Ohio to work when he was younger. But I don't know if I remember anything specifically about he and the Smoky Mountains in his earlier years. I imagine that he might have driven over that way to North Carolina where my mom was from. But I don't remember anything specifically about anything that he has told us about his experiences. And he was one that liked to talk and tell you, but it's just that I can't remember all that stuff. I mean we would sit on the front porch and we had a swing out there and he would sit in this corner chair and rock and he would share with us anybody who came down the street, they might come over hi Mr. Andy, they'd come in and talk to him. So he was well known in the community and well respected and people would often come in and talk with him about different things.

Adam McNeil: And so with that too, did you feel, how did you feel connected to the mountains as someone growing up?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I don't know except I distinctly remember St. John taking those bus trips. They are perhaps my earliest memories of going to the Smokies and I, we always went and we carried our basket lunches and our tea and sodas and we would go into certain areas and I'm not sure if Cade's Cove is where the Sunday school went or not. I just know that's where we went and still go and they're closed it off this week so they can't get in there. So hope nobody comes from New Jersey until they open it up again. But I don't remember much more about those trips except just the other day I mentioned we had to get some matches to start to grill outside and I thought about how we chewed on those matches to keep from getting sick. You know how you, I don't know if you know, but you would get to the point where you might regurgitate because of going around the curbs. And so that's the main thing that I remember. I don't know if we had any ball games or anything like that. I do know that we would sit around the table and go into the water. Everybody liked going, walking in the rocks in the water. And at one time our grandchildren came and they got on those inner tubes and one of our granddaughters lost her shoe up there. That was in Townsend maybe. So we've had interesting kinds of experiences over the years and now all of those grandchildren are all now married with their own families and we expect they'll be bringing them their youngsters here to experience some of the things that they did as a child.

Adam McNeil: What are your favorite places? What actually, what is your favorite place in the park?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Cade's Cove.

Adam McNeil: Cade's Cove.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Now there's another place that you don't have to go to the right, to the cove, you can go to the left and I can never remember the name of it, but it's very similar to Cade's Cove. So we don't want to do all of that. We go to this place, come on before you get to Pigeon Forge and it's a park that's very much like Cade's Cove and I should remember the name of it. But lately, since we are getting older, we go there instead of driving to the cove. But it, it's very similar. They have the picnic tables, you can go down to the water. I don't think there is many rocks like there are in the cove. And when we went went tubing that was right there in, oh, what's the name of that? Townsend. I believe they like that.

Adam McNeil: And so you talked about attending or visiting the Smokies throughout your life and as a visitor who's been, who has visited for a number of years, have you seen, what have you seen that's changed, if at all, about the African American presence within the visitation, right? You've visited for generations. Has the population of African Americans, Black folks generally increased, decreased, or things that you're conscious of?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Well, I don't know if I can give a response to that. A lot of people here now don't take the time to get out of Alcoa Drive to don't even want to drive in Knoxville. I used to go to church in Knoxville and I would have tickets for different events. They would not go across that bridge to Knoxville. So I don't know too many people here who traveled to the mountains on a regular basis. It's just, okay. I belonged to a church in New Jersey that was mixed. We were in the minority and the pastor and his wife and I became good friends and my husband worked on Sunday, so I was the church goer. They left and went to Minnesota and we stayed in touch. They came back here to Maryville and spent two days with us. And then of course I had to take them to the Smoky Mountains.

So it's that kind of thing. We're still in touch till this day. And I left there. I mean they left there back in, we moved here in 92 and they left before then and we're still in touch by phone, by email, by letters. So that's something that is special to me. And they certainly enjoyed the trip to the Smoky Mountains. And anytime we have company that's not from this area, we just drive up there and come back, just drive and show them the beauty of the mountains. So we were glad to be in this area because we see God's, handy work.

Adam McNeil: There we go. Now was that, you said that you attended a mixed, A mixed. Was the minister Black African American or was it?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Uhuh, this white. White.

Adam McNeil: Okay.

Shirley Carr Clowney: As a matter of fact, I don't know if I want to say this or not. I joined, I went to church in Knoxville for 25 years because it was a more progressive church. When I go to church, I want a song, I want a prayer, I want a message, and I want to go home. I don't want to be standing there saying the same words over and over and over again. The preacher saying, tell your neighbor that's not my way of worshop. So that Alcoa, the church over there split and the Alcoa highway is very dangerous. So I stopped going. They said, now they said, where am I going to go? I'll go to a white church. We're the only people of color there. And so now with the atmosphere of people going in and shooting the pastor and the members, we have decided, we go to Sunday school, we go in the back door, come out the back door after Sunday school and come home and watch TV service. Don't go into the main worship area because I want to live and I don't want anyone else to lose their life because of me, because of my (inaudible.) So that's something that's most unusual. Now the people here don't understand why I do that. They don't know why I won't come to their church. And I told you I know what my worship experience is and I'm not going to sit there for two and a half hours. I just won't do it. So that is a challenge for me at this particular time of my life.

Adam McNeil: It's definitely something that I can definitely understand, you know, like what you like and your message packed the way that you like it. So yeah, I definitely understand that. And so. Shirley Carr Clowney: The people don't. I mean, you understand, but they don't.

Adam McNeil: Yeah, definitely. And so just you know, going a little bit back to your childhood and your experiences growing up here, what was your experience like growing up in Alcoa, just generally speaking, what was that like?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Well, like I said, we lived in an area that at the time was integrated and my dad was just the kind of person that people were people, he didn't care what color they were and that's how we were brought up. We could play with them and do things with them. One thing that I remember is that I was not allowed to go to movies with a boy unless we went in a car and it was in walking distance. So they were very particular about me being with guys. If I had a boyfriend and he came to the house at 10 o'clock, then we'd hear shoes drop. That meant it was comprehend to go home. So that's one thing that I remember. And I remember once going to the fair, they would have a fair here. And it was in walking distance and somehow, I'm not sure I told my parents I was going with this friend of mine or not, but we did go and I think that's when I got my first kiss. So it was different. I couldn't go with him to parties or anything. He could come to my house or we could walk through the neighborhood. But I remember once going to the movies and he had to call a taxi to take me to the movies. So that was a little bit different than most other kids that they had lots more freedoms that we had.

And the other thing is there were seven of us so alive. My older brother was four years older than my younger sister was five years. Wait a minute. Oh I meant my brother was four years older than I. My next sister was five years younger than I. So I was out there by myself, so to speak. And I always felt like I was not able to do things as other kids my age could do because I was protected. I was overly protected and I wasn't allowed to, was trying to remember if I ever got when I got my driver's license, but I wasn't able to do things like other kids could do. And I always kind of felt like I was too protected. And it was an unusual situation to be in my brother, the brother who was four years older than I was the one that I looked up to for guidance.

And if I said I want to go to the prom and he would help me try to get to the prom. Or he was like a person that I could talk to when I had a situation that I was dealing with. And speaking of prom, the first prom that I went to, I had to go with my married brother and his wife and my dad did not know I was going and my mother had borrowed this dress from my pastor's wife. It was the ugliest thing I ever saw. I could not get a gown. So I wore that and I went with them and the guy that I was dating had to meet me at the place of the prom and come back before midnight. And my senior prom, I did not get to go to, I missed my senior prom because of my parents' attitude toward dancing. So I was pretty protected.

Adam McNeil: Staying here. But I think this is an interesting moment. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that? The protection that your family, that your parents had? What, looking back on that, what are your thoughts on that?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Somehow I wonder how I have gotten into being so involved in things and doing things that were pretty much unheard of in that time and how I have been able to contribute historical information. I, I'm not sure how that got in my head, but honestly I, I'm different than anybody else in my family. I was going through some things. This is a group called Voices of the Valley. Yes. I worked with this professor at Maryville College for her students to go out into the Alcoa community and to interview people who came here from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to work in the aluminum company. This lady saw those interviews which are here in the library by the way. She saw them and decided to write a play called Voices of the Valley. And initially we had people who were used to doing theater in Athens and they would come here presented, we did it here in the library initially, but now we have people whose parents were involved.

So they are actually descendants of those people who came here to work in the aluminum company because the pot room was so hot that other ethnicities could not stand it. And they thought that these people who lived in the south could take that heat of the pot room. And my husband plays a guy in the pot room. Wow. So now we have given this play about a dozen times because this year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the city of Alcoa. And we're also, and I'm working on that committee and the committee from Maryville College that is celebrating 200 years of existence here. So anyway, I don't know how I got into that. I, as a matter of fact, I just got called from Tennessee State University to work with two other people on the 60th anniversary of our graduation in 1960. And you know what? I told them I didn't think I could take on another thing. I learned to just say no. And then I thought about, well that would've been a real addition to the things that I have done, but can't do it.

Adam McNeil: Everything. Yeah. And it's interesting, we interviewed, like I told you before, Jackie, Jackie Hill, Tennessee State grad as well. I'm also a proud historical black college grad. Yeah. Florida A&M University. October 3rd, 1887. Thank you. Yeah. Okay. And so it's a part of our pride. And so coming from that kind of historical stock and even just thinking about the local, the color Tennessee, it originated.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Oh

Adam McNeil: It originated by Mrs. Scott in Nashville in 1865. And then tell us about the paper color of Tennessee.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Well, there was a time when it was very dangerous for blacks to live here. And William B. Scott's family moved to Knoxville. And in fact Scott, I don't know, it was not, his brother had been captured but was able to get away and went to Knoxville. And that's where they learned the newspaper business. They moved to Nashville for one year and did the color Tennesseean, then they came back here and they did the, what did they call it? I should know that. But anyway, he had the only local paper for 10 years.

Adam McNeil: Maryville Republican?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Republican. It was the Republican. And I did the research on him and was able to get a portrait of him eight by four foot portrait in the municipal building. And it was done by a friend of mine who was a, what do you call a person who does art. And we worked for a long time to get this eight by four foot portrait. This is bigger that as that door and it is now in the Miracle Municipal Building. When it was done, they told me that it was going to be put in a particular place and the day that they were putting it there, I went there and I said, well, I was told it was going to be in such and such place. I didn't win that one, but that's okay. He's up there. That is a monumental task for me to be able to get someone who was the only black mayor of Maryville before or after, there's never been another one. So he holds that distinction and he now has this place in the municipal building. The church beside the municipal building has a cemetery, well, didn't belong to that church, belong to New Providence, but his remains are in that cemetery. And I have been able to take bus tours. I took tours to the cemetery and to the municipal building and also to the old Stone house where they kept slaves on the Underground Railroad. So that's something else that I have done over the years. The last one I, I ended up in the hospital in heart attack, so I don't do it anymore. We would, starting the Blount County Museum, we'd go to the cemetery, we'd go to the county building where his portrait is, then we'd go to Friendsville where the Underground railroad stopped and we would go into the house where they kept the slaves and in the basement of that house is still standing. There would be holes in the wall where the slaves would have to go in and sleep during the day because they traveled at night and then they would go by water to the next place. So I was able to take them there. Also took them to the Quaker church because the Quakers were very important in helping not only the slaves, but also white people who couldn't get jobs. So the Quaker church was very important during the time of the Underground Railroad. And we would take them to their church. Now at one point you could see the cave that Cudjo's Cave, that where they would stay. But now it is owned by someone else and no one is allowed to go in there. As a matter of fact, I've heard they saw it has been closed off. But those are things that I got involved in. And like I said, the very last tour I took, I got back to the church and they had to take me home. So I think when I do something I just put myself into it and I overdo it. And I'm trying to learn to just say, no.

Adam McNeil: Think we can all learn to do that.

Shirley Carr Clowney: You got a long way to go then get to 83.

Adam McNeil: Hey, well hope, hopefully we can take that long, long road.

Shirley Carr Clowney: And wish you well.

Adam McNeil: Thank you. Thank you. I do have a question. You brought up Cudjo's Cave. Tell us about Cudjo's Cave. I never heard of it.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Well that's where they would go during the day and stay before they would get back on the water and Cudjo's Cave was right on the lake but wasn't (inaudible).

Adam McNeil: Well. What's the name of that lake? I'm sorry.

Shirley Carr Clowney: I don't know the name of the lake. But it's in Friendsville. Friendseville. Okay. And they, I don't know if they now actually the old Stonehouse is not terribly far from Cudjo's Cave. So I don't know if they had different groups going to different places that I don't know. But Cudjo's Cave had an opening where they could go in and feel safe and come out at night and move on down the river until, I don't know if they went to Louisville. They call it Louisville, I call it Louisville. But there's a place there also that has a place, a house where a slaves would stay overnight before getting on the water.

Adam McNeil: Very interesting. And so I'm trying to think, so you know talked about park experience from when you were younger. What does the park mean to you now? What does, not even the park but just the space and the land, what does that mean to you?

Shirley Carr Clowney: All I see is God's handy work. And where we live now, when we go down the street ahead of us is the longest view of the Smoky Mountains. I have actually stopped my car and taking pictures, especially when there was snow. And when I come down there, I'm just in awesome. There's so many different ranges and different levels that I just think about the [inaudible] of God, how he has created this and we are right here where we can really appreciate it. I don't know of anything in New Jersey that causes me to be moved by just seeing the beauty of the mountains. It's awesome. It's just almost, it's like a dream. How could this, how could we be here and be able to appreciate the handy work of God. And we are right at the foothills of it. It's awesome.

Adam McNeil: Yes,

Shirley Carr Clowney: It really is.

Adam McNeil: It is. And so you said that your favorite place in the park is Cade's Cove. That was a very quick answer. When it comes to just the nature experiences generally, what's your favorite part about just the environment around? Cause I know you said God's country, but landscape wise, what's your favorite, what's your favorite season within the Smokies?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Oh, when the leaves changed, and this was an unusual year because of the dry weather, but we always like to go to the mountains when the leaves are orange and brown and red. That is just all, it's unbelievable. And there's a spot between Townsend and Pigeon Forge where you can see different, different, what the mountains are arranged in different ways. It is just unbelievable. Even though we didn't get to see the colors change this year, we usually do. We still went up there when my daughter was here and we found this place, we know where it is, but we stop there, we get out of the car and we take pictures because of the different, I don't know how to describe it, but the range and the shapes of the mountains is phenomenal. It's just unbelievable. And I still enjoy I started probably when I was about eight or 10. I'm 83 now and I still want to go see it. Absolutely. Yeah, it's just an awesome experience that doesn't grow old.

Adam McNeil: And I noticed too with your bookmark there, Black and Appalachia, what does it mean for you to be Black in Appalachia?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I don't know how to say, I don't know how to comment on that. Because of my experiences, because of my parents who trained us, because of other experiences that I've had, I think I've a little different than most people of color here. And I feel like I have made some insignificant contributions, if you will, because I have embraced the idea of being in a place where God has allowed me to research and to share with others. So I'm just happy to have been able to contribute what I have contributed because I don't know anybody else who has done as much. There's some, but it's just one thing leads to another and I'm just glad that I've had this opportunity and that I have been able to research and preserve months of the history of our people.

Adam McNeil: And so for the record, what is it that you're holding right now?

Shirley Carr Clowney: This book, Our Place in Time: Blacks in Blount County represents many years of research and questioning and collecting from different people. Information about Blacks in Blount County, from the army to the plant to just plain light to school. This is like a dream. I had 500, first I ordered 200 and they went real quickly. So I ordered 300 more. I think I have about five left. And the interesting thing about it is that when it first came out, I was invited to most of the white churches around here and I'd sell 25 or 30 at one sitting. And it wasn't until recently that some of the black churches were and I'd sell 10, maybe five. I did go to Knoxville and I sold 24 at Mount Olive. That's where I went for all those years. So they let me come back and sell it. So this is the chronic glory to the work that I've done. And right now I had someone call me yesterday and asked how many books I had and I told them what I just told you. And so I said what I will do is find out if people want them and if they do and there's enough for me to read the best, then I will. But this has been my chronic glory.

Adam McNeil: Wow. And it is also something that I worked, I visited before the meeting last year. I reached out to Beck.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Yes, yes.

Adam McNeil: What interactions have you had with them?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Oh, now my husband has been the chair of the Beck Committee and I have been friends with all of the people who have directed it from Bob Booker to, oh, I can't remember his name, to Renee Kessler. We are real tight and I would go over there a lot more if I didn't have to go on that Alcoa Highway. But when they have special events, we're there. And Renee and Cato has things on a civic there and they have my book. I think they might have sold them cause I didn't see them the last time I was there a couple weeks ago. So we are very involved with Beck.

Adam McNeil: What does Our Place in Time: Blacks in Blount County, now that it's out, people are obviously raving, you've sound like you're nearing almost a thousand copies that you've sold since publication. What does this publication mean to you and your legacy as a Blount County resident from Alcoa? What does this mean for you and your family?

Shirley Carr Clowney: It's like a contribution from my heart to those who are coming after us so that they will have some history that might not be available anywhere else. So for me it's for future generations to know something about their heritage. That's kind of the way, I don't know if that's what you were.

Adam McNeil: No, no, that's perfect. That that's literally perfect. And you know, broached this a little bit, but going back to the park briefly do you feel, what kind of connection do you feel to the park?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I'm not sure what you are asking, but to me it's a historical, historical part of my life that is unusual, different from New Jersey in that it appeals to so many different kinds of people. And when you go up there in the summer, their cars are like, you know, could hardly go a mile in less than an hour. At one time I was asked to do a presentation in Townsend, what is the name of the building there that has historical stuff? And I can't remember now

Adam McNeil: There's there's ,couple museums, I can remember.

Shirley Carr Clowney: Okay. So Cato and I, Cato has had an exhibit there and I have delivered a message there. So we've had that kind of connection. It's so part of the Smoky Mountains, although it's in Townsend and we go up there periodically, there's a church there called Wilders that was here in Blount County. And that's where, in fact, I went there with another white guy that was working with me here at the library. We went there and dug out the, what do you call it, the brick that has information on it, the come on it will come to me. But anyway, they didn't know who had that church before. And some people were trying to buy it and we had to go prove that it was a part of the African-American community. The cornerstone. The cornerstone, the cornerstone. It was all covered up. And so Keith Teller and myself went and cleaned it out and took a picture of it. But actually they did not stay in that church long. They used it and they actually went to the courthouse and tried to get titled to it. As it turned out that didn't work. And they have now moved that building to Townsend and it's up there now. I think they use it for weddings and things like that. So the cemetery where that church was is where my grandparents are buried that we didn't know were there. So that that's a part of the history that has moved from one area to one where it has still been recognized so that it's called Wilder's, I think it's Wilder's Church.

Adam McNeil: And so in the short amount of time that we have left with you, when you think just about your legacy, we talked about it a bit with your book, but just generally speaking, right, like you've said, you're very much involved, been involved, and still currently are involved in so much the point where you have to say no to things when it's all said and done. What do you want your legacy to be here?

Shirley Carr Clowney: That I try to leave history for future generations that may not have been available in any other way than the way I have presented it. To preserve our history in pictures and in Word that will be easily understood by all. I have tried to make it so that anybody can understand it and hopefully appreciate it.

Adam McNeil: And one last question. Generally speaking, because I see you as someone with your hand on the heartbeat of Black Blount County, what do you think the current relationship is between the local African American community here in Blount County and the Great Smoky Mountains? Do you think that there needs to be improvement or is it good? What are your thoughts?

Shirley Carr Clowney: There is room for improvement. When we have the Martin Luther King celebration that usually start in Alcoa and march to Maryville College. There are many African Americans that will not leave Alcoa to come to Maryville College to celebrate Martin Luther King's life. You go there and they're mostly white people in the audience. Once when they had it in Alcoa and it was at the Alcoa High School, they went out, they were there. I have not been able to figure out why, except that they are in their comfort zone and don't want to get out and have not been taught or have not learned how to be involved, how to interact with people beside their own.

That has bothered me for a while. As a matter of fact, people in there ask me, where are you go to church? Because I'm not going to their churches because of what I told you. But now they're coming to me and asking me, where do you go to church? They know where I go to church. I don't know what their mindset is for doing that, but it's just started happening a lot within the last two or three months. Where do you go to church? Now, If Bethel is having something, I will get invited. I will go and St. John is having something. I get invited. Cause a matter of fact, they actually gave Cato and some kind of recognition, I can't remember exactly what it was, but they recognized us for the work that we're doing. So I can't find it. It bothers me that more people are not actively involved in our history, preserving it, sharing it, and I don't know how to address it. I have gone to almost all of the churches that have spoken at one time or another. The Methodist churches, the Baptist churches have been to almost all of them at one time or another about one subject or another. But they're just very different. Very different. So I don't know what question you asked me.

Adam McNeil: No. You reached it, you know, talked about what your legacy is and also just thinking about the connection to the park too. And it's it, you talk about the lack of extension with the King celebration and when it extends to Maryville, and I was surmised too. Do you think that they do African Americans in the community, do they get out to the Smokies as much as you hear?

Shirley Carr Clowney: Probably not. Yeah, I think I would hear more if that were true. They take bus trips to Knoxville to, there's a park over there. I can't remember the name of it, but that's the only place I hear of them going for picnics, for outings. So just very different that the mindset of the young people and older people is just different than what I've been accustomed to. They don't even take the newspaper. So whenever I'm doing something, I have to do flyers and disseminate them or get on the phone. I think both contact is my best way of getting people out so.

Adam McNeil: That, well, Ms. Clowney, is there anything else you think we should talk about or something that we (inaudible) or anything that you want to tell the people who will be watching it this oral history in a year, two years, 10 years, or however long this is going to be?

Shirley Carr Clowney: I'm getting old and tired and trying to figure out how I'm going to fit in. I was just going through a book that's done by the Maryville Times and just before you called me, this is what I was working on when you called me. My family, my younger sister, she's four years younger. She's deceased, he's deceased, he's deceased, he's still living and he's deceased and he just had a stroke and a brain stroke. So I'm having to help them. She's completely bed rest, completely. So I have those kinds of demands on my life now, in addition to what I'm doing, this is where they named the street for my father. This is when he was with the Alcoa Sluggers. But he played until they wanted to play on Sunday. And that's my mom. I have that now in my house, but it's on the street. So anyway, that's what I was doing when you called me and I did not remember that I had an appointment. I had not heard that. It's probably cause said, don't answer that phone you don't know who that is, so I have to do text. Yeah,

Adam McNeil: No problem at all. No problem at all. And well, we definitely thank you for taking the time out and especially on such short notice of you getting in your car and coming over here and like I said the folks who are going to be viewing this and the immediate future and in the long term, I think they're going to learn a lot about the local African American heritage here. And I'm glad that we were able to get you on and thank you for all that you've done. Hey. No, not at all. This is just like Kaya come at you as you are. So thank you so much.



“We were the first three Blacks that enrolled into Maryville College after Brown V. Board,” Shirley Carr Clowney told the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s oral history interviewer. Shirley Carr Clowney can remember when she and her two friends enrolled at Maryville College. She also recalls growing up in the old stone home that her father built on Hood Street and how her upbringing led her to research the history of African Americans in Blount County and become an author.

3. Daniel “The Blackalachian” White


Audiofile: WHITE Daniel 7 Feb 2023 [START OF TAPE 1]

Antoine Fletcher: All right, let's get started. So this is Antoine Fletcher, science communicator of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today is September 20th, 2021. I am interviewing for the first time Daniel White, aka, The Blackalachian. This interview is taking place via Zoom. The interview is sponsored by the National Park Service, and is part of the African-American Experience Project, which is an effort to investigate research and educate the public about the stories of African Americans in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and neighboring communities. How are you, Daniel?

Daniel White: Oh, I'm doing great. I'm doing great. Thank you for having me.

Antoine Fletcher: Oh, it's awesome to have you as well. So let's get started here. So for the record, can you state your first and last name, place and date of birth?

Daniel White: My name is Daniel White. I was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, raised in Asheville, North Carolina. 36 years old. Born in June, June 15th, 1985.

Antoine Fletcher: Thank you. Thank you. So can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up? You just talked about being born in New Jersey. However, did you spend any time in New Jersey, or did you grow up mostly in Asheville, North Carolina?

Daniel White: I spent the first five years of my life in Asbury Park, New Jersey, with my parents. Then moved back down with my mom to North Carolina, to Asheville, and that's when I spent the rest of my formative days. A lot of family from around there. I actually got family from around the Smokies and all up through there. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: Okay. Okay. So, speaking of family, can you tell me about your family, starting with your parents? You just brought up that you moved down with your mother. Can you tell me a little bit about your parents?

Daniel White: Oh yeah. My father, Robert White, his parents, his father was from New Jersey, from Asbury Park, New Jersey. But his mother was like a Gullah Geechee woman from South Carolina, and she had ties. And they stayed in Greenville, South Carolina, around that area, when he was younger. And they got before he was born, actually. And that's what led my grandmother up to Asheville, North Carolina. She got chased out by the clan at night, so her and her family packed up and moved up to Asheville. So that's where my father's side was from. And my grandfather, his history traces back to around Murphy, North Carolina, up in there to my grandma nanny, great-grandma nanny and things like that. And then my mother's side is from Asheville, North Carolina, the [inaudible] family, like my mother's brothers and her father, were rock masons known throughout the city. So yeah, that's where I come from.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. Lots of roots in the hills of the mountains in North Carolina there, and even South Carolina, it seems.

Daniel White: Definitely, definitely.

Antoine Fletcher: So, I kind of want to talk a little bit about this huge endeavor that you're known for, which is conquering the Appalachian Trail, which many want to do, but you actually did it. But before I really dig deep in that, can you tell me about your family's connection to the outdoors?

Daniel White: Oh, well, I grew up fishing with my family. That's probably the extent of the outdoors with my close, immediate family, just fishing. No type of hiking, or backpacking, camping type of deal. But I will say that my parents, my mom told me about they went camping one time before I was born. And I think that's the only thing I know about my parents camping, or anybody in my family camping, hiking, or anything like that. Just fishing. Just casual.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. Yeah. Fishing. Yeah. And you said your parents went camping once before you were born. Did they go in depth about that as far as, "Hey, it was a great experience," "We loved it," "You should do it as well"? Was there any of that kind of conversation?

Daniel White: Oh, well, I just found out about this six months, so I'm well into my hiking endeavors now. I didn't find this out till my mom just told me this a few months ago. So yeah, I never know. But she said it was cool, I guess, it was long time ago, early 80s.

Antoine Fletcher: So, you did grow up fishing, but I don't want to assume, but it seems like you didn't spend as much time outdoors as you do now. Is that correct?

Daniel White: Oh, definitely. Like I said, I grew up in Asheville, I had never been hiking or anything like that. The mountains were always pretty, but I just never knew anybody went around and walked in them, to be honest.

Antoine Fletcher: And so, if you did not grow up using outdoor spaces, what made you want to explore them other than seeing how pretty they were?

Daniel White: Oh well, my job, I hated my job. So when I started hiking I went straight for the Appalachian Trail. Heads on, that was my first introduction to hiking, actually. So it wasn't anything prior to that, but I kinda was just stressed out for my job, the news cycle. Yeah, I was just bad off depressed and I needed a change. And I think I posted one day, "I wonder if I could survive in the woods," because you know I always liked the little TV shows and stuff. So I always been interested in that type of thing in some type of way, but not knowing anything about it, you're not just going to go try it. So yeah, that was my introduction, just head on to AT. From just trying to get away, get a change of pace, and get something totally different than what I was used to. And something I guess pulled me to the woods.

Antoine Fletcher: And I did read an article about, you made a quote about the outdoors being therapeutic. And so it seems like you may have found what you were looking for when you were depressed. You found that. Is that a good to say on my half?

Daniel White: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I would say it kind of saved my life, to be honest with you. I don't know where I was I headed to. So it was just [inaudible] you feel powerful as you're hiking, you feel the accomplishment of being able to do something strong, and something that not everybody may be able to do. So you get a sense of feeling stronger in yourself, confident, you start smelling a little better, your senses get a little sharper and everything, because you getting back connected with the land, especially a long hike. So it's definitely therapeutic for me. And it's not free, it's got a cost to it as far as supplies and things like that. But yeah, it is ways around it, and it's a way of life. It's a lifestyle.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow, wow. So now let's go back to the beginning. So I mean, we know that the Appalachian Trail is a big feat for anyone. What was going through your mind when you challenged yourself to complete that 2200-mile journey? What was going through your mind at that moment?

Daniel White: It just seemed like a good idea. I just started looking it up, I said, "Oh 2200." And I'm like, "I think I can make that." I'm watching, I'm looking up little videos and stuff, and seeing little resources I can find. And yeah, I think I can try it, but at least it'll be fun. You know what I'm saying? I just looked at it like that at least it'll be fun, and what's the worst that could happen. And then once I got out there and then realize, "Oh, you got to take this thing a day at a time," and you just look at it at a day at a time, you don't look at it like, "Oh, I got such and such miles," you just count the miles you got for the day, or maybe the week. You don't look at the overall, because you psych yourself out. So once you learn, it's all mental. And then once you get out here and your mental starts sharpening up, then I think you kind of be good to go. Long as your body hold up, you're good to go.

Antoine Fletcher: And can you share with me what year did you start your journey, and what year did you end your journey on the Appalachian Trail?

Daniel White: Oh, I started in 2017, ending 2017. It just took me 190 days, which is a really long time, honestly. But I was having the time in my life. That's one of the things you don't want it to be over. So once you start getting towards the end you might drag a little bit, just because you just want to take your time and enjoy it. So yeah, 190 days. 2017 from April 20th to November 20th.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. And I love what you just said, you said you wanted to slow down and enjoy it. And when I've spoken with people that hiked the AT, sometimes they want to finish it. And so what on that hike, what made you want to slow down, or even when and what made you want to slow down and enjoy it?

Daniel White: Oh, the place I'm sitting in right now, which is Maine, when I got up to Maine and start seeing how beautiful the northeast was and stuff like that, Maine New Hampshire, the White Mountains in that area, just that section of Trail, that northern section of Trail was just amazing. First time you start getting over tree line up towards the Mount Washington, and White Mountains and stuff in New Hampshire, I'm just like, "Man, this is different. This is what you see on the TV shows. I'm actually walking through it right now." So yeah, you kind of want to slow it down.

I actually flip-flopped my hike once I got up to New Hampshire. Most people go south to north, they go from Georgia and they start in Georgia and they end up in Maine. And some people start north and go south. Not many. So what I did was when I got up to New Hampshire, I was just tired of everybody like, "Man, we're not going to make any time. They're going to close the mountain at the end, because the weather's getting out of control, they're going close to Katahdin." So I got tired of hearing that, and I flipped my hike and I started coming south. I went in hike Katahdin and got that out the way. Beautiful mountain. And then came back and just kind of enjoyed my way through Maine, and just took my time.

Antoine Fletcher: Oh wow. Yeah, that sounds like quite an adventure, and especially when you start slowing down and taking your time. And so you talked about a little bit about you start... Can you go over your route again? Where did you start your journey on the AT?

Daniel White: Oh, I started down in Springer Mountain, Georgia. And you hike from there, and just heading north up through Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina border. Headed up in 500 miles through Virginia. Then you start heading up to the little eastern state, West Virginia, Maryland. Trail is not too long through those states where they're not the biggest states. Little Pennsylvania and you go up, so I went north all the way until I just got to New Hampshire. Made my way through Vermont and all that stuff, and got to New Hampshire, and I just got tired of trying to beat the weather, because if you get there too late and you get too far north too late, then they're going to close the end Trail, you won't be able to finish and do the final summit. You know what I mean?

So it was a little anti-climatic that way, but it was also, I can kind of just do this on my own terms, and not even stress, and kind of enjoy it and do what I actually came out here to do, which is kind of just have some time with myself and figure things out. You feel me? Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. And let me ask you this. So you take that first step onto the Trail. What is going through your mind? Are you saying, "This is it, I'm finally doing this"? What's going through your mind?

Daniel White: Man, it's a lot of emotions. At that time, my brother, I know he had pulled off by that time, him and his girlfriend had pulled off, so it was like, "Ah, I'm out here." So I had to go, I went to the bathroom, splash little water on your face, kind of thing. And then you just get the walking, because you don't have no phone signals, so what are you going to do? I can't run my brother down in the car, he's gone down the road, now it's over. So you just kind of got to get the walking. But I know by 12 o'clock I had made it to where I planned on making it for the entire day, so I felt pretty good, I felt pretty confident. So I was feeling pretty good on the first day, actually. I did 16, 17 miles on the first day.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. Wow. That's a lot. So you're feeling pretty confident, you've done your 16 or so miles on the first day. What was it like camping on the Appalachian Trail on the first night? Did you feel prepared? I know you said you went online, you looked at things. How did it feel to be by yourself hearing the sounds of nature in the dark alone?

Daniel White: Oh yeah, that took some getting used to. The first night, not so bad, because I camped close to some people. I think the second night it's what got me, because I'm really scared of owls, that's a whole nother story. And yeah, it was one perch right above my tent the second night, and that wasn't too comfortable. And then they just followed me through the trip. So that was the only thing that used to get me, was just the owls. And the rest of the noises at night that you kind of hear, I mean, I'm out here living in the woods right now and building a house, a little tiny house, and I heard a deer come through here last night snorting at 3:30 in the morning. So you kind of get to know what type of sounds. So bears real clumsy, they crash. So it took some getting used to, for sure, though, because it was a whole different experience. I had to learn this, I had to learn all these noises. So that was my crash course, I guess.

Antoine Fletcher: So now we have to go back to the owls, because I feel like although you are, they're not your favorite, it feels like there was some kind of omen there. These animals followed you throughout your trip, and you seem to have conquered that fear. Or maybe you didn't. So tell me, what is it with owls that just really puts you on edge?

Daniel White: Oh man, because I know in every culture besides Harry Potter culture, they're looked at as bad omens and evil. And if you start looking them up and people start doing research, they'll see owls ain't the nice animals in every culture. I think it's this Harry Potter era that we got stuck in, which I love Harry Potter movies and all that, that's good stuff. But man, they're silent assassins, they kill us. I don't know, we get them twisted like they're some wise animal. They are killing silently at night. The ultimate predator. I know a lot about them and it's everything they do, and then lately I've been watching these UFO videos man, I've been psyching myself out here. So yeah, owls just freaked me out. That's my one animal that I can't vibe with, man. I don't know, and people are always like, "Oh, they're following you around for a reason, they're talking, you should talk back." And I'm like, "No, I want them to leave me alone." So they do it here. Like I said, I'm up here building a tiny house, so I've been camping out for the last three months getting this together. And yeah, they harassed me around here too. I'd rather the deer come through snorting at night than owls, I got to be honest.

Antoine Fletcher: So, when you're on that trail, you talked about, you started using your senses differently. So you started hearing if there was a black bear, or if there was an owl. So what are some of the animals that you ran into during your trek through the Appalachian Trail?

Daniel White: Definitely the owls. Definitely tons of black snakes, black snakes just everywhere, all across the trail, kind of thing. A few rattlesnakes here and there, but that was more towards the northern sections. Once I started getting to Northern Virginia and moving up New York, New Jersey, tons of black bears, a lot of black bears down in the Smokies. And also Shenandoah, because it's a lot of people, it's the trail magic thing. People leave food out for the hikers and stuff, and coolers and stuff, and that's great. But it's better if you monitor it, because if you leave it there, it's just waiting for a bear to come take it, and then that's kind of what happens. So yeah, a lot of bears. The porcupines. Yeah, I didn't know porcupines are up this way. Saw a few of those. So yeah, some interesting stuff man. For sure.

Antoine Fletcher: When you were on that trail, when did your thought about the outdoors change? Did you fall in love with outdoors before, or did you fall in love on a certain point on that trail? Daniel White: I think there's certain, it's just the aspects of it, to me, I said I always loved watching these shows and stuff, so I always had a love for the outdoors, and I always wanted to try something like that, but just not being around nobody that ever was doing anything like that, as far as camping, and going on hikes or anything like that. I was never exposed to it, so it just wasn't on my radar. So once I got hip to it and say, "Oh, this is a thing," "Oh, people do this," and, "Oh, you can go just walk in the woods and they got trails for this. Oh yeah, this right on my alley." That was just instantly my thing, because it's like, "Yeah, this is me."

And I made it through the trail and I've been able to continue on and do other trails. So it's like, "Yeah, this is my thing." It's just enjoyable for me to get out and do a long hike and see, just put my body and my mental to the test, and at the same time it's always going to be fun, it's always going to be a blast, you're going to meet people. It is like a nomadic lifestyle type of thing to me.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. And so what were some of your challenges and tests during your hike of the Appalachian Trail? Daniel White: I would say weather. Weather and money. Just trying not to run out of money. And I was raising money, crowdfunded money. So yeah, it was a lot going on, just making sure I could make it through with what I had, and making sure the weather held off for me, and making sure it didn't rain for seven days, because that gets demoralizing, and you don't think it could rain for seven days, but it can, especially if you're trying to hike in it, because you're almost hiking with the weather pattern. You're hiking with the rain. So it's like, you're not hiking out of it. The way the weather pattern go up the East Coast, it is the Appalachian Trail, so yeah, you can't miss it.

So just trying to look out for the weather, making sure I can make it through monetarily, and that was it. I wasn't really worried about... I didn't get injured, I was focused, and I didn't want to think about getting injured, because that stuff kind of happens to you. You got to think good thoughts, you know what I mean?

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. Did you... Oh, go ahead.

Daniel White: No, I was just saying just weather and money, that's it.

Antoine Fletcher: When it came to your successes on the trail, was that measured in the miles that you hiked? Was that measured in certain locations that you got to? Was it even measured in just spirit? "Man, I feel good today." What did those successes look like? Daniel White: Oh, you got to take every win. You're taking any and every win. "I can't believe I made it to that climb," because there's times you're cussing the trail out, because the trail is beating you down, you're kicking rocks. So just being able to make that climb, that tough climb when you ain't really feeling your greatest for the day, because that's one of them, it is a endurance thing, you got to keep pushing some days. Even if you don't feel like the best, you might be running out of food, you got to get the time to get food. You got to actually keep pushing, and you got to pull yourself up no matter how you're feeling, unless you just physically can't do it. You know what I mean? Yeah, it's just one of them things, man.

Antoine Fletcher: I think about the things that you carried on that trail, and in preparation. What are some of those items that you had on the trail that you couldn't go without, or that you even brought back with you, and you keep it as memorabilia, keepsake today? Daniel White: Oh, definitely my fishing pole and my frying pan, for sure. Because that was something that most hikers, especially through hikers is not going to carry it just for the weight aspect of it. And maybe people want to just hike a bunch of miles, and they ain't got time to be stopping and fishing. But me, like I said, I've always loved fishing, so I stopped and fish, and I had my little kiddie pole with me, so I would catch fish. And I remember one day in Virginia I caught enough fish. Me and my trail family, like five or six of us, we had a whole fish taco meal where everybody basically chipped in, you know what I mean?

And yeah, my frying pan, for sure. Because ain't nothing like a hot meal after a long day of hiking. Especially cold night, or rainy night, you may be sitting around that fire pit, or close to the shelf, or something like that, up under something covered. And everybody else eating cold ramen, and cold soak quinoa. Yeah, that's cool and all, but the summer sausage is just smelling great, you know what I mean? So those are definitely two items that I am glad I took on the trail and just kept with me. So yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow, that's a lot of good stuff. And I'm thinking now, so you were fishing, when you were a kid you used to go fishing, did some of that skill level that you had from being a kid and growing up, did you use that on that trail? Did your mind go back to being a kid? Did you have that experience?

Daniel White: Oh man, like I said, you got to take every win. So it's like, anything you can use is motivation, you're going to do. I'm out there playing, my reggae, dancing, you know what I mean? Because people might come over the hill, they catch you, something like that. So now it's a laughter thing. So you're taking every bit motivation that you can on the trail. You got to make it a game some days just to get through. You got to do a little hot rock in here and there, and just make it, see if you can challenge yourself, type of thing. See if you can push 20 miles, 25 miles, or something like that, to make it where you need to go, or get to a certain viewpoint, or something like that. So it's such an experience, because you got to work on many different aspects of yourself and who you are. So you're figuring out who you are, you're taking on this real physical challenge every single day, then it's the endurance part of it, then it's the mental part.

Because honestly, you can get off trail anytime you want, because it's right there. Like I said, on eastern corridor, you could possibly be from one little small town, catch a bus and be back home quick. So it is not a thing to get off of it, so it's endurance, it is mentally, you got to stay focused and stay locked in on where you're trying to get and where you're trying to go. And however you get there, whatever kind of quirk you got to use to get there, I've seen people with all different types of get-ups, man, and different types of people have, what do they call them, shtick. But that's cool, because you coming out there and you can be whoever you want to be if you want to, ain't anybody going to do nothing to you. So yeah, like I said, it's just a different type of experience, that it is it hard to understand unless you did it, or really been around, like a bunch of people around the culture and spent a lot of time on it. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: And you said something about your hiking family, you were talking about making tacos together. So tell me about this hiking family, and we'll jump into the culture a little bit too. So who is that hiking family and how did you meet them?

Daniel White: Oh well, you just meet, they call it a Tramilie. So it is basically the people that you meet and you vibe with, and y'all kind of doing, moving at the same pace, y'all come together, y'all from different parts of the world, wherever, but y'all just may be moving, y'all might be averaging 15 to 20 miles a day. So y'all going to always meet up at the same places. And it's some people that's a little slower, some people a little faster. And then you're going to meet who you kind of mesh with, and then y'all will start rolling together, y'all start meeting in the little towns when you go in the resupply, which is every three to five days, y'all might meet down there, get a slice of pizza, y'all start to get to know each other. And you become really good friends by the end of it with a lot of people. So it's cool.

And then it's the camaraderie of pushing towards that same common goal, and y'all pushing each other and stuff like that. That's why I'm saying, you got to stay focused, you got to have be around people that's going to push you, keep motivated, that type of thing. Or at least not dampen it, you know what I mean? So it's important to have the right trail family. And even some people are solitary, some people go hiking, want a more solitary hiking, that's fine. But I find it, you're still going to meet people that you click with and you move at the same pace with. So even if you came on something solitary, you're going to meet people that you vibe with. And yeah, that's your trail family, and to get your trail names, that's why they call me The Blackalachian, that's why you get your trail name, usually from your trail family. But I decided to get myself my own trail name.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. So you almost kind of explained the culture too. You talked about this trail family and just the culture of being on that trail. So what would you say the culture was like? What else goes with that? Is it a certain way people dress, you can tell that they're really hiking the Appalachian Trail, some of the lingo, or the slang, that they use. What are some of those things?

Daniel White: Oh for sure, for sure. The NoBos, the NoBo, the North Bound is, like I said, starts from Georgia to Maine, and the SoBos, so they talk trash to each other. So it's like that. Then you got, it's a different type of hikers, it's a different type of crews. It's so much different, you got your ultralight hikers. You got your people that want to see how many miles you did every day. So after two or 300 miles you come up with a set of questions that everybody asks you at campus. "How many miles are you doing today?" "When did you start?" And it's basically a comparison to see if they're doing okay, kind of thing, and seeing if they on par with everybody else, kind of thing. So that's where the hike your own hike comes in, because that's a term slang out on trail hike. Hike your own hike is basically, man, almost mind your own business, in a way.

So yeah, it's a whole trail culture, and it's a cool thing. And you're 2000 miles and it's like a camaraderie, because everybody can't do it. Everybody don't make it to Katahdin. Everybody don't make it the whole way, or everybody don't make it to springer from Katahdin. So it's a camaraderie, and the fact that you did something that not a lot of people can do, and how tough it is. And especially, y'all going through it at the same year, at the same amount of time, so y'all went through the same weather, so y'all got the same story. So it's only going to be your class that year that knows what went on that year. You know what I mean? So it's that type of thing. It's almost like a crazy college of sorts from people of all walks of life. I hiked with a old guy that was like 65 with a kilt, and he was out hiking any day at 65. Wild, crazy old man, but good-hearted. I still keep up with him from time to time. I hiked with, what you call it, the summa cum laude, or valedictorian, whatever from college, he's like the highest ranking in the class. She skipped the graduation just to go hike the Appalachian Trail. So I was hiking with some serious people from just different walks of life. All different ages and creeds. So it's cool, because it kind of leveled everybody. We all together now, because we're all doing the same thing, we're all out here dirty, we're all out here living like this, eating ramen out of bags. We are all the same, we all one. So that was cool.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow, I really like that. So out of all of the culture, the long mileage and everything, what would you say was your best... Tell me about your best experience during that. What would you say hands down the best experience of that trail? Daniel White: I would say, I don't know, just the people. Just meeting the different people. Not even just the hikers, but the people in the towns. Them some cool people and they've been staying there, they want to help the hikers, they just want to meet the hikers, chop it up with them. So it's like that's a whole different community and coach in itself. So I think the kindness of the people, because like I said, before I hiked the trail, I was just seeing all this division, and all this stuff in the news cycle. So I was like, "Man, come on, it's got to be something. Something got to be different."

So just being able to go and chop it up with all these different... Yeah, it was just the people, man. Honestly. That's what kind of makes that Appalachian Trail. And that's what make the hiking for me, in a way. Just being able to meet different cultures, and being able to tap in with the locals and stuff like that. That's probably my favorite thing to do. That's the reason to travel for me, is then that makes your world smaller, because then people get to experience, and it gets you an insight on the people, and let them get an insight onto you, into you. You know what I mean? And I think that just makes for a better existence for all, to be honest.

Antoine Fletcher: Nicely said. So I want to think of, I wanted to ask you, what do you remember about hiking the Smoky Mountains portion of the Appalachian Trail? Do you have any memories of that portion?

Daniel White: Oh man. So I remember coming in, I know the hike out of NOC, that's a horrible hike first of all. That's horrible. Oh man, that's the toughest hike. That's one of the toughest hikes on the Appalachian Trail. So once you get out of there, then you get over in the Fontana Dam, you sit over there at what they call the Hilton, which is a huge hikers' shelter, covered shelter, with probably room for 30, 40 people. So that's where people stock up and get their permits to get ready to go into the Smokies. Right before you go in, you're already. So then everybody's probably been maybe sipping a couple beers here and there, so you ain't feeling like it's your best tip top hiking shape. And then you hit the Smokies, and then it gets serious pretty quick. So you got to adjust. I will say I went through there the first few days, it was nice, good weather. I forgot to get water one day. I hiked for four or five miles without water, that wasn't the greatest. That was a good learning experience for me. That was probably the first big mistake I did like that, something like that. And then I think, a couple days after that it went from beautiful weather to a huge snow storm. It was in early May. So we got almost snowed in at the shelter. I remember I was making my way up by Clingmans in all that area, and next thing I know is the ground is moving, things are coming out, the roots are moving, the trees are moving, it's like all this high wind. That was a tough little area. So got back into the Smokies after the rainstorm, we had to come out the trail for a few days, stay down in Gatlinburg, and we got back up to the trail, and it was just super packed with just maybe a hundred and two hikers. So, I remember that being one of my first 20-mile days. I got to stop by, I see Charlies Bunion and all that good stuff. And then I kind of got out of the Smokies without seeing too many bears, and I didn't have to stay at that last shelter where they said it was a lot of bear activity. I kind of timed it right. And yeah, the Smokies were great as far as hiking on the AT, but they were brutal at the same time. So after that snow storm I was trying to get up out of the Smokies, man, I got to be honest. But I've been back since. I was in at Charlies Bunion earlier this year. So yeah, I try to go in that area as often as possible.

Antoine Fletcher: So, you almost have a small connection to Charlies Bunion now, since that's where you hiked, and you seem to go back quite frequently.

Daniel White: And it's close to Asheville, so it's not too far from Asheville, which is like, why try to promote people getting out from my hometown and stuff? Because I'm like, "This stuff is not too far and I didn't know about it, so y'all probably don't know about it either." And it's not the worst hike, it's a pretty well-manicured trail to get up there from the gap. So I mean, it's definitely worth it. And it's a lot of places in the Smokies and stuff that are actually accessible, that you can go just check out, maybe if you want to just do the car drive and stuff like that. I think it's worth the ride, even to come out there and see the elk and stuff like that. That's nothing you see every day just in city life. Well, except for where I'm at right now.

Antoine Fletcher: So, the National Park Service and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is really working on the African American Experience project, which now you're a part of. And one thing that we've been learning is that African Americans have been in the Smokies for years, even before slavery. And so those African Americans may have walked the same areas that you did, rather in bondage or not. Knowing that now, how does that make you feel to know you might have walked in those same footsteps as those African Americans that was here before you?

Daniel White: I feel that's why I feel like this, what I've stumbled into with this hiking, and just this lifestyle, it was my calling. It's like I got pulled back to it. It's like the energy, I can feel it. I can feel it. I've been able to just from the AT, I did another biking trail after that, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Trail from Alabama to Canada. So just trying to touch that history, because I know now I want to search for the history, and I want to go back. So it's like, yeah, I wish those stories were still, I don't know where the stories are, whether they're lost for good, or something like that. But I know they were there, because I can feel the connection, I can feel it. It is natural to me. This hiking stuff is natural, this outdoor stuff, it kind of comes too easy. It sounds funny when you say it that way, because it sounds like ego driven, but it's not, it just kind of comes really easy, because it's like it was all what I was meant to do, almost. So it's weird to me, I don't know.

Antoine Fletcher: First of all, very nicely put. Did you see any African-Americans during your hike on the Appalachian Trail that was partaking in or, participating in your same kind of adventure?

Daniel White: Oh yeah, my guy, general Hendrix, it was one other guy, he had locks just like I had locks, and I definitely heard about him about a week before I met him, and he heard about me about a week before he met me. So yeah, we were waiting to meet each other because like, "Oh, it's another Black guy. I've seen another Black guy." Yeah, that was funny. But yeah, general Hendrix, he's a really cool guy. We still chop it up every now and again. So yeah, but not many, because thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the AT every year. And for me to only run into one other one, it's not a high percentage.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. So what's the feeling on that now, now that you've finished, and you only ran into one African American during that trip, what do you think now? Do you ever ask yourself the question of, man, where are we in nature? I know we're here, but where. Why are we not out here enjoying this, these public lands? Daniel White: Oh boy, that's a long answer there. But yeah, I mean, once I started, because I got asked that question pretty much every day of my hike, it was sometimes I felt like the Black ambassador. But I felt like for the majority, 90% of the time people were really genuinely asking out of just wanting to know, it was no ill intent. So yeah, I've been trying to figure that out ever since I hiked the AT, man. And I know it's just a combination of things. It's a lot of factors that go into why Black people don't hike. Because I know the first thing people tell me is what about bears, and what about snakes, and what about races. So that was my three things why Black people don't hike. Snakes, bears and races. I don't know how plainly to put it other than that. So, because those are the top three ones I get, but what are you going to do if somebody try to do something to you? I'm like, "Nah, it's good. You have more chance of something happening to you in society in the streets than anywhere on the trail." And that comes from a human or animal. The humans mostly 99.9% of those people are out there for something along the same lines as you are. Just peace, quiet, that type of thing. Even if you got rowdy people along the trail, they kinda weed themselves out about two or 300 miles in. So yeah, I mean, it's a different thing. But that's what I figured as far as why, because that's the only thing that people ask me. What am going to do if an animal comes? Are you scared of animals? So it needs to be more education to understand the animals ain't trying to harm you, they're just out here trying to move around and eat. You're not on their menu, unless you're somewhere where something eats you. So, for the most part you are good. I think it's just education. I think that's a lot. I think it's access. As far as inner city kids, inner city Black kids, they don't have access to get out to them places. So their parents might not have a car, or something like that. Or it might be a bunch of factors that where they just don't have access to get out there. So that type of thing. It would be great if we could expand the transportation system, or something like that. But that's a dream, you know what I mean? So it is a lot of different factors. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: You said sometimes you felt like you're the Black ambassador to this whole African Americans being outdoors. How much weight does that hold on you now? Do you ever become exhausted from that?

Daniel White: Yeah, every now and then I got to take a little break. But I mean, that's why I do the hikes. And then that allows me to realign and let me understand it's a bigger mission. Yeah, it's a bigger mission. So, if y'all going to try to put this weight on me, well, let me take the weight and try to see what I can do with it, because the hiking is half the fight. So, anybody can come out here and hike, I'm showing people, I'm just trying to show people now how to try to live a different type of lifestyle. It ain't even so much it is hiking, it's really about going to try to chase something that's the unknown, to chase your dream, and really reach for something. Because I don't know if I felt like I was going to hike the AT, or and keep doing this, or whatever, or if I was going to be successful with any of this stuff I've done, I know it's just that leap of faith. And I keep taking them. And somehow, I keep doing it.

So, I just want to show people that. That's what I'm here for now. Whether it be hiking, whether it be riding a bike, whether it be rock climbing, whether it be homestead and do it. I mean, if you want to start a small business, we got to think outside the box. So that's what I'm here for, to get people to think outside the box, I think. Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. And so how do you think your story and your work, because you're also doing work in the community, will help other African Americans use outdoor spaces?

Daniel White: Well, just resources. Resources, education. I know I use my platform, just educate these folks, especially that's trying to come into the business side of it to let them know how the business works, and not to get used for being Black. You don't want to be the affirmative action hire, that type of thing. And specially if they're tokenizing you, you don't want that. So letting them learn from my experience the things that I've had to go through, navigating the outdoor industry, the outdoor community, the trail system. So yeah, my thing is just to share information. So anyone comes to ask me, well, that's what the Black or white or anything, I'm going to share information.

So, whatever you need to ask me, I'm going to let you know. And I just move around and try to get more information. So yeah, I'm just a pass of information. So if they want resources, then come ask me, and if I can help them out then I'll try to point them in the right direction. And I think that's the best I can do. I'm just me by myself, and I already got a lot going on. So that's probably the best I can do. And be realistic about expectations of what I can do for someone. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. And I love what you said about navigation, information goes hand in hand. And sometimes it's hard for African Americans, or it seems like there's a small percentage of African Americans that it's hard for them to navigate the outdoor space. What equipment do I need? What is there to expect? What's around the corner? So if you could say anything to an African American that is leery about using outdoor spaces, what would it be?

Daniel White: I'm just going to say, use the same precaution you would in everyday life, but you're going to be safe. I made 5,000 miles, ain't nothing happened to me, and I traveled solo. I know plenty of women that travel solo. So it is not an issue of gender or anything like that, I don't think so. You can travel solo if you want, and you can make it happen. I think it's safer. Just look at the statistics. You're more likely to be hit by a car or something like that, than to be mauled by a bear. It just doesn't really happen like that. Like I said, unless you're in maybe Alaska, or somewhere, my Black folks in Alaska, I don't know, y'all got to take a little bit more precautions, but I would think if you lived in Alaska, you already know that.

So yeah, I mean, actually just get out there, start taking shorter day hikes and get just introduced to it, get used to it. You don't have to have the top-notch gear. I still buy my gear from Walmart. I wear pajama pants when I'm hiking long hikes, thru-hikes. I might skimp on certain things like the hiking poles and stuff. You can get your stuff from Walmart. They work the same as the $200 pair. So understand, some things you can save money on, but it's going to take for you to experience that, because everybody's different. Everybody what they prefer is going to be different. What's going to be comfortable is going to be different. So it is for you to just test it out. But you can start off small with just a pair, a nice little trail runner sneakers, or boots, if you would like to wear them, you know what I mean?

And just start looking up your local trails, and just get a little group together, a couple people, whatever, if you don't feel comfortable alone, and just start somewhere, honestly. Just start somewhere. If even it is just at the park, go sit at the park, go smell the grass, go take your shoes off and walk around in the grass one time. And just see how it feels. And I promise you, it'll start, you know what I'm saying? Loosening up, crooking your neck, all that stuff. So it's a stressful reliever, and I know it is, because I'm stress free out here, trust me. And I've been living in the tent for three months. People are looking at me like I'm crazy. I'm like, man, I've been at peace, I'm at peace right here.

Antoine Fletcher: Wow. So now you're renowned. So I'll tell you what, before we ask, I got one or two more questions. You want to go ahead and take a break?

Daniel White: Yeah, I got to try to plug this into a charger real quick, because I'm running low on battery.

Antoine Fletcher: All right. This is Antoine Fletcher, science communicator of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I'm here with Daniel White, The Blackalachian. And this is our part two of our oral history that's taking place on September 20th, 2021. So Daniel, I know that you know the name, you talked a little bit about how you came up with this name, The Blackalachian, and I'm sure now it's super renowned around the United States. I mean, even before I met you, I've heard this name. What inspired you on to come up with your own trail name?

Daniel White: Well, I remember one day I was at home around my family and stuff, and my mom's boyfriend called me. He said, "What's you got going on Black Appalachian?" Or something, he called me. And we laughed about it, this when I was getting prepared and stuff, getting my gear ready and stuff. And I was like, "You know what? I'm going to take that name." Because I know they give you a trail name. I had seen some videos, everyone gets a trail name and stuff. So I was like, "I want to get my own trail name. I think you got a nice ring to it, The Blackalachian," I just put it together kind of. And I don't know, it was just one of them things.

And I said, it's kind of an icebreaker. It was an icebreaker at the same time, because if I said it said to you and you didn't really like Black people or something like that, you probably look at me like I was crazy. So most people laugh it off, get it wrong. So it started conversation. So it was a conversation starter, an icebreaker. So it started off like, "Oh, this is good." And it just kind of went from there, I guess.

Antoine Fletcher: So, you're still Daniel White, but in 2017 that was who you were known as, Daniel White. So now you're The Blackalachian more than anything. What would you tell, I mean, or how much have you changed since becoming The Blackalachian? Daniel White: I would say a ton in every way. Just my life path and the way I maneuver. I was a rapper, electrician and everything. Like I said, I was working 60 hours a week while I hated my life and everything. So just going from that to being able to flip that, and I'm working towards a career that I love, instead of something like that I wouldn't have no fun in, or wasn't challenged in enough and stuff like that. So just being able to change my life, do a 180 in that way. Just be at peace, be happier. One of my things now is, I don't take advice. A lot of people, they take offense to it, but it's not a shot at them, they don't understand. Because I listened to people for a really long time, and listening to other people how they wanted me to do things and it didn't lead me to happiness. And since I've been listening to myself for these past few years, and just doing things that make me happy, and finding a way to do so, it's just led to a better quality of life. So yeah, I think that, like I said, the trail saved my life. And to be able to continue hiking and find other trails, travel to different places, it's just opened up so many doors. Just not on a financial level, just on a connection of just being connected with people, which I think is, like I said, that's my favorite part about traveling. So yeah, it's changed me a lot, for sure.

Antoine Fletcher: So, you talked a little bit about some of the other trails that you're going to be doing, and even some of your work. Can you share with us a little bit more information about two things: your future hikes, especially if that's in other National Parks such as Zion, or something like that, or even in Acadia, since you're in Maine? And also, can you follow up with some of the things that you're doing in the community, especially for young inner city, or just young African-American, the young African-American population that hasn't really enjoyed the outdoors yet?

Daniel White: Oh well, okay. As far as future hikes, oh man, I just want to do things that I can connect with and just have some type of spiritual connection. Not even spiritual, just like a vibe, man. It's hard to explain. It's just a vibe. Travel with the people. I want to do the Triple Crown hikes and stuff like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. That's cool and all. Yeah, I want to do that. But I think, man, I've been looking at a hike from South Africa to Russia, which is the longest road you can walk in the world. That's the type of stuff that interests me. Because I know what that's going to take. That's like a four or five-year walk, you know what I mean? And just because you're going to have to stop and kick it with the people, and talk to the people, and interact and stuff like that.

So, I mean, that's the dream future hype for me, something like that. But until we get there, of course, we'll do all the other ones with the big names and stuff. Because they're beautiful, they're there for a reason, and I'd love to hit them all. So future hikes, however long these feet hold up, we're going to do hikes and maybe some bike rides. I plan on doing some rock climbing. I just recently got into rock climbing, so I wanted to climb El Capitan in a few years that, that's a goal of mine, honestly. So yeah, big dreams. Big dreams, for sure. You got to keep big dreams on your vision board to keep you motivated for things.

As far as right now, just what I'm doing, trying to do for the communities, not even for the youth, just for everyone, but especially for the youth in the next coming years, I want to build a bunkhouse here where I'm at. I call this place Zion North. I just moved to northeast Maine, basically 10 minutes away from Canada. I got 10 acres here is raw land, wild land. I've been cleaning it off from scratch. And I plan on building a small community here, self-sustained community here, just to show people a different way of life and be able to come up here and experience it without having to spend a ton of money.

So, when the summer time come around, I want to build the bunkhouse and have the kids be able to come up here, learn wilderness skills, learn how to do a little farming, learn how to camp out. They can stay in the bunkhouse, they can bring their parents and everything, and do some beekeeping, and maybe some archery, and just do some stuff like that. And like the old school eighties, boys and girls clubs, camps, like the ones you see on the old school eighties movies and stuff. Really cool little summer camps that they don't really offer anymore. So that's what I'm trying to do for the kids. And then just for the community as well, just start a tiny home community, and invite a few people up here to help me clear this thing off and just get it going and get it started. And to make self-sustainable. This will be a legacy. And I want this place, Zion North, to serve as a blueprint, to be used elsewhere. So yeah, that's my endeavors as of late as far as what I'm trying to get going. Antoine Fletcher: Oh man. Thank you, man. This has been a wonderful interview, and we're definitely happy to interview you and add your story to the African American Experience Project. Adela, you can stop recording now.



“There’s a lot of emotions” Daniel “The Blackalachian” said to interviewers during an oral history. Daniel was referring to the time that his brother dropped him off at a trailhead in Georgia on his first day of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). Daniel was not the first African American to hike the AT but he is the most renowned in the United States. During this oral history, Daniel “The Blackalachian” White tells interviewers about how hiking saved his life and his experiences hiking the AT.

2. Anne Miller Woodford


Audiofile: WOODFORD Miller Ann 7 Feb 2023 [START OF TAPE 1]

Atalaya Dorfield : All right. This is Atalaya Dorfield, Greening Youth Foundation's research intern for the African American Experience Project at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today is Friday, December 10th, 2021. I'm interviewing for the first time the artist, author, and speaker Ann Miller Woodford. This interview is taking place via phone call through the Rev recording app. The interview is sponsored by the National Park Service and is a part of the African American Experience Project, which is a three-year effort to investigate research and educate the public about the stories of African Americans in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and neighboring communities. For the record, can you please state your first and last name, your place and date of birth?

Ann Miller Woodford: My name is Ann Miller Woodford. I was born in Andrews, North Carolina, and the date was January 31st, 1947.

Atalaya Dorfield : All right, thank you. To get started, can you tell me a bit about where you grew up?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. I grew up in Andrews, which is in the far western part of North Carolina, in Cherokee County. There are two towns in that area. One is Murphy, and one is Andrews. I grew up there, and had somewhat of an idyllic life because we knew nothing about the troubles in the outside world. We grew up in a community that my grandfather actually founded. He came up from Georgia in 1912 after the ethnic cleansing that took place in Cumming, Georgia. He and his mother had to move. They were, of course, most people know now about the ethnic cleansing, where all the African American people were removed from Cumming, Georgia, and they moved up to Marietta in Georgia and he had a job on the railroad going from Marietta to Blue Ridge. When he moved down the Blue Ridge, he took a job that required him to haul, as they say, haul products from the train up into Western North Carolina. Grandpa, his name was William Cleveland, and they called him Cleve, Miller, as he was hauling the products up into North Carolina in the far Western region here, he couldn't believe the difference in the treatment he was getting as an African American man. He got up the nerve, as he said, to ask a man if there was any property for sale in Cherokee County, and the man said, "Yes, up in Andrews." Grandpa came up with him and decided to buy a piece of property in Andrews. It was called Valley Town. The area was called Valley Town back in those days. Grandpa purchased the property, built the first house in the community they called Happy Top. I don't know how much more you want me to tell you about that story right now, but would you like me to continue with that?

Atalaya Dorfield : I would like you to continue. Yes, this is good. Thank you. Ann Miller Woodford: Okay. My grandfather wanted to build a house for his mother so she would be safely out of Georgia, and so he built that first house in a community called ... That became Happy Top, and the story of how it became Happy Top, his cousin, his best friend and his first cousin, William Bowens, came up, and he also decided to join Grandpa there. He was an entrepreneurial kind of man. They even called him a jackleg preacher. He would have fun times for the men that were gathering around the community, and he'd call them entertainments, or just fun out on the hillside. He was one who made what they called home brew, which was an alcoholic beverage that he would make himself, sort of like beer. Anyway, they would have fun. It would be outside, and he would do his little barbecue, and he played a mandolin, and they would dance around outside and just have a good time in what they called The Holler. He decided that it was such a good place and made everybody happy around there, so he named it Happy Top. Happy Top was just a Black community when I grew up, but the white community has accepted it all the way down to the edge of the town of Andrews because they love the name Happy Top, and it's all, everybody calls it Happy Top now.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you. That is so good. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead. Were you still speaking?

Ann Miller Woodford: No, I stopped. I paused so that if you have to edit, you can. Atalaya Dorfield : Oh, no. That's all right. That's great, but we always are looking for good information on African American communities near the Smokies, so that was really good information. Thank you. You've already told us a bit about your family, starting with your grandpa. Can you tell me about your parents, where they were from, and just growing up with your parents?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. Grandpa Miller went to Bryson City in Swain County and met Grandma. Grandma Miller's name was Nora Howell. He met her and brought her back to Andrews, and they raised the family there. From that family, my dad was the third child they had. His name was Purel, P-U-R-E-L, Purel Miller, and my dad was about ... I think he said he was 20 years old when truckload of people came from over in Macon County, in Franklin, and my mother was one on the back of the pickup truck, and Daddy said he saw Mama on that truck and he knew that was the woman for him. He met her there and asked her if he could come to visit her in Franklin, and she said, "Ask my mama," but it's so funny because I love the story. There was a woman who was daddy's midwife, when he was born. She was the midwife of the community, and she loved my dad and Daddy thought the world of her, and I did too, as I grew up as a little bitty kid, because she passed away when I was young. She had a beautiful garden and a grapevine, and Daddy said he spoke to Mama across the grapevine and asked her if he could come to see her. She said, "You have to ask my mother," so Daddy did, and she said yes, and Daddy had to travel across the mountain from Andrews to Franklin on a bus to visit Mama a few times before he asked her to marry him, so that's how they came together.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you, and ... Go ahead.

Ann Miller Woodford: No, it's okay. You ask me next what you want.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah, I was going to ask you just, what was it like growing up with your parents? Was one them strict? I stated previously that you're an artist. Did you have a parent who was more creative? Just thinking about your life as a child at home, what was that like?

Ann Miller Woodford: My parents were wonderful folks. I mean, just when you think back, sometimes when you're a little kid, you think, "Oh, they're so mean," because you get whippings and stuff. I got some whippings from my mother, but my dad never believed in whipping girls, especially girls. He only had, I had two sisters, one younger by two years and one younger by nine years. Daddy was like his father. He did not believe in the girls going to the field. I said earlier that it was kind of an idyllic life in a way, because we had a chance to play a lot. We just had a good time. My dad was very strict. He didn't believe in dancing or anything like that until he became an older man in his eighties. Then he joined in and learned how to dance a little bit, but we went to a school.

Well, let me tell, my mother. My mother was what we call a domestic worker. All of her work was housekeeping and cooking for white families in Andrews. Daddy was a man who, when he was a child, he was hit by a rock by his brother. It was an accident, he didn't mean to, but he was hit and he spent quite some time healing. He was hit in his head, and his mother always told me, Grandma always said that Daddy was excellent in school in third grade. When he was hit in the head, after that, he couldn't read and write, but Daddy was a brilliant man, so he built houses. I mean, he didn't build a whole house, but he could do any part of building a house, except for our home. Our house was built by Daddy, and in my teens, I helped him build a room onto the house.

There's a nice story about my birth that I'll tell you, and that is that my mother was ... They lived in a little house that was further up the road from where Daddy was building our home that I now use as my art studio. Daddy said Mama went into labor and he panicked. They had what was called a clinic, downtown. It was the first hospital in Andrews, that was built or formed by two doctors from what they call the greatest generation, Dr. Ratta and Dr. Van Gorder, so there was the Ratta Van Gorder Clinic downtown, which was a little bit more than a mile away. Well, Mama went into labor and daddy panicked, and he didn't know what to do, so he went out and it was wintertime. We don't have snow now. It's just a dusting on the ground most of the time now, but in those days it would be six to 10 inches of snow. Daddy ran through the snow and ran trying to find somebody to help him. What should he do right now? Some of the men said, "Well, there's a man, Buck Holland," who had a taxi, a white man. He said, "Well, call Buck and Buck can come and take her downtown to the clinic," but they cleared the roads for the white community, but the Black community road was not cleared.

Buck jumped up immediately and got in his vehicle and started trying to drive up to where Mama was in the house, and all that was happening was the snow was packing in front of his little vehicle, and so he couldn't move up there. The whole community came out and all the men picked up the little vehicle, carried it up to the house, put Mama in it, carried it back down to the cleared road, and she was able to have me in the hospital there in Andrews. It was a great place to grow up, except there were things that we didn't really understand. We didn't know that we were poor. We were poor, but we didn't know it, because we had everything. Mama and Daddy made sure we had all the food we needed, warm clothes, a roof over our heads with no leaking or anything like that. Daddy just took care of everything. Daddy could dig wells, butcher hogs, do all those things on buildings that I mentioned before. He was a builder, and so he could do so many jobs that he was never out of work. Mom, the only time that she didn't work was when she had my little sister, who's nine years younger than I am. Daddy said, "You don't have to work anymore, stay home and take care of the children," and she did that for probably four or five years, but she decided she wanted to go back because she wanted her own pocket change. The school that I went to was a one room, one teacher, all Black school. When I first went there in 1950 ... It was, let's see, I was 47. It was probably 1953. There were probably 20 some kids in the school, but the work for Black men in the community, the main work was a tannery.

When the tannery closed, the men had to do work that was not dignified for a man, which, babysitting and house-cleaning and things like that. They didn't want to do that, so they began to move north to Cincinnati and up to Warren and Youngstown, Ohio, to find work so they could feed their families. That year was the last year there were 20-some kids in the school. There were very few kids in that school after that, because all the families moved and took their children with them up north, as we called it. The teachers came from far away as South Carolina, stayed in a community house, because there was nothing provided, no place provided for the teachers to stay in the community, but the community did pay for them, a little dab, for someone in the community to let them live in the house with them. They would come there, and beautiful teachers.

I mean, my teacher, my favorite one, was the one that taught me the last four years of my eight years at that school, Ms. Ida-Mae Logan, was from Asheville. She went back to college every year to learn all she could to teach us, and I think the world of her. She's long passed, but I think the world of what she did for me as an artist. What she did is she took the artwork that I did and sent it away for contests with different places, like State Fair, County Fair, you name it, and Scholastic Art Awards, and I won a lot of those. It happened that there was a white nurse that came to the school every now and then. She loved my artwork and she gave me a set of used oils and a pallet, and told me that I could paint on drywall since there was no place around to buy canvases, and that's how I started my art as far as my oil painting is concerned.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you. Just out of curiosity, did you become interested in history when you were a kid growing up in Andrews, or is that something that came on a bit later?

Ann Miller Woodford: I didn't know that I was being interested in history, but my grandpa, Cleve Miller, would sit around the stove and tell us stories of the history of our people in the area. How did they come to Andrews? For example, and we learned about the ethnic cleansing, and so I didn't know that I was that interested in the history. I came back home from being in California. This is kind of out of line of my storytelling right now, but when I came back, I lived in California for nine years, up until in the early 1990s. I came because my mother was sick, and I came back in 1992 and she passed away in '93. I came back from there and started to look around, and saw that our community didn't seem to be moving ahead that much. It almost seemed as if it was the same as when I was a little kid. There were no entrepreneurs. There had been many in Murphy when I was very little. There were all kinds of Black businesses in Murphy and Texana, but there was nothing going on. It felt like, after I came back in '92. I talked to some women and I said, "Could you please help Brenda Blunt?" Who lives in Murphy now, and Jean Bennett, who lived there, but she passed away. I asked them, would they talk to women and see, could we do something about pulling ourselves together to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, as they say? They did. They called on, 22 women met together in Murphy, and we decided we would start an organization. I wrote a grant application to the North Carolina Humanities Council, and they provided a $1200 grant, but it had to be matched dollar for dollar, so we asked the women in that group of the 22 women, "If each one of you will bring 100 dollars to the table, we will be able to put together an organization that can help our community."

Well, the next meeting that we had, 11 women came and brought a check, and one brought a 100 dollar bill. That lady had three kids in school and she worked a domestic job. After working at McDonald's every morning, she worked a domestic job, and she laid a 100 dollar bill on the table, and boy oh boy, that's when we became One Dozen Who Care. The One Dozen Who Care project, the first one we had, the inaugural event, was called When All God's Children Get Together. That's what the book is named after. We pulled together people and we had an all day event. We had an evening event on Thursday night, seeing the old film called Green Pastures, and the next day we had interviews with the elders. The most exciting thing that I have, film in the can right now, but we haven't been able to find the funds to make the film, but a digitized film is in the can of that weekend event.

It was Saturday all day, Friday all day and Saturday all day, that we filmed our community. The churches came and the pastors, the elders met at a place that had held slaves earlier on called the Walker Inn of Old Valley Town, in Andrews. It thrills me. Even now, I kind of have chills thinking about what happened on that Friday with the elders gathering there. It was a mixed group of people, young people from say 12 or 13 years old, up to folks in their eighties and almost nineties, probably. We just had a most wonderful event that weekend, and so all that history told me that our people needed to be recorded. As far as I know, the only other history that's been written about our people was written by Victoria Casey McDonald in Sylva, that she wrote about her Jackson County family.

I decided that I needed to cover all of far western North Carolina, and far western North Carolina to me is past Asheville, because we always joke about Asheville. The state of North Carolina seems to think that Asheville is the end of the state. After you pass Asheville, we are kind of forgotten. I decided it had to be this region, and so I went out, I went to the cemetery. I collected names of the people that were veterans. I researched them on and other places, and wrote about the veterans, the churches, the schools, the teachers, just the general people of the area, and about my family, and kind of told the story of our people in the far west through my family.

Atalaya Dorfield : Wow. Thank you for that. Thinking about African American communities in far western North Carolina and businesses, was there any sort of relationship between where you grew up in Andrews, North Carolina and other Black communities or Black towns in the region? Was there any sort of business relationships where they did most of the trading with one another? Anything like that?

Ann Miller Woodford: No, not business relations, because there were no businesses in Andrews. My cousin, my grandpa's cousin started the only business in Andrews up until most recently. A lady tried to open a restaurant and it failed, unfortunately, but my cousin William, that I said named Happy Top, had what he called a pressing club. That pressing club was in Andrews, downtown, and that was the only business that any Black person had, if you wanted to consider it an actual business, with a location. My dad was entrepreneurial in the fact that he did all those kinds of work, contracting work with people all over. Now, how did we gather? The church. It was mainly the church, from Waynesville and Canton, Sylva, Bryson City, Franklin, Hazel, Andrews, Murphy. We all had a Baptist church, and there was a group called the Waynesville Missionary Baptist Association. At that association is the event that brought my mother to Andrews on the back of that pickup truck. She came for a church meeting there, so that was the way we connected with each other in the far western region, was through the Baptist church.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay, thank you. Kind of switching gears a bit, and thinking about the Smokies, with you being from the county that's so close to the Smokies, did you ever grow up visiting Great Smoky Mountains?

Ann Miller Woodford: No, we didn't go places like that, because even back then, we heard that there were separate, badly designed places for Black people to stop throughout the Smoky Mountains Park, National Park, all the way into the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of that kept us from going anywhere like that, because of fear of racial problems. White places had outhouses or bathrooms or however you would want to consider it, but even in our places, they would only have maybe a table. Maybe you even had to take your own trash with you, because you didn't want to do anything that would cause a problem, so no, we didn't grow up there. However, some of the bigger towns we passed through, and you must know that the whole area around Cherokee County where I grew up had sundown towns. Those sundown towns had signs up that said, if you were Black, you better not be caught there after dark because you wouldn't be protected, so anything can happen to you.

We knew that, and that's why when my grandpa first came up from Georgia and realized the fear he had traveling through Georgia and Tennessee, it was because of racism, and he was very frightened. The whitecaps were the initial Ku Klux Klanners, and they were very ... There were a lot of them around in that region of Georgia, but it didn't happen in western North Carolina, and so we didn't really have any place in western North Carolina to go out to, such as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and places like that over in Tennessee. We didn't go to those places as young people growing up, and we were very nervous traveling through. If you had to go down into Georgia and travel through there, you had to be very careful because you did not want to be picked up by the law in any of those places.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay, thank you. Just out of curiosity, we've been thinking about the Green Book, and wondering if it had any sort of presence in western North Carolina, and with you speaking about the sundown towns and all of that, do you remember anything with the Green Book or was it just word of mouth, where not to go, what routes to take?

Ann Miller Woodford: It had to be word of mouth for us, because the nearest place to where I grew up that had a site in the Green Book was Asheville, which is 100 miles away, so it was people who went north. There were stories about a particular ... One man was walking, he was going to walk down to Chattanooga or Knoxville, Tennessee from Andrews, and he disappeared, so because we know that states in our whole region would pick up a Black man for walking through ... They didn't have vehicles or animals to ride or whatever in general. They would pick them up and say they were loitering and give them three to five years in prison for loitering, so that they could then use them as they did in North Carolina to rent out and make money for the state. This was an area of somewhat fear around us, but we didn't live our lives as people scared to death all the time.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay. Thank you for that. Did you end up visiting the park as an adult later on in life? If so, when was your first time in the park? Ann Miller Woodford: I won't remember when was the first time. Mainly Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, places over there in Tennessee. Actually, I hate to admit it, but I've never been to Dollywood. Lots of people from our area now have visited Dollywood, either through the school system that is now integrated of course, and so, I can't remember. I've driven through that area because I married a man in Columbus, Ohio, so when we came down, the highway took me through there, the area, but I just don't remember the time when I first visited.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay. Thank you. Moving on to your education and career, can you talk a bit about your time in college? Where did you go to school and what did you study?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yeah, I'm always happy. This is a good time of my life. My school, as I said, the little school, the little Andrews colored school, for four years it was called Colored School, and then it became Andrews Negro School. It only went to the eighth grade. In Murphy, the school only went to the 10th grade, so it was a system set up to keep African Americans from getting a high school diploma. When I graduated, as I mentioned, there were more students there when I first went to school, but there were three in the first grade. That first year when I went to the second grade, the teacher who was there that year took her son, who was one of the first graders, and left, and the other boy didn't pass, and so I was the only student in the grade from the second to the eighth grade, so of course I was valedictorian, right?

Anyway, when I graduated from eighth grade, there was nowhere to go, so what we decided to do is, my dad's two youngest sisters went to a school in Asheville called Allen High School, and many people that know that area know the tunnel, the tunnel on Tunnel Road. The school was located right there. It was a boarding school, all Black girls and a mixed group of teachers. I went to high school at Allen High School, and they believed that every girl was going to go to college, so that's the way they worked with us, to teach us all kinds of skills. I had an opportunity to be in the choir, and we traveled in upper state New York and Vermont and all over western North Carolina, going to churches. It was a Methodist church school, and we went to churches to sing.

The teacher said every girl in my ... 55 was the largest number of students ever to graduate from there, and that was in the class of 1965. I wanted to go to American University, I thought, in Washington DC, because of the art, but the second choice was Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I applied there and it cost money, of course, to apply. Daddy had given me the money for that, and when I said, "Now I need money for American University," Daddy said, "Sorry, but I've given you all I can give you," and so I was accepted at Ohio University. They gave me an out-of-state scholarship. I received other scholarships, and I took out a loan for 600 dollars, and that's all the loan I ever had to have. I went to Ohio University, I graduated cum laude with a degree in fine art, and only owed the 600 dollars when I got out of there after four years.

Atalaya Dorfield : Times have changed.

Ann Miller Woodford: They sure have.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you for that. That is a good story. Have your interests as a creative, an intellect, and even a woman made you an outlier in your community? Just the idea of you going away to school in Ohio and becoming a professional creative, what did people think of that back in Andrews, at home?

Ann Miller Woodford: I think that it's kind of like a story that happens all around. When I came back home to live, I didn't feel as accepted as I thought I would be, because I never forgot my people in my community, ever. I loved it so much that I always traveled home every year. I think I only missed one year when I was married that I didn't come home. I love the Andrews community, and to tell you the truth, I think the best thing that we can say about it is, of course there was racism in Andrews, but there were more white people who decided that they would be supportive of my family, I know. I can't speak for all the other families, but I believe that it was an easier place for African Americans to live.

When I came back home, it took me a while to become accepted back in my church. I think that there's a sort of a feeling sometimes that you're going to come home and you're going to try to tell everybody what to do because you've had an education, and so that hurt, but I decided that that wasn't going to be the way I'd live my life. That's why I am the founder of One Dozen Who Care and I continued to work into in my church until this COVID-19 took over and stopped a lot of that. An outlier in some ways. In some other ways, because of the collection that I've done of the history of our people, they shared their photos and their stories, and I was able to write that book based on mostly the stories my dad told me as he grew older and was at home in the evenings with not much to do, and so I began to record what he was telling me, oral history, and then I decided that I would check it all out through, as I say, Ancestry and some other places to make sure that I was getting it right.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay, thank you. Yeah, that sounds good. Once you were able to kind of help them tell their stories and learn a bit about themselves too, and get involved in the community in that capacity, you felt more welcomed or kind of back at home?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yes. Good. I know that you mentioned previously living in California, so can you talk about just your career and how you grew to become the established artist and author that you are today? I know you work with art, curation, writing, you're a part of the academic world, so can you speak about that and where that took you?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. Actually, I kind of started, when I graduated from college, from Ohio University in 1969, I went to Pittsburgh to work with a non-profit, non-denominational Christian organization, and one of the students who graduated from Allen High School was in charge of a program there called Project Self-Esteem. She hired me to teach in the Pittsburgh public school system, to teach art there, so that's how I kind of got started with art, more or less. Then, well, I had, for a whole year while I was in college, I was with a man that I thought I would marry, but we broke up, but he came back and asked me to marry him, so I did, and we moved to Columbus, Ohio, but in between then, I became an airline stewardess and lived in New York City. As I traveled around, I had a chance to see art galleries and art in New York, and it's still, that little spark was still inside me for being an artist.

When we got married and moved to Columbus, Ohio, I started one of the first African American greeting card companies. It was called Purelann, named after my mother and my dad. My dad's named Purel, and my mother, Margaret Ann, and I put it together as Purelann Incorporated. I designed greeting cards, stationary, playing cards. I still have playing cards right now that I sell from all the way back then, the note cards and all. There's a little story I can tell you. I hope I can tell it pretty quickly here.

Atalaya Dorfield : Oh, it's no rush.

Ann Miller Woodford: Oh, good. Okay. All right. I designed note cards and all, and wanted ... I thought, I had a friend who said, "You could go to the Army Air Force and sell these, and they'll sell the products at their basics changes," and I was excited about that. I decided that I would go to Indianapolis from Columbus, and that's where their headquarters was, close to Columbus. I set up an appointment and called ahead and went all the way to Indianapolis from Columbus, and there was nobody there to greet me. When I came back, I was heartbroken, and one of my friends said, "Call John Glenn's office." When I called his office, I always have to believe that it was John Glenn I was speaking to, because he said, "That will not happen, I will see to that," and don't you know, within a week or two, I had an order from the Army Air Force Exchange Service for my products. I was creating artwork myself for the greeting cards and note cards. I had a man who worked for me part-time who was an artist, and I purchased some artwork from some of the community artists around Columbus, and so I had a little business going there for a good while. Then, I had an issue. My husband and I divorced, and so I decided that I needed to come back to North Carolina, and I came back to North Carolina and stayed for three years, from 1979 to '82. There, while I was in Andrews, they hired me as the first Black teacher in the school system. I taught art in all of the schools in the Cherokee County school system. It was part-time, and I did wallpapering and painting, painting with my dad, exterior painting as well as interior painting of walls, just labor, trying to make it. No matter what I did, I couldn't make more than 600 dollars a month, so my sister, the youngest one that is still living and lives in Charlotte now, Nina, called me. She and her husband had a job for me in California, so I threw down everything and took off and went to California and ended up staying out there for nine years. Because of my art and my ability to do the art, I was able to have exhibits out there and sell my artworks in the Los Angeles area. While I was there, my sister and her husband introduced me to Ms. Esther Rowe, the actress from Good Times on television, and she and I went into business with dolls I had designed back in Columbus, Ohio but hadn't been able to produce. We went into business with that. I went back and called on the Army Air Force Exchange Service, and they purchased our dolls to send across the United States and in some basic changes in other places in the world.

I've had a beautiful experience that way. When I came back, my mother was sick and I came back to live in Andrews again, I lived with them for a little while. Then I went to my grandparents' house and fixed it up, the one that my all grandpa built for his mother back in 1912 and '14. I stayed there and then taught again in the school system, but it's just been that kind of thing for me. I've moved all around, all around, and most recently, a really dear friend of mine, Dr. Emory Prescott, said, "You need to start doing your artwork and you need a studio." She and her partner came and actually helped me at the home that my dad built and that I helped build, helped me to fix that place up and make it into an art studio. Had a long roundabout process to get here, but ...

Atalaya Dorfield : I was going to say, it came full circle. I'm sorry, go ahead.

Ann Miller Woodford: No, you're right. Full circle. I love being in Andrews. This is my home, and I was able to do that, going all those other places and coming right back to Andrews.

Atalaya Dorfield : What are some things that I guess always stuck with you from back home as you were traveling and living in all these different places? What's the one thing that stuck with you?

Ann Miller Woodford: The love of my family. When I was growing up, my grandpa, Cleve, said, "Ann can do anything now." Now, you know I can't do anything, and I knew I can't do anything, but it didn't stop me from trying. Grandpa loved us, we loved his stories, loved sitting around the old potbelly stove in the wintertime and listening to him tell all those stories, and then my dad picked that up. I guess that that's how I became a storyteller in this way, because they loved to tell about the history. I will never forget the ... I can just picture it. It's always right there in my spirit, the warmth of the family that I had right there in Andrews.

Atalaya Dorfield : That is so good. Thank you for sharing that. Just move on a little bit and talk about your works and exhibits that you've done on western North Carolina. You currently have an exhibit on display titled Black and Black on Black, Making the Invisible Visible at the Center for Crafts in Asheville, North Carolina. Can you just share your thoughts on this project and why it's so important to highlight the Black presence in far western North Carolinas?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. I began to work with a group called The Heart of Health, the interdisciplinary research leaders, with couple of people who have PhDs, Dr. Amina Batata and Dr. Jill Fromewick, and the leader of ABIPA in Asheville, that ... It's exciting that JéWana Grier-McEachin, who is the executive director there, liked my artwork, and they decided that they would like to do something with me and the artwork. I was painting a series called Black and Black on Black about emerging from darkness in our minds, how sometimes we keep ourselves from excelling. It's just kind of like a little representation of that, in this series, and I started working on the series and the one called, the piece called He, just tells me about looking into our faces. Don't make us invisible. In this region, because there's so few African Americans, we're almost invisible. It's hard for you to drive through here and see an African American person. If you're in a city, you're usually going to see some walking down the street or standing on the corner or whatever it happens to be, but in this region, because most of the people have their own homes, they have a job, most of the African American people, but it still makes us look invisible, and there are so few of us, 1.5% or less in each one of these areas down here in the far far west. That's why I started to paint this. I've always painted African American people, people of color, because there are some others that I've painted, but once Daddy said he was downtown and a white lady came up to him when I was very young and I was painting, and she said, "I'd like to ask you a question. Why does Ann only paint black people?" Daddy said his simple answer was, "Why do white people only paint white people?"

I decided to do this Black and Black on Black series. I'm still working on it. There will be some more pieces, because when this exhibit is done, Western Carolina University's Mountain Heritage Center with Pam Meister as director will pick up this work from Asheville and take it to Western and have it on display there for two months. Then there are some other people who seem to be interested in having some more of my works. When Western picks up the ones that are in Asheville, they will also add some other pieces that I have to the exhibit. It's very important to make our people visible. We are not invisible. When you look at the cleared land and you look at many houses and buildings that have been built and just the community in general, if it hadn't been for African American people, I don't think that it would've been as good a community as it is now. That's my belief, and I don't want us to be invisible. I want that story to be told of our lives in this region that we call, that I called far western North Carolina.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you for that. And just to backtrack a little bit, I realize I didn't ask you, I know you mentioned oil painting. Do you work with any other mediums? I know you mentioned design and wallpaper.

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes, I do. I do artwork kind of across the board. The only one that I don't ... Well, not the only one, but one that I don't do is watercolor, but I do pen and ink, charcoal, lead pencil, and acrylics. I do all of those. The unfortunate thing is that, as I've sold my artworks over the years, I did not keep up with who owned them. Every now and then one will come out that will call me, contact me some kind of way or another and say, "I have one of your pieces of artwork," so I don't have most of those other pieces of work in my own possession right now, but I do a lot of different artworks. I also do crafts, and that was something that I grew up with.

Matter of fact, when I went to the first grade, they allowed me to use the clay to make little clay figures of the modeling clay that we had at school, because when the teacher ... One teacher had to do eight grades and I was a fast learner, so when they gave me my assignment for the next day and I did it, I had to wait for that teacher to go to all the other grades. I began to make little figurines of animals and people and all that on the corner of the elementary table, and they let it stay from year to year until I built, half the table was covered with a little clay, modeling clay farm. I've always had this, and as I said, crayon was the main thing that I could use for artwork back then, and so those works that Ms. Ida-Mae Logan sent away for me for contests were mostly pencil drawings and the crayon drawings.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you. As we're speaking, I'm thinking about Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens. I know you mentioned your mom was a domestic and at one point she was a stay-at-home mom as well. Are you familiar with that book?

Ann Miller Woodford: It's years back that I read it and I just don't have a recall of it right now, of that book right now.

Atalaya Dorfield : What I'm thinking about is she talks about how our mothers and grandmothers may not have had access or time to express themselves artistically, but they did it different ways in the home. Is there anything that you remember seeing? I know you talked about your grandfather and your dad with storytelling. Did your mom, did she knit? Did you see her knitting? Did she have a special way of cooking, singing, just any way that she was being creative in the house around you that she may not have even seen as art at the time?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. My mother was an angelic singer. Her voice was so beautiful that she won a contest in Andrews once for singing a talent show, and talent agents came from Raleigh to ask her to come down and record. It was a time, as you can imagine, when race was a big thing, and my dad was worried about her leaving us and going to Raleigh because he couldn't take off from his work and go down to Raleigh and sit around while she was doing recording. He didn't know what could possibly happen to her, so he said no, and she listened to him and she did not record, but she was well known in the churches around our region for having such a beautiful voice. Also, her cooking was amazing. She was a good country soul food cooking person who just ... Right now, I have to kind of swallow a little bit because I have water coming from my mouth thinking about that good food she would cook.

I watched her cook and we watched her cook, and all three of us can cook pretty well because we watched our mother cook and it was a training in cooking, but none of us decided to take a cooking job. She cooked for white families that she cleaned for as well, and sometimes I'll run into a young person who says ... For this one farm, she worked for one farm, the Wood family, and when she went to work on Friday, all of the farm hands would come to the house to eat because mama's cooking was on the table for lunch. My grandmother was ... Oh yeah, yeah.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you for that. Go ahead. Yeah, your grandmother.

Ann Miller Woodford: Excuse me. Go ahead.

Atalaya Dorfield : No, I was just listening. Go ahead.

Ann Miller Woodford: I apologize. There's a delay sometimes on this phone, so I do apologize. My grandmother brought in washing and ironing at the house while I was growing up. She didn't go out to work. She worked at home and people brought their washing and ironing to her. It was, of course, all the white people were bringing their works, but Grandma was good at canning. When they would kill a hog, we would fry up the sausage and can the sausage, and I can see the jars in my mind right now, where she would turn them upside down and it made it easier to get the sausage out of the can. It was a creative family because my grandpa told us that it was very, very cold in the winter times here. The river would freeze over. There would be thick ice on the surface of the water, and he would go there and cut pieces of ice out of the river, bring it back home, and bury it in sawdust. In the summertime when they wanted to make ice cream, they could dig up that ice and use that ice to make the ice cream.

Atalaya Dorfield : Wow.

Ann Miller Woodford: It's a very creative family and I'm glad. I'm so glad that they're creative. My uncle who lived with Grandma and Grandpa always, the oldest son, stayed at home all of his life until he died, and he did such wonderful things with chair caning, caning of chairs, the seat. He would actually go and get the wood and strip it and make caned bottoms in chairs. He was a farmer, because my dad was also a farmer, and he was mainly a farmer, but he had those creativity, creative ideas in his head as well. You always wonder what they would've done if it had been possible for them to be a regular entrepreneur like we are today.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah. Thank you. That's so good. It's amazing to think about, again, things that the people who came before us, what we grew up watching them do, and in hindsight we realize how creative they were and that they were actually practicing art. At the time, we may not have noticed it. They may not have known it, so thank you for that.

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes, thank you.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah. Getting back just to your work, in 2017, your book, When All God's Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Music and Lives of the African American People in Far Western North Carolina ... I'm sorry, I'm going to restate that question. In 2017, you published a book, When All God's Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Music and Lives of the African American People in Far Western North Carolina. Why was this book important for you to write? I know we talked a lot about your art and why that was so important, to bring on that visual aspect. You spoke a bit about the book and how you got the idea, but what do you think that has done for the community in gathering those stories and telling the history of western North Carolina through your own family?

Ann Miller Woodford: I created the book in 2015, and it ended up having or encouraging the production of a group of panels at Western North Carolina University, that has traveled. It's a traveling exhibit now that the Mountain Heritage Center takes around different communities so that they can see the history of our people. It was very important to me to see that our people will never be forgotten. Once you publish a book, the books cannot be all gathered and thrown away or ignored. Once that book is out there, it's there, and there are going to be people that pick it up. I've had people from North Carolina Folk Life, from North Carolina Arts and Humanities contact me to interview me or to ask questions about the book, and because they're in touch with so many different people, as you are, this community will never be forgotten. I'm very pleased that I was able to put that book together because we need, people need ... All over the country, there are communities like Andrews and Murphy and Bryson City, places like these that are small and not even close to a university, and they're being forgotten. The people will live and do wonderful things, pass away, and be forgotten. That is not going to happen with our people.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thinking about people who have been forgotten, ignored, overlooked, deemed invisible. Can you talk about the musical contributions of African Americans in far western North Carolina and how those contributions have been ignored and historically associated with white culture and white singers and musicians?

Ann Miller Woodford: We don't have very many people in this region that have actually published or recorded for the general population, I guess. There are lots of white family singers that have put out a lot of recordings and all, but a man named Roscoe Hall who lived in Murphy had ... He was a veteran and he was a fantastic singer and musician. He and his brother and some other men used to have, when I was young, when I was younger, they had, I guess they called it a band, and they put together music with these guitars and all kinds of equipment. It's hard for me to explain that because I wasn't there with him. I think that I was older, and he's passed away now, but there's a bridge named after him in Murphy right now. Think of that contribution. He worked with the community down in Murphy, in a community that's called Texana, that has a beautiful story there. I thought maybe there would be a possibility you would want to speak with some other people from down there and get their stories, because they would know more in depth than I do about growing up there. The musical tradition, as I said, I have this wonderful CD of the Texana Missionary Baptist Church that is located in Texana, and the singers from back in 1953. That kind of was the glue that that kept us all together, was singing together and moving from church to church, greeting with each other and singing together. The musical tradition for us was very, very important, but you're not going to see it on Amazon, in general, if you know what I'm saying.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah, thank you. In the book you also share information on the Cherokee people, and this is a group whose history the park is also working on telling, and the park is consistently sharing that information with the public. Will you talk a bit about Cherokee history in the area and how it relates to African American history in western North Carolina?

Ann Miller Woodford: Basically, a lot of Black people, African Americans in the far west have Cherokee blood, and their ancestry is tied in with that. In the 1830s, when they took all of the Cherokee people or most of them out of here, they didn't see the African Americans as Cherokee people, so many were able to stay in this region rather than to go, because if they looked Cherokee or they were Cherokee, they were gathered up and corralled in ... They called them forts, but they were nothing but corrals, like animals. As they removed the Cherokee people from their homes and moved them west, I had a real good friend, a wonderful family of white people that lived up in the mountains. The gentleman told me about the grave that he saw where the children had been buried. Rock piles were there, because they took them out of here at a very bad time of the year when on the way to Oklahoma, they froze to death. Many of them did. They had to walk, in general, and so they died on the way. Many, many Cherokee, and not just the Cherokee, but the other Native American people who lived in the region also.

I was so pleased to be a part of the Cherokee Healing and Wellness project that they held for quite a few years out in Cherokee, North Carolina. That taught me a lot that I never would've known about the Cherokee people, and there is a woman named Anita Bush, and she might be someone that you'd want to contact that lives over in Graham County, that is a really dear friend of mine. Patty Grant was a storyteller and a person who taught a lot about Cherokee history. Those people would be someone that, if you're interviewing people in the Cherokee group as well, that you might want to talk to.

Atalaya Dorfield : Okay, thank you.

Ann Miller Woodford: I don't know the history in depth. I don't know the history of the particular people in Cherokee, North Carolina in depth, but I know that it opened up my heart to another group of people who had been unjustly treated, as the African Americans were as well.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yes. Thank you for that. You spoke a bit about your exhibit that's the counterpart to the book that you curated. What inspired you to develop a visual or experiential counterpart to the book? Ann Miller Woodford: I'm not quite sure the question. Ask me that again, because there was a break in the sound here on my phone.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah. You spoke already about how there was a traveling exhibit, or there is a traveling exhibit for When All God's Children Get Together. What inspired you to curate this visual or experiential counterpart to the book?

Ann Miller Woodford: Pamela Meister, the executive director of the Mountain Heritage Center, appreciated very much my work. She contacted me and introduced me to some of the history teachers at Western, and I did presentations there. She believed, she and Peter Cook, who, they worked together there in the Mountain Heritage Center, they asked me if I would be willing to work together with them on the exhibit. That's how that came about, and it was a lot of work back and forth from Andrews to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee to put together the panels that told the story of our lives out here in the far west.

Atalaya Dorfield : What would you say the benefit of having this exhibit is, alongside the book? Just thinking about people who may not have access to the book, or vice versa. How do you think the two compliment each other and what do you think the community gets out of that?

Ann Miller Woodford: I think that all of the community benefits, Black and white communities, because the white people ... In general, Black people, it's my opinion, know the white community, but the white community does not know the Black community. By seeing these stories and seeing even the stories of the churches and how some of the white churches helped the Black churches to build their own places and to support their own communities through the churches, it opens up doors that would never have been opened before. It gives opportunities for conversations, for people to learn about each other and not feel so isolated. To me, that was very important, that Pam Meister decided to work with me the way she did and that she still works with me. As I said, the art exhibit from Asheville will go back to Western. The first place that opened up that showed the panels was the Mountain Heritage Center. We need to know about each other. I think it will make for more peaceful and harmonious communities if folks all across this nation could do the same thing. One of goals is to start working now with my book. I may re-edit, I may edit the book, or I may rewrite it in a way that doesn't scare people. People see that one inch thick book and 600 pages, and they'll say, "Oh, I'm going to get to it one day," and I keep saying, "That's an encyclopedia. You go to the index, look for names there. You go to the contents and you see the sections and you can learn about all these different areas that I wrote about, but to sit down and read a 600 page book from cover to cover is difficult." I'm about to work with the libraries across the state of North Carolina and try to see as many of them as I possibly can talk to about making sure the book is there, and I would like to do some short videos that they can use in their libraries to open this up, open up the minds of the people. Don't let your community be forgotten. You know what I'm saying? Don't let those people that have lived and created these wonderful communities, the Black people especially, don't let them die and become invisible to us. Do something to make sure that they're never forgotten.

Atalaya Dorfield : Yeah. Would you ever consider, just you saying that you want to edit it down to have a shorter version as well, would you ever consider maybe an illustrated children's book for children in the area and in the country to learn that history as well?

Ann Miller Woodford: I love you. See, that's creative. I love your idea there. I have not thought of that, but hey, that is a wonderful thought. I had not, because I'm an artist and a historian, so I could pretty well illustrate a children's book. Thank you. It's even better because right now, One Dozen Who Care is still in the operation from 1998 until now, we're still operating. One of the programs is a book challenge. We have a book collection in the Andrews public library that is named after my dad, Purel Miller. It's the Purel Miller African American Book Collection, and one of our board members runs a program called The Reading Challenge, and lots of the books are children's books, and we have a couple of board members who tell stories and meet at the libraries and talk to the children about ... Just encourage kids by telling stories there. Thank you. Just illustrate a children's book. I'm writing that down right now.

Atalaya Dorfield : I'm enjoying this. Thank you. As we're coming to a close, my next question is, as both an artist and a historian, can you talk a bit about the duality of creativity and scholarship and what role each plays in your identity, and we've touched on it, but your work as well?

Ann Miller Woodford: Yes. I as said, my family has been creative over all these years, so I get a chance to pick up from their creativity. I am an artist, and you just gave me this wonderful idea for the children's books. I think it's a way to pull together the history and show the artwork and encourage children. Over the years, as I've taught art classes in schools, I've found out that that's a way to bring down barriers, by letting kids be expressive. If I can do that, I just said, I'm three quarters of the way to 100 years old. On January 31st I'll be 75 years old. I want to use the last of my creativity, these last 25 years, to encourage children. Once you encourage children and they pick up the idea as little ones, sometimes they carry that through their whole life, like I did when Grandpa said, "Ann can do anything," when I was just a little kid.

The role they play in my identity is so deep and so spiritual, and it has caused me to move from place to place, so my financial situation is never all that great, but I am so excited that the spiritual, I guess is the only way I can describe it, the spiritual benefits of having been an artist and now in historian have really made a difference in my life, and I hope that it'll make a lot of difference in the lives of many other people.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you. Just thinking about Black artists and scholars in the community, sharing their narratives about Black experiences in western North Carolina, do you see that community growing or is that something that you think still needs some work?

Ann Miller Woodford: It needs a lot of work, because it's still a place of struggle. We make very little money, and I think in general, if you took the whole community, white, all races, all the groups together, we don't have big industries here. When I was younger, I worked in the furniture plant, when I first moved back to North Carolina in the early in the nineties, when I told you I moved back from my mother's health. I had to work in the blue jeans company, the Lee Jeans company. Other people were working in Levi's, and the furniture companies were bigger. Back at that time, there were industries here. Now all the industries have left us, except some that only hire smaller numbers of people. When that happened, then that brings down the school system, it brings down the hospital, the people that are working in those areas, and so our community is struggling altogether, economically.

I believe that we could use the arts and especially African American arts across the board, such as jazz and blues and all of that, bring that into here and it would bring more people to our area and see how beautiful it is here. The mountains around us are just fantastic. Looking at the cloudscapes and all reminds me of the time when I was a little girl, I would lay in the yard and just watch, just look at the sky. There was a particular poplar tree, and you might have seen that my business is called Ann's Tree. That tree just helped me to visualize artworks and other creative activities that I had, crafts and all that, and that could happen for these young people if they had an opportunity to just be experience something other than only country music. I like country music too, but all we have in our region right now is country music, and if you go to church, you get to hear a little bit of gospel, but even the churches now are using electronic music, which is very disturbing because it keeps people from using their creative voices.

There's a lot to be done, and hopefully in the near future I will be able to share, because I've been blessed to have pretty good health. This COVID thing is dangerous for all of us, but I want to use my older years to try to bring more of our culture, black culture, into this region. Think that will make a difference.

Atalaya Dorfield : Thank you. I agree. Thank you. I know you've mentioned some people throughout this interview, but is there anyone else that you think we should speak to and conduct an oral history with for this project?

Ann Miller Woodford: I do have a couple of creative people, artists. Rhonda Bertha, I can give you her phone number, and Lakeisha Blunt is an artist who lives in Asheville, that is from Murphy. Her mother, Brenda Blunt, is one of those first people that helped me to pull together the One Dozen Who Care group. All these people can give you other names of people who can help. I believe in Sylva, there are a couple of people that I could give you names and phone numbers for. If you would like those, I'll try to write them and send you an email with some names and numbers. Just to know, that you've mentioned somewhere along the line the Western North Carolina Historical Association. I am not the only person who is doing this kind of work, but people don't ... They're shy about letting the works, their works be known. They'll say, "Oh, I don't want to brag about myself." I say, "That's not bragging. You need to tell people, because how are they ever going to learn if they don't know who you are?" I've been blessed by getting the Mountain Heritage Award at Western Carolina University on their Mountain Heritage Day. I have received the honor of achievement at the Western North Carolina Historical Association. That opens doors for me and I will do everything I can to open doors for other people who may not have gotten their name out there, as mine has been.

Atalaya Dorfield : Well, thank you so much. This has been such a joy for me, and I'm sure the public and the staff at The Smokies will really enjoy this. Thank you so much. This concludes our interview, and again, this is Ann Miller Woodford's oral history with the Great Smokey Mountains National Park's African American Experience Project. Thank you, Ms. Woodford.

Ann Miller Woodford: Thank you so much.

Atalaya Dorfield : All right. Bye-bye.

Ann Miller Woodford: Bye.



Although Anne Miller Woodford moved around the United States since she attended Ohio University in 1969, she has always called “the far western part of North Carolina,” or Andrews, North NC, her home. In 2021, Anne Miller Woodford sat down with park interviewers to talk about the property that she grew up on in Andrews, known as “Happy Top,” the courtship of her mother and father, how she learned how to be an artist by painting on drywall, and how she is using art to impact Appalachia today.

1. Ron Davis Senior



Antoine Fletcher: All right. This is Antoine Fletcher, Science Communicator of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today is September 13th, 2021. I'm interviewing for the first time Ron Davis. This interview is taking place at Sugarland's Visitors Center. The interview is sponsored by the National Park Service and is part of the African-American Experience Project, which is in the effort to investigate, research, and educate the public about the stories of African Americans in great Smoky Mountains, National Park and neighboring communities. So for the record, can you state your first and last name, place, and date of birth.

Ron Davis Senior: Okay. Ron Davis, Sr. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1950.

Antoine Fletcher: All right.

Ron Davis Senior: In other words, I'm old. Old man.

Antoine Fletcher: Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up in Knoxville?

Ron Davis Senior: Yes. I grew up in a small African American community, predominantly African American community in West Knoxville. It's called Beardon or, and our specific neighborhood was called Lyons View, and it was a great place to grow up. Families were close. My dad was scout, master for the young men in the neighborhood. I grew up in scouting, starting in Cub Scouts, went to Boy Scouts, but it was just a great place to grow up. Grew up fishing, hunting, sports, love any type sport and family of seven kids, and our parents, nine people. And we were in a house less than a thousand square foot, total size for nine people. But we were poor, but we were happy. We were a happy family. And so not having the financial resources that many that some did, it didn't matter to us because we had the happiness in our lives.

And so with that, in a nutshell is kind of the root. My mom was a homemaker, basically took care of us as kids, and my dad was the traditional breadwinner of the family. He would, at times, have to work two jobs. We didn't even own a car until I was probably junior high or high school before we owned our first car. My dad used to have to walk to work, but fortunately, he was close enough that it was only about a 30 minute walk for him to get to work every day. My dad was a butler for the Mebane family, and he worked for the same two generations. He worked for two generations of the same family for 62 years. Dad retired at 80 and passed away at 80 years of age. My mom, as I said, the traditional homemaker raised, took care of us at home, took care of the bills. Daddy brought the money in. Mom paid the bills, very, very traditional. And she was the mother hen of the family. She basically was our disciplinarian. Daddy rarely ever spanked us. Mom would tear us up when we deserved it, but that, that's generally our family. But just a great upbringing. Poor but happy is the way I would summarize my childhood.

Antoine Fletcher: And it seems like just listening to you talk that your parents, And your siblings are a big influence on you. So can you talk a little bit about, you talked about growing up hunting and fishing and things such as that nature. So could you kind of talk a little bit about those influences, how your dad influenced you, maybe into that, or your mom influenced you in the hunting and things such as that nature?

Ron Davis Senior: Yeah. That was, mom was not really the outdoor type, but dad was all the way outdoors, like I said, a scout master going as a part of his job for the Mebane family. He would have to go to Elkmont every spring to open up the cabins cabin. And as we got older and big enough so that we could help him, he would take us with him to the cabin, and we would just help with cleaning up and help do whatever we could to help dad get it opened up. But while there in Elkmont, and this would've been in the late 1950s when I was a small child, and it carried over through high school for me. And really the family maintained ownership of the cabin until the early nineties when the park took all the ownership of the cabins back. But going to the Elkmont and being in the mountains was a huge influence on me and my career choice.

Dad during lunch breaks or in the evenings after we would finish work, dad would let us go fish Jake's Creek, which was directly behind the cabin and rock. You could literally just pitch a rock to it. It was that close. And so we would fish the creek. We were right at the end of the road that provided, that was the main thoroughfare through Elkmont and into the residential, the cabin areas. And their cabin was the last cabin at the end of that driveway, at the end of that street. So there was a chain up along the road, and the trail would start right at the front of their cabin that you could hike back into the mountains and into along Jake's Creek. And so we would do some hiking as well.

That was obviously an influence, a huge influence on my career choice. But just hunting, fishing, doing all of those kinds of things. Some of my dad's best friends were into hunting and fishing as well. And when dad wasn't available to take us, some of them would even take, especially my brother and I, and I'll share this with you as well, my brother, I've got a younger brother. He's about four years age different. He pursued a degree in natural resource management as well. And he worked at T.V.A. over 30 years. So Dad not only influenced me as a career path into natural resource management, but a brother as well. And I've got another brother, my oldest brother is a newspaper photographer, retired, but he kind of specialized in wildlife photography. So he would get special assignments and would go out and shoot pictures of birds and wildlife and stuff like that on a contractual basis for the newspaper or for anyone that needed good photography. So it was not only in my life, the influence, but it was also reflected in some of my family members, my siblings as well, that influenced of out of door interest.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. So you talked about your father working for the Mebane family for two generations of Mebane family.

Ron Davis Senior: The same family.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah, That's quite some time.

Ron Davis Senior: 62 years.

Antoine Fletcher: And when you were younger, did you go out with their family when you were in Elkmont? Did you guys all have to do activities together?

Ron Davis Senior: Well, interesting. It's interesting. In Elkmont, we did not do activities together. We would go up, open the cabin up, get it ready, and then they would come and visit and stay for an extended period of time off and on throughout the summer. So daddy would occasionally be there, but we would open it up in the spring, close it before the cold weather sets in the fall and early winter. But repeat your question again please?

Antoine Fletcher: Just your connection with the actual family as far as, did you guys do activities in Elkmont together?

Ron Davis Senior: Well, I tell you what's interesting. As I said, we did not do the activities in Elkmont together, but my dad's employer, Mr. Mebane, had a yacht. He had about a 45 foot yacht. And my dad would go out when he would go out on the lake, and he would actually go out, spend weekends and stuff like that. And occasionally, Mr. Mebane would invite me to go along on those trips, and we'd go down the lake and would just stay in a cabin, I mean, in a cove area. And there was what's called a dinghy on the back, which is a small boat that we would use for fishing. So we would do that with Mr. Mebane. He also, I became so close to Mr. Mabane that he offered to send me to college. Unfortunately, he passed away the year I graduated from high school in 1967.

Both he and his wife passed away the same year, and there was nowhere in his will or in documentation that he had made that offer to me. And so I wasn't able to take advantage of it. But I did work for Mr. Mebane, and one of my brothers also worked there as well as kids doing yard work, stuff like that. So our relationship, when it wasn't out on the lake in his yacht, our relationship more so was working for them, doing yard work, helping my dad. But Mr. Mebane was basically a mentor for me. He would pass along words of advice, encouragement. He was president of a company called Standard Knitting Mill in Knoxville, which made a, what they call health knit underwear, T-shirts, underwear, stuff like that. What we call Willy Willy's, long Johns for cold-weather wear, stuff like that. He was president of that company, and his wife was his wife's family was owner of a company called White Lily Flower Company. Have y'all ever heard of White Lily Flower?

Antoine Fletcher: I have heard of White Lily.

Ron Davis Senior: Okay. Yeah. You in Chattanooga you would have, yeah. From the, yeah, but his wife's family was J. Allen Smith, and they owned White Lily Flower Company. So basically, Mr. And Mrs. Mebane basically provided encouragement to all of us as kids. And again, offered to even help with my college, but it didn't materialize. But then the Lord blessed me with T.V.A. stepping in and stepping up and paid for eight years of college.

Antoine Fletcher: You talked...

Ron Davis Senior: Eight years of college.

Antoine Fletcher: You talked about, you know, going out with your family and you guys are preparing the cabins. Yes. So was that something that you look forward to because, hey, we're going to get to go out and we're going to be in Elkmont in the woods and things like that?

Ron Davis Senior: We were just elated, excited, two things. One, to be in the mountains to enjoy the cabin, but also to hang out with dad and spend some time with dad. Because with seven kids, my dad had to work a lot. And he of sometimes, oftentimes would work two jobs, his regular job for the Mebane family. But he would occasionally work at a place called Cherokee Country Club in Knoxville, which he would bartend. He would do bartending. He would serve what they call serve parties, which would be serving food, serving drinks at the country club. So there were times where we didn't see our dad a whole lot. So just those opportunities gave us a chance to hang out with him, and he hang out with us as well. So it was really good, really good. The cabin was really nice, very rustic, bigger than where I lived in my house, in our home. So we really look forward to it. It was exciting for us. And then to be out of doors and be able to fish and see animals and stuff like that was just added to the excitement.

Antoine Fletcher: You said each of you pretty much had a job when you guys were preparing the cabin. What was your job when you were preparing this cabin?

Ron Davis Senior: My job was, as much as anything, just cleaning, helping, clean stuff. Because given the cabin would have set up all winter long, we would help out with the cleaning and stuff. And very early on, they did not have refrigerators. So we would have to, we'd ride with dad, he would go down to Gatlinburg and would get ice for the ice box to keep food and stuff, cold. Cause there was no refrigeration and very little electricity back in those early days. Yeah. But my job, and most of the siblings, it was cleaning. Was cleaning.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. And you say the early days, what year?

Ron Davis Senior: Okay. For me, it was primarily in the late 1950s, all the way through high school, which we didn't go as much. I didn't go as much as I got into my high school years, but elementary school and junior high school years, I would go about every year. So that would be from the late 1950s up through the early to mid 1960s in that timeframe.

Antoine Fletcher: So I know since you spent so much time in Elkmont. The Smokies is known for its fireflies. Synchronized. Fireflies. Do you have any memories from the synchronized? Fireflies?

Ron Davis Senior: Yes, yes. Yes, I do. Although I must say I do have memories, but back in those days, it wasn't a featured activity of the Smokies Given that we had fireflies in Knoxville, where we lived it, it wasn't featured. It wasn't anything that we viewed as totally out of the ordinary. It was, back in those days, it was what we expected. The beauty of it was being out in nature as opposed to being in a neighborhood with a lot of lights and a lot of houses and stuff like that. The real beauty was being, having the rustic, the darkness of with little electricity. And the fireflies then would be just be brighter, would stand out more. That that would be my memory, probably more than anything else. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: And I mean, we know you spent a lot of time in Elkmont, but. When you guys were visiting Elkmont, did you go anywhere else in the park?

Ron Davis Senior: Interestingly, we did not. We primarily stayed right in the Elkmont area or Gatlinburg to get supplies. We did not travel a lot, but for us, we were perfectly content to be in Elkmont because it offered literally everything that was appealing to us. The quiet, the mountain stream, the fresh air, the coolness. In Knoxville, it would be 90 degrees, 95 degrees up here in Elkmont. It would be in the seventies, low eighties. And if you got hot, you could go down to the mountain stream, put your feet in and cool off. So really, we just did not have a need to do a whole lot of visiting other parks during those trips. However, in my neighborhood, one of my best friends, his dad would take he and I out camping, and we would come to the Smokies and we would hit some of the camping site in proximity of Gatlinburg. And so I would get to see more of the Smokies during those trips. And I will share this one story with you. My dad taught us how to fly fish with a fly rod as 10, 11, 12 year old kids. And when I would go camping, I was early teenage years, probably at that point, 13, 14, 15, during that time period, junior high school timeframe. And we would fish streams that were in close proximity to the campsite. And there was a time when I hooked a big rainbow trap to the point that there were people standing around on the bank watching me trying to land that fish. It was so big. It was probably 18 inch rainbow. It was huge. Biggest I had ever hooked. Crowds were gathering around because it was near the campsite where we were camping, and there were other people there camping as well. Crowds were standing around watching me see if I could get the fish in. My buddy that was with me. He saw me play the fish. I got it almost all the way in to me. I was going to put a dip net on it, and he got so excited that he wanted to try to grab the fish and knock my fish off the hook, and the fish went swimming out to the stream. I could have killed him. But yeah, I have those kind of memories of just camping, fishing, just, and then in later years, when I started going to Haywood Community College, I was traveling back and forth across the mountain a lot, and going to school in Western North Carolina, in the mountains, in the Waynesville Canton area, we would take field trips. Our forestry class would take field trips to the mountains a lot. So my exposure to actually going into the mountains just really just increased a lot as I got older. And as I got into college it, yeah, it just went up and up and up.

Antoine Fletcher: Seems like you have a lot of memories from the Smokies. That you share. I do some great ones, but going back when you were a kid in Elkmont, if you could revisit one memory, Which one would it be? Tell us about it.

Ron Davis Senior: It would probably be, we celebrated my dad's birthday in Elkmont at the cabin. And my dad was a Navy man. My dad was six one, muscular built strong as an ox. And I had never seen him cry, but dad was so touched by the celebration of his birthday that he cried. And I had never seen that. And I was probably high school age at that point, but I had never seen him cry. And I saw him cry during that occasion, and that just touched my heart. And then I didn't cry, but some of my siblings even started boohooing. And when they saw dad cry, because we just never seen that emotional side of dad like that, because he was very traditional man, manly guy. And we just never saw that in him. So interestingly, even though we would see deer, can't remember seeing any bear, we saw bear signs, we saw droppings, we saw, didn't have 'em back in those early days. But then later, a lot of sign of wild boar, wild hogs saw a lot of that. So that was stand out. But that birthday celebration that we had for dad, and to see him get emotional, that stood out in my memory. Yeah, it really did. Really did.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. So he definitely,

Ron Davis Senior: Sorry to get emotional. No,

Antoine Fletcher: No, it's okay.

Ron Davis Senior: Sorry.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah, it's okay. Yeah. And he, it seems like the entire family had this emotional connection to Elkmont. One that was built over time. Ron Davis Senior: Absolutely very strong, strong emotional connection to Elkmont. And it was, for us, it was like being in a wonderland somewhere. It was like being in the best place you could ever want to go to. Just scenic. Beautiful. And as I previously shared those roots and enjoying the beauty of that, the scenery and everything instilled in me that desire to want to have a career doing something in environmental, natural resource, forestry, wildlife related at a young age, I just didn't know I could make a living doing something that I had a passion for, like that. And to get a job at TVA right out of high school in their forestry, fisheries and wildlife division, opened my eyes to an opportunity to have a career in a field that I loved, that I had a passion for. And I shared it in that news, in that article that was previously written. At that point in my life, I would've gone to work at TVA every day with no pay, just to do what I was doing, because I enjoyed it so much. The pay was just nice, but it wasn't necessary. Fortunately, I was still living at home, didn't need the money necessarily. It was spending change, but I would've been to work every day at eight o'clock in the morning just because I had such a passion for the profession, had such a passion for it.

Antoine Fletcher: So just thinking about your family, going to Elkmont, even thinking about now how, you know, see African Americans coming into parks, but not as many as you would think you would see. Absolutely. Back when you guys were preparing the cabins, did you see other African Americans in Elkmont? And in what capacity if you did?

Ron Davis Senior: I don't remember seeing any other African Americans. If I did, and just don't remember. But I think I would've remembered, it would've registered on my brain and probably been locked into part of my brain. But if I did see any and just don't remember, they would've been in the same capacity as my dad. Back in those days, they were butlers maids, that kind of thing. And they would come up and they called that stretch of Elkmont. There's a name for it.

Antoine Fletcher: Was it Millionaires Row?

Ron Davis Senior: Millionaires Row. Millionaires row. And so back in those days for East Tennessee, I didn't know of any other African Americans that could even begin to own. And from a racial perspective, they probably would not have allowed them to own property there. Anyway. As a matter of fact, I was doing a little bit of homework and read where I don't think we were allowed as African Americans to even camp, or they were trying to, back in the forties, set up a campsite that was focused or for African Americans. And that was turned down for racial reasons. So if there were any African Americans in Elkmont during the fifties and early sixties, and even later, they would've been as my dad and as we were more of a butler servant helper capacity there. Yea.

Antoine Fletcher: So as you were saying, you certain capacity and all these memories. So what was it like when you went back to Knoxville and told your friends, and what did you tell your friends about your trips to Elkmont? Yeah,

Ron Davis Senior: Basically they would just see us light up as we were talking to them about those trips because they were so memorable and enjoyable. And every now and then, we would invite a few friends to go up with us for my dad's birthday party. There were a few friends came up for that. So just on special occasions, we would occasionally have a friend come with us, but they were excited. But given that they, early on, they had never seen it. Until you experience it, you can't really appreciate the magnificence of it, and you have to have light that kind of environment. For some people, it's scary to them. They're scared. They're scared of bears, they're scared of this scared of deer, scared of the wildlife. And so for some, it's not appealing to 'em. But for most especially the guys, it is appealing to 'em and some of the ladies as well. But yeah, until they saw it, they really could not appreciate how grand it was and how magnificent it was. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: So in 1992, the Mebane cabin was demolished by the US Department of Interior. Yes. Have you revisited the location? In the past or currently anytime? Ron Davis Senio: Yes. Revisited the site probably three or four years ago, probably about four years ago, because I had double knee surgery about three years ago, and I couldn't get around very well. But about four, around four to five years ago did go back to the site. Very fond memories, but disappointment, disappointing that the park, and not to be critical of the park service, the National Park Service and the Smokies, but those cabins were jewels. They were historic. And the fact that they took back the ownership, they retained the ownership of the land, took possession of the cabins, and did not have a solid plan as to what they were going to do with those cabins. When I go back, I feel a sense of disappointment that really, really magnificent, nice cabins were let allowed to just deteriorate. And I even went back and saw the Mebane cabin probably 10 years before it was demolition. And it was beginning, the roof was beginning to cave in. It was beginning just to fall apart. And as I said, just hugely disappointing. And interestingly, the Mebanes had invested thousands of dollars in remodeling the cabin probably 15 years before it was. The ownership went back, went to the, National Park Service and Department of Interior. It didn't have a finished basement in it. They finished the basement, part of the cabin, upgraded the place only to have it deteriorate after ownership was withdrawn. So to be honest with you, it was a disappointment to me to see that cabin and others end up the way they did to be demolitioned. And I understand that there were a few cabins that they had plans to rehab and to remodel. And I don't know whether that was ever done or not. I'm hoping that it was, but I don't remember whether they were or not. But I do know there are a few cabins still there. But that was a disappointment, especially specific to the Mebane cabin that we had such a long history of enjoying and using. And it was just so deeply embedded in our hearts. We were sad, we were saddened. Really sad. I see that. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I'll share this as a side story too. The maid that worked for the Mebane family, she would occasionally come to the cabin with us and she would cook us meals while we were working. And one time she wanted to go snake hunting, and so she went outside snake hunting and found a snake, and she about killed herself, panicking. Cause her snake hunting was a joke. She was just kind of just kidding and found a snake. And she about killed herself trying to get back inside. And interestingly, her name was Florence Middlebrook, and she was the cook on a TV show in Knoxville. The lady that had the show, it was called Mary Starr, s t a r r. And Florence Middlebrook was the cook with Mary Starr, a white lady that was the star of the program. When Florence stopped working on TV with that job, she started working for the Mein family. And so she was kind of famous person, or well known, and a great lady and a phenomenal cook. But it was so funny seeing her snake hunting. That was funny.

Antoine Fletcher: And Florence was African American.

Ron Davis Senior: And yes, she was African American, yes. Okay. And Mary Starr was white, but Florence was African American and a great lady. Great lady.

Antoine Fletcher: So you say that she cooked meals and things like that. So what are some of the things you guys did eat at the cabin?

Ron Davis Senior: Florence literally would cook anything from chicken, fried chicken to spaghetti to just any kind of meals. But a lot of the time it was sandwiches and stuff that was easy to prepare that didn't require a lot of work. But yeah, we got the spectrum. And then sometimes she would cook it at the house where she worked in Knoxville and bring the meals to the cabin with her and would just serve those meals to us there. And those were the real fancy meals where we would get just, but mainly when we were there, she would serve us sandwiches and stuff that was easier and quicker to prepare. Yeah. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: Thank you.

Ron Davis Senior: But good memories. Great memories. And Florence was a great person. Great person.

Antoine Fletcher: Yeah. Thank you for that. Thank you. So I kind of want to transition to your college years and in 1967, you started a forestry program at Haywood Technical Institute. Tell me about your first day stepping in the classroom.

Ron Davis Senior: Well, my first day stepping in the classroom was quite interesting because I did not know what to expect. I had never been to the town where the school was, had never heard of it. It's a little town called Clyde, C.L.Y.D.E, Clyde, North Carolina. Never heard of any of those little towns over there. And even though Knoxville's not that big, it's still a couple hundred thousand people compared to where I was going to school with a neighborhood. It was like a little neighborhood in Knoxville. So I really didn't know what to expect and a little bit of anxiety in terms of the racial situation because in the 1960s there were racial riots going on. A lot of overt racism was prevalent, was still going on. And so I did not know what to expect and to step into my classroom for the first time, I saw another African American in my forestry class, and I just lit up. I just lit up, didn't know he was going to be in the class. And as it turns out, he was the nephew of the gentleman that TVA had made arrangements for me to live with. The only other African American that lived in the town of Clyde, North Carolina, TVA had made arrangements for me to room with and just rent a room from him and live there while I was in school. And I don't think he knew that his nephew was going to be in the forestry program because he never said anything to me about it. And for that to happen was God working in mysterious ways in my life, because that was such a great thing for me, especially that he was from that area, a little town next door, bigger town, Waynesville, North Carolina. He knew several of the classmates had gone to high school together. So he already knew several of people in the class. They knew him. He was a football star, a wrestling state, wrestling champion, and very popular. So for me to connect with him made things so much easier for me in terms of being accepted into the neighborhood and into the school. And it was just a blessing. It was just a huge blessing. As it turned out, classmates for the vast, vast majority were good young men.

50 years later to this day, I'm still friends with several of my classmates. We still connect. Some have visited me in where I live on a farm and just outside of Knoxville now, and have been there for the last 20 years. Some have visited me. Those relationships have just lasted in some cases for fif now 50 years, some racism, but very, very little, very few. And I did not experience any real overt racism in terms of name calling and stuff like that, but just more subtle stuff. And I even had an instructor that took my grade off, doc, lowered my grade in a speech class and attributed the speech that I gave in her class to ethnic dialect.

I guess I was talking like a brother. And that impacted my grade on my speech. She and I became good friends because I had a good conversation explaining to her that where I grew up and how I talked was based upon the environment that I grew up in. That was not of my choosing. And it was something that I was not apologetic for. I was not talking street language in my speech. And I think you, both of you have heard enough to know that I'm not speaking street, a lot of street ish stuff, but I just found it interesting that she picked up on ethnic dialect in speech that I was giving. But we became good friends. She better understood after I explained to her the situation. She docked me that one time, but never did again after that in her speech class. And I probably made an A in her class. Yeah. And I remember that very well. I like it was yesterday.

Antoine Fletcher: So during that time, I know you said you experienced some racism, overt racism. Do you think that your time in the Smokies kind of prepared you, especially not seeing as many African Americans in the park did or even your relationship with the Mebane family, did that prepare you for moments like that?

Ron Davis Senior: Yes, yes, yes. And I tell you, the root of my preparation goes back to my dad. Everything seems to circle back to my dad. Some of my dad's best hunting and fishing buddies was a white guy. And his family, he lived in the same neighborhood that my dad grew up in, and his name was Buddy, we called him, his name was William Sterling, we called him Buddy Sterling. But he and my dad were friends as children. And as they got older, they continued to hunt fish together. So he and my dad's, our families would have dinner together, cookouts together. I would go fishing and hunting with him. He would occasionally take some of his boys, some of my brothers would go with me and dad on fishing trips with them. And even our neighborhood though, our neighborhood was predominantly African American, right on the fringe of the neighborhood, there were white families and we had a playground in the heart of the black neighborhood. And ironically and interestingly, the family that my dad worked for purchased the land for that playground. They worked with the city recreation department to get playground equipment. A basketball court set up. That same family donated money and built a community center on that property.

They also made a donation toward a $50,000 fundraiser that I spearheaded to build a pavilion in memory of my father. And they donated the majority of the $50,000 that I was able to raise and built it on that playground that, that family had donated. I say all that to say that white kids from the adjoining areas would come to the playground and play basketball with us and we'd have cookouts. So we got to know some of the folks, some of the white families in the neighborhood by interacting on the playground that the Mebane family and the Jail and Smith family put money into, make all of that happen for us. And that given that I was raised around my daddy's family, friends, family, white family, played sports with white guys and given that and then the Melbane family would go out on outings with them, all of that prepared me for integration.

I was in the 10th grade in high school before I ever went before schools integrated in Knoxville. I was in high school. I had gone to a segregated high school, segregated schools up until high school. And so that made it, that upbringing made it easier for me to assimilate into an integrated society, both in high school and now at Haywood community, at Haywood Technical Institute. And that attending an integrated high school helped me as well. Obviously it really just set the stage to prepare me for going to Haywood. And then my buddy Hillard Gibbs, the guy rented from his nephew, and we became like family. They became my North Carolina family to me because I got close to his parents, his siblings, and to this day Tack. And we call him our real name is Hillard Gibbs. We call him Tack, T A C K. To this day we talk to each other no less than monthly. And he is still like a brother to me to this day, 50, 50 years later. And our career paths paralleled. But like I said, he was huge in helping me adjust to that North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains and that living environment over there. Oh, he was huge in that.

Antoine Fletcher: So, how many years did you spend at Haywood Technical Institute? Ron Davis Senior: I was there for two years. It was a community college, started in 67, fall of 67 September, and then graduated in May of 69 from Haywood. But they were good years. I learned a lot. It only confirmed that the career path that I had chosen was meant for me. It confirmed that and also it gave me, given that TVA was I was working for TVA in their forestry, fisheries and wildlife program. When I wasn't in school, which would be summers holidays, I'd come home for Thanksgiving during the work week, I would work at TVA Christmas holidays. I would come in, I'd work if it was a TVA work day and not a holiday, I'd go to work at TVA. And so what really helped me a lot, and it helped me on the academic side too. I was doing things at TVA that I was learning about in the classroom at Haywood.

So I was able to see a practical application for the things I was learning in the classroom, which oftentimes isn't the case. You study stuff and you think, will I ever use this? But I was applying a lot of things that I was learning in the classroom on my job. And then subsequent to graduating in 69, I became a crew leader for a forest inventory crew. We would go out and measure timber, measure trees, we'd go to sample points. And I did that for some years, traveled across the whole Tennessee Valley region initially as a crew member, and then after a while as a crew chief measuring timbers. So I had to know how to identify tree's species. I took a dendrology class that's about tree identification. I took what's called forest mensuration, which is about tree measurements at Haywood. So I was learning the stuff that I was doing then and would subsequently do at TVA as a part of my job in 60. In about 71, I asked TVA would they send me to University of Tennessee to work on my bachelor's degree. And they agreed to do that. They unfortunately, Haywood Tech was not an accredited school outside the state of North Carolina. So I had to start all over as a freshman at UT as a true freshman. So it took me four years at UT to get my undergraduate degree finished. But I did and TVA paid for all of my education and I was able to work when I wasn't in school. And it then subsequent to that, they sent me to graduate school to work on a master's program as well. And TVA funded that as well. Wow. I will be totally honest. I did not get my master's degree finished. I did all the coursework. I had a family working a lot focused on my kids. I had two kids at that point, and I did not finish my master's thesis. That's the only thing that kept me from getting my degree. I got all the coursework had planned to try to do a master's thesis research project work related, but I never was able to get that finalized and worked out. But as it turned out, I never saw where not getting my master's finished was a detriment to my career progression because I progressed in TVA. I was pleased with my progression. Very pleased.

Antoine Fletcher: SO, how did you get the position at TVA? You said you were working at TVA when you were at Haywood Technical Institute. So how did you get that position?

Ron Davis Senior: In the summer of 1967, I interviewed with a summer program called Y.O. C. It was called Youth Opportunity Center. And their design was, their intent was to help young, and I think the focus was inner city kids or disadvantaged kids. Their charge and their goal was to help us find summer jobs, to help us get to college in the fall, to make some money, to get to college, to be able to afford college. That following fall. So during my interview for the summer job, and this would've been while I was still in high school, I wasn't even out of high school at that point, I was senior. It was in the spring of the year ahead of my actual graduation when they interviewed me in terms of my interest, everything was out of doors, hunting, fishing, out of door kind of stuff. And again, how the Lord works in mysterious ways. This lady that I was interviewing with through the Youth Opportunity Center said, based upon this interview, there's a potential job for you at TVA in their forestry, fisheries and Wildlife Division in Norris, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville. And so I went in, did an interview with them, and subsequently got the job. I graduated from TVA on a Friday, May 28th or ninth. I remember the date because May 28th is my birthday. So it was right around my birthday. Graduated Fromt TVA on a Friday, I mean from high school, Beardon High School on a Friday, started work for TVA first thing Monday morning that following Monday, and never stopped working for them from straight out of high school and subsequently on to college and had just a great career with them. Great career.

Antoine Fletcher : So you, you're back outdoors doing what you love. Absolutely. But also you're an African American working in this field. Absolutely. So how did it feel to be an African American working outdoors for tda? What are some of the experiences that you had?

Ron Davis Senior: Yeah, the majority of those experiences were good. The majority, especially working with my coworkers and my peers and even supervisors, higher level people, they tended, because I was an African American in a non-traditional field, Most of them tended to take me under their wings and mentored me. I won't say most several mentored me even with respect to the opportunity to go to college that fall. One of my mentors was our human resources officer, our HR man. And he and another guy in HR pursued the opportunity for me to go to college and study forestry. And they made that offer to me. The vast majority of the people I worked with were in my corner, very supportive. I had so much fun as I previously shared, had I not gotten paid that summer, I would've worked every day. Every day. Subsequent to that first summer when I reached a point in my career where I had to travel for TVA, that's when the racial issues became more prevalent and more of an issue. There were probably a few situations at TVA, but very, very few with coworkers and people that I worked with, especially when I first started, our whole division only had 80 people in it. And the vast majority of those people were in the town of Norris, Tennessee. And all the management supervisory people were in the office in Norris, and they were like family. They treated me like a family member and took me under their wings. And like I said, they mentored me. But then as I moved up in the agency and as I started to travel more, that's when the racism began to rear it ugly head. And it wasn't as much with any of my TVA coworkers, it was with the general public. It was staying in hotels, motels, eating in restaurants. That's where I really experienced that from the standpoint of being turned down, can't stay here. And they would not just say, you can't stay here because you're, you're Black. It was, we're full, we're booked up, no room for you. And what I would do is I would occasionally, once I found a place to stay, I would occasionally go back to that hotel at night and drive by just to see if it was booked up. And rarely, if ever did I see those places that had turned me down that same day, booked up. Usually there was plenty of parking spaces, plenty of rooms available. It was just racism. I've been in situations where I've had to be careful about food that are ordered in restaurants. And I'm talking about, this was in the 19, late sixties, seventies where there was a lot of racial turmoil going on, racial riots going on due to so much just overt racism that we as Blacks were dealing with. And so I had to be really careful and like I said, even in terms of food that I would get at restaurants, because given that I was traveling, I was staying in motels or hotels all the time in travel status, and I was eating in restaurants every meal that I was eating out or I'd get something at a fast food or a grocery store or sandwiches. So I had to be really careful with that. Had a situation where I literally got up and walked out of a restaurant once, and I'll tell you where it was south of Nashville, Tennessee was in a small town called Franklin, Tennessee. And I was in the restaurant having lunch, was with a white coworker of mine. And this Black man came in the front door and he was an employee of the restaurant. He had been cleaning up, came in the front door and one of the waitresses cussed him out, blessed him out in front of all of us, all the guests in the restaurant. And it was only because as a black person, he came in the front door of the restaurant. She said, you supposed to come in the back door. And consequently when, and I mean she said this, she put on a show in front of all the guests that were there. Consequently, I got up and walked out. The guy that was with me that was working with me also got up and left as well because of the humiliation that they put that guy through when all he did was come through the front door of a restaurant with his mop and his bucket with him to come in to do some more cleanup and for him to get blessed out. like that It was a sign of those times. It happened during those times, but it was really sad to see it firsthand. Really sad to see it firsthand. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: And yeah, those memories can definitely be tough. What about, can you share some of your fondest memories out of your 39 year career at TVA?

Ron Davis Senior: Yeah. Some of my fondest memories primarily were working with good people. I worked with, when I first started at TVA back in the late sixties, I worked with some of the pioneers in forestry, in natural resource management, in aquatic biology, in fisheries. I worked with some of the pioneers because some of them had started at the beginning or early on in TVA's history TVA was formed in 1933 by an act of Congress, Roosevelt Franklin, Delano Roosevelt, FDR was president at the time and created, they created the agency of Tennessee Valley Authority TVA. And those people that I worked for were some of the best in those fields out there. And they were near their retirement age, late sixties, early seventies. They had been there 30, 35 years, 40 years. So I was able to rub shoulders with and learn from some of the pioneers in the profession. At TVA, our division director, Kenneth Sigworth was from German from Europe, he's European, he was a forester in Europe. He was our division director and he gave me a gift before he retired. And it's called an increment borer And probably not familiar with an increment borer, but it's a thing that you borer into a tree and pull out the core to age a tree and count the growth rings on a tree. Kenneth Sigworth gave me an increment borer in the late 1960s, early 1970s. And I have that increment borer to this day because it meant so much to me that this guy who was basically one of the better foresters in the world, thought enough of me to give me a gift that he had used in his career during his career. And like I said, he was from Europe, he was European, Sigworth. And so the people was huge for me that I work with. Also, TVA gave me opportunities to travel to places that I had never been to. I traveled to Brazil TVA allowed me or sent me to an environmental conference, a worldwide environmental conference, natural resource conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And I went there in the early 1990s, late eighties or early nineties. And I've been to Europe, I think that travel Europe, European travel was on me. My wife went to Europe as a part of her job was my wife was dean of students at the University of Tennessee at UT. And she went to Europe on a work for a conference. And I tagged along with her and toured Europe. But fortunately, the opportunity to work for a good agency like TVA provided me the means that was affordable for me to do European travel. But I traveled all over the United States for TVA going to meetings, conferences, even as a way of trying to bring in more African-Americans into the field of natural resources and environmental work. One of the things that TVA was a member of was the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. And they would send me to those meetings every year. And because there were a few other African-Americans there, three or four, two or three of us, we had the idea of back in the nine mid, probably late 1970s, we had the idea of we need to see more of us in this field, in this profession. We would go to meetings, rarely would there be more than one black person there. And so for me to go to a meeting, and it was Southeast regional meeting, so it was from all over the whole southeast, there'd be two or three of us there as African Americans. So we got together in the late eighties, no, let's see, no late seventies, early eighties, probably early eighties, and started an organization called Minorities in Natural Resources. We started that organization with just a handful of us, and we basically worked under the auspices of the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. And what we did was we worked with those state and federal agencies that were members of the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies that included every state agency in the southeast and included the Fish and Wildlife Service, TVA, the US Forest Service. All these federal agencies as well as state agencies were member agencies. And we saw it as an opportunity to tap into resources that these agencies could provide, but also jobs that they needed to feel in their age in their respective agencies. So we started this organization in the early 1980s, and would you believe 45 years later, it's still in existence to this day, and you would be shocked at the number of African Americans that are now in the field of natural resource management and environmental work. You would be surprised, we weren't the only organization doing that. There were other similar ones, but we tried to do our share to create an awareness among minorities of the opportunity, job opportunities to pursue this as a career path. And see, I stumbled across it in my interview for a summer job. I stumbled across a job TVA a, that was just the Lord working in mysterious ways. We decided we wanted to design something that would get the word out to people that this is a job opportunity if you have an interest in it. So we were able to work with those state and federal agencies to create that organization and have been successful in bringing increasing awareness of the career path and increasing the number of African Americans and other minorities, Hispanics, other Black and brown people to get in the profession. We recruited Hispanics. It was Black and brown people that we focused on. And now when I hear about the meetings and I see videos of the number of minorities that are going to the Southeast Association meetings, when I hear the numbers that are in some of these agencies, I get excited about it. I will tell you though, a trend line In the sixties and seventies, there were only a handful of us, very few seemed like things kind of skyrocketed in the seventies, eighties, and into the nineties. Part of that was there was our minorities and natural resources program was during the era of, what's the program? Affirmative action. It was during the era of affirmative action where agencies had monies that they set aside to do what we were trying to do in that specific profession. And TVA hired between 19, between 1970 and probably 1985 TVA hired probably in my division of natural of Forestry, fisheries and Wildlife, probably hired 20 African Americans, most of them in professional positions. Went out, recruited, went to Black colleges, Tuskegee schools in Georgia, went to Black schools, recruited these people to come in and work in those professions. And so the numbers just mushroomed, but then affirmative action began to hit all these legal challenges, reverse discrimination, all of that kind of stuff. That program began to be cut back, and I saw the numbers start declining of African Americans and other minorities coming into federal and state agencies. What has sustained it That is slowly but surely getting some more of us in has been the will and certain people, some people just doing the right thing, even without an affirmative action program, it's the right thing to do. So it's still happening, but just not as it was during that affirmative action era in our history. But I still see just quite a few African Americans and Hispanics and others in this profession, and it just does my heart good. You would not believe how after it being just a handful of us, just a very few of us, how it makes my heart feel good to see us represented in all these professions and in all these areas, and in better numbers, far better numbers than we were once upon a time. Yeah.

Antoine Fletcher: And that's really good because there is not just in that profession but coming back to the National Park Service. There's this national debate about African Americans recreating your National Parks, and you seem to spend most of your time not only in the outdoors, but also in the most visited national park. Absolutely. In the United States, absolutely. When it comes to that question of why do African Americans not recreate in National Parks? Well, how do you answer that?

Ron Davis Senior: I would answer that by saying that in two areas. One is back in the days, in our early days, we did the labor work in the fields in timber industry, we did the physical work we did as slaves or as freedmen. We did the hard work. And consequently, you had some young people seeing that and basically saying, I don't want any part of that because they're doing the dirty work, and I don't want to have to do that. I don't want to get in that field and do the dirty work, the hard work. I think that was part of it, seeing examples of us doing the dirty work. But I also think that as opportunities began to open up, we needed to expose our young people to the fact that it's a career path. There are opportunities you can get out and recreate and have a lot of fun, assuming that you like being out of doors. If you have that natural desire and love of just being outside the National Parks is a prime location to get out and enjoy it. And so I think we need to do more of just awareness, just increase awareness among our young people of those opportunities to not only professionally get involved, but recreationally get out there and get involved. And I don't see, I'm seeing more of us as African Americans out there, but still not in the numbers that would be better representative of our numbers in the population in general. And I just think we need to continue to do what we're doing is be role models, increase, get the word out, set examples for our young people, get on tv, get people. And I'm beginning to see that, and I'm sure you are as well. I'm seeing on some of these wildlife programs. You see on Saturdays, Saturday mornings, you're seeing more and more African Americans. There was one about, Ooh baby. Ooh baby, talking about young wildlife. This black lady narrated that. I'm just seeing more and more of that kind of stuff. And I think that's the key is just increase awareness. And again, that's why we did what we did with the minorities and Natural Resources Program. And what you're trying to do with this information that you're gathering will certainly just add to that increased awareness that it is. It's just a huge opportunity that many of us as black and brown people have missed out on. We tend to be more urban oriented, and we need to get out of the city some and get out and enjoy the natural resource and the environment. I'll share this with you. When I graduated from UT in 1975, as a graduation present to myself, my dad and I took a trip. We drove 10,000 miles, 10,000 miles. Gas prices were about 30 cent a gallon back in the day, 1975. We drove from Knoxville Southern route all the way to the west coast, all the way up the west coast, California, Northwest Canada, back across Canada, down into Glacier, Montana, Wyoming, the Badlands. In the Dakotas. My dad and I visited as many National Parks as we could hit for three weeks. And even one point I had a count on the number of parks that we visited and stayed in. But it's just amazing how the Lord does things in your life at those ages and back during that stage of your life that prepares you for the next step that you're not even aware of. But we hit virtually all the major parks, Sequoia Glacier. We hit all the major parks that we could in that 10,000 mile stretch, 10,000 miles.

Antoine Fletcher: Did you revisit the Smokies during that 10,000 miles?

Ron Davis Senior : Not in that trip, but I was so such a regular in the Smokies anyway, that we would catch that just as a part of our normal recreation routine. And really it was an opportunity for me to go to places I had never been before out in the southwest desert, Southwest the West coast, the Northwest Canada, and I'll share this with you. Have either of you ever been to Banff, BANFF

Antoine Fletcher: No, I've heard great things about it.

Ron Davis Senior : I'm going to tell you, if you ever get a chance to go to Banff, please go. Of the 10,000 miles that we drove, Banff is in my top three of parks and beautiful mountainous, scenic. It's glacial. We, they're glacial streams, glacial areas. I saw moose, I saw mountain sheep, mountain goats, just all kind of wildlife, just right along the highways. Banff put it on your list of places to see because like I said, and we hit all those other parks and all those other places. And Banff is in my top three. So 10,000 mile trip.

Antoine Fletcher: 10,000 mile trip.

Ron Davis Senior: 10,000 mile trip.

Antoine Fletcher: So we have went through all this great information. Which is like 10,000 miles. You start as a kid in Elkmont and then you know, moving on to Haywood Technical Institute and then TVA for 30 plus years.

Ron Davis Senior: 38 years.

Antoine Fletcher: Thirty-eight years. And so my last question to you today is, you know, drove into the s Smokies today. Got a little lost. We all do. However, what feeling came back? When you drove, every time you drive into the Smokies, like today, what internal intangible things come back to you?

Ron Davis Senior: Yeah, what comes back to me are just memories. It just brings back memories of the good old days, so to speak. I'm not as excited as I once was because things are so developed, so commercialized. That is, that's a minus for me, the commercialization of things. But I'm looking forward to getting back to Elkmont to make the drive over to Elkmont. Certainly was happy to get out of Gatlinburg and here at Sugarlands and just to be out of such a densely populated, congested area as in Gatlinburg. But it's still all beautiful. The mountains are beautiful. Everything is still scenic. And like I said, this is basically where my roots are. So I'm just kind of going back to my roots, my foundation, and just marveling in a life that the Lord has blessed me with. To see, experience this stuff as a young person and here now in my early seventies to still enjoy it and treasure it as I always have and always will. I think. And just want to see more of us as African Americans take advantage of this opportunity in the beautiful out of doors and just, it is. We would be so much better off as people if we got out of cities and get out into the countryside more often. We would have a better appreciation for our lives and for our surroundings. And the peace that it can bring into your life just to get out and commune with nature is, it's God being in the midst of God. Antoine Fletcher: Well, thank you very much. Yeah, thank you very much my friend. That concludes our interview. Okay.



The sun started to peak through the clouds of Elkmont’s Millionaire Row as Ron Davis Sr, a native of Knoxville, TN, guided park interviewers to the remnants of a stone chimney. “That’s it, I believe!” Ron exclaimed as the gravel moved under his shoes. In this 2021 interview, Great Smoky Mountains interviewers and Ron Davis Sr. dives into the Davis family annually preparing the Mebane family’s cabin for decades, recreating in the park, and the joy and discrimination that he endured in the region.