African-American Heritage

Unlike the European immigrants who came to the North Carolina mountains by choice, most of the earliest settlers of African descent came as slaves, working on small farms in the fertile mountain valleys. They introduced melons, okra, groundnuts (peanuts), millet, yams, and dozens of medicinal plants to Western North Carolina. After Emancipation, many former slaves purchased or were given land to farm and developed African-American communities apart from white settlers.

Like the Cherokee, African-Americans suffered prejudice and persecution well into the twentieth century, but managed to preserve many of their folkways and cultural traditions. A number of these traditions—notably food and music—have become an integral part of greater Appalachian culture. For example, the five-string banjo which is the backbone of old-time and bluegrass music was derived from instruments brought to America by enslaved West Africans.

The YMI Cultural Center in Asheville, North Carolina provides an excellent introduction to the history and cultural heritage of African-Americans in the North Carolina mountains.

Click on the link below to hear more in a Living Traditions Moment.