A new chapter
in Civil Rights history

Black Mountain College (BMC) in Asheville, North Carolina was in existence briefly (1923-1957), during the Jim Crow era of racist segregation and brutality. BMC became known for the profound impact on American art by many of its instructors and students, including Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem DeKooning, composer John Cage, and choreographer Merce Cunningham. However, very little is known about BMC's place in civil rights history.
     That is changing because of Dave Sear, internationally known folksinger and activist, who attended Black Mountain College from 1950-51. He called Alice Bernstein asking for a chance to speak about the people he met in North Carolina, including Professor Flola Shepard, who taught linguistics at BMC. Dave asked Ms. Shepard if she would design a literacy class for black and white people in the community, which would help adults meet voting requirements. Flola Shepard welcomed this idea, and as a result, many people not only learned to read and write, but many qualified to register to vote for the first time!
     And Dave Sear helped bring to new life to a man almost lost from history, Lawrence Daugherty (1916-1980), a beloved leader in the African American community Lawrence Dougherty with singers and music producer in Swannanoa. Mr. Daugherty took Dave on his travels throughout North Carolina, enabling him to hear, record, and preserve black music. The two men worked to organize a successful voter registration drive for blacks, and founded an organization to promote equality in employment--heroic actions during those dark and dangerous segregation years.
     Last month, Dave Sear and I participated in the Loretta Howard Gallery event in New York City, celebrating the exhibition "The Legacy of Black Mountain College". There he told of his friendship with Lawrence Daugherty, while he played the banjo and sang songs of that era, as well as a railroad "work holler" originally sung by prisoners, which he preserved.
Alma Stone Williams
     I introduced Dave at the event, and described my research, which had uncovered more history placing BMC in the forefront against racism in the South. In 1944, Alma Stone Williams, a pianist, became the first African American to enroll at BMC, and was soon followed by other black students and instructors. In conversations, Mrs. Williams told me more of that history, and asked me to convey this to the audience at the Loretta Howard Gallery event.
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