“[My arrival in Robbinsville] became a news flash, received about the way a raiding party from outer space would be.
“Most perplexing was the number of people I tried to tell about my walk across America who wouldn’t believe me. Most thought it was a clever city-boy trick to cover up drug dealing…. Now I understood how people felt in Russia. Around every corner and behind every window, I was being watched.
“I should have stopped looking for a job and moved on. But I decided to be stubborn.”
— From “A Walk Across America” by Peter Jenkins (1979)
Jenkins’ resolve soon succumbed to the threat of lynching: “I was guilty for the crime of being a stranger,” he said later. “A couple of law enforcement officers informed me that I needed to get out town by sundown or I would find myself hanging from a pine tree…. I got out of town.” (Jenkins had a better experience — much better — in Murphy, where he enjoyed a months-long stay with a black family who saw his arrival as God’s way of testing their hospitality.)
37 thoughts on “Welcome to Robbinsville….Just Move Along”
I’ve always wondered if anybody in Robbinsville had anything to say about the way they were depicted in Peter Jenkins’ book. He really made them look bad (acid-mean, paranoid people). Or more accurately, they made themselves look bad with their inhospitality.
I was curious about that, too. If the folks in Robbinsville wanted to be left alone then they definitely got their wish. Peter’s book has never been out of print, so Robbinsville has had 35 years of advertising as the unfriendliest town in America.
It’s not nearly as bad now, but robbinsville was that bad and worse back then. My grandparents used to visit it when they were kids in the summertime and there was literally a sign going into the county that said ‘don’t let the sun set on your ass, n***er.’ Meaning you could pass through but if you were still there at nightfall, you’d be dead. Horrible how people can be so arrogant.
I was born in 1967 and raised in Robbinsville, NC. In my lifetime there has NEVER been such a sign. In the 70’s I’m sure it was tight knit, like most small towns. But No Such Sign EVER existed. I’m sure it was racist in the 70’s, like many rural, isolated small towns. Today Robbinsville has a diverse population. American Indian, African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian.
I will find the pictures I have from that sign and it said. N. Don’t let the sun go down with a picture of a sunset I lived on Cove Creek and all through Robbinsville I have literally seen and no things that a little girl should have never known! And maybe you grew up on the side that had a little money? Our teacher about our first pair of shoes which are school was a little white church up on a hill . My family was the Waldroup’s Phillips greens Messers and riddles. When I left there as a little girl I lift back all the Horrific thoughts I had. But I am 55 and maybe or different ages but the sun really truly was there! And so was the great big wood fence made of tree logs with the rebel flag on it leading into Reb’s I had actually never in my life saw an African-American person until I moved away. And it is one of the most Beautifullest places in North Carolina! But just like the situation with Eric Rudolph being head up there for so many years I think it was five he could not have survived in those mountains alone. So I honestly believe things still go on to this day, I still have family there that I don’t go to see Or even associate with. But I will never forget
Although Robbinsville isn’t listed among James Loewen’s possible “sundown towns” in North Carolina,
Graham County is — along with this comment:
“Rainbow Family, an organization of hippies and neo- hippies that holds annual camping festivals in different locations, met in Graham County in 1987.
“One of the campers reported that they saw signs reading ‘Nigger don’t let the sun set on you here in Graham County.’ The Rainbow gatherings are interracial, so some campers took the signs down.
“Rainbow Family sued in federal court, arguing that federal marshals were restricting their access to the national park in Graham County. During the hearing, a federal marshal stated, ‘I congratulate you for finally bringing some black people into Graham County. You have a few of them sleeping in your camp, and that’s probably more than ever slept in Graham County before.’ “
No such sign ever existed…Born and raised in Robbinsville, NC. Moved away at 26 years old, but I go home often to visit my family. I was very young at the time, but I remember seeing the “Rainbows,” and I remember they TRASHED their campsites, defecated all over the camp site, etc…That was why they had issues, it had nothing to do with the races in the group. There’s a BIG difference between the Hippie culture and Rainbow culture!
And Dick and Jane Ledbetter moved down to Waynesville where my brother is buried
I spent many summers in 70s and 80s in Robbinsville as a vacation from my home in Texas. I can attest to much of what is said in Jenkins’ book. Certainly, it was a racist town in those days with very black people ever seen in the area. And certainly it was small enough that everyone knew everyone and “news” (e.g., visitors such as Peter Jenkins) traveled with the speed of light through town. However, I found the people friendly and outgoing, even though I could have been easily cast as a rich, cityboy invading their territory. Overall, I have thousands of fond memories from there.
I was born here and still live here in Graham County and we dont mind visitors but we dont like new people moving here its small and not many people and we wanna keep it that way
My whole family is from there and I lived there for about 3 years. The things that he is saying are very untrue now a days. Maybe he did something for people to not like him. There are two sides to every story.
Emily, read the book. I read it when it was still on the best seller list and vowed at that time to never visit Robbinsville, NC. You are right, there are two sides to this story: 1) the events as described by Peter and 2) the outright bigotry of the citizens of Robbinsville. You say these things are untrue these days. The actions of these citizens were felonious and felons seldom change. I’m sure the hatred is still there, deep-seated and indestructible, camouflaged, but ready to strike without warning.
Unless you have been there you have no right to judge people by what someone writes in a book. Try visiting there then maybe you can talk bad. Every town has its flaws but what he is saying is very untrue.
I have read the book and have never seen any signs anywhere in Robbinsville or Graham County with any racial slurs. I have lived in Robbinsville since 1974 and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I welcome you all to come and visit and see for yourself or not because it is definately your loss as this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. You are just as much of a bigot as you say we are by placing judgements on us based on someone else’s opinions.
I have lived in Graham County all of my life and still do. The thing he said in the book are true of the past but it has changed significantly in the last 30 years! Our little town survives on tourist, many of which once visited love it! We have many tourist that make us their regular stop. As far as the people of Graham County, they are some of the kindest, caring people you will ever meet! i have seen this town come together to help someone in need many times without a second thought. Find that in your big city! Now, for all the ignorant people that want to believe that is still the way we do things then please do. We love and appreciate sharing our beautiful county with everyone but not the ones that are too stupid to believe that things can change in 30 years, everything changes and we are no exception!
I lived in robbinsville for a year and a half in 2008. I never saw any signs saying anything like that, however I did hear a few locals say niggers weren’t allowed in town after dark but they were cowards and the outkasts of the town which you can find in any town big or small. I grew up in a small farm town in northern N.Y so I know how a few ignorant people can give everyone a bad rap.The welcoming I received by my neighbors and coworker’s will never be forgotten. To this day they are still considered my friends, and I look forward to one day going back.
I’ve read all of the postings above…..and well, since first being introduced to Robbinsville through my boyfriend/now my husband of 32 years, back in Dec. of 1981 upon meeting his family in their vacation mountain home there in Robbinsville for Christmas that Robbinsville was a close and very small town…..I have seen in our visits back to the town throughout the years great growth..both in a physical way and in the way the people relate to each other.
The racial thing that is being talked about here is found literally EVERYWHERE in the U.S. whether we want to see it or not.
Robbinsville, is of no different to what I’ve found in dealing with the peeps in Los Angeles California, Palm Beach Florida, Long Island New York, and West Michigan just to name a few places.
The old saying….
“What you seek…you will surely find” remains true even to this conversation that was posted and open for comments.
Robbinsville has opened it’s doors of hospitality (as I witnessed on my almost 2 week stay there last month)…to just about every walk of life rolling through their town.
The Dragon’s Tail..(the 11 miles of 318 clip turns) that spills right into the town of Robbinsville, has attracted all kinds of drivers on their wheels that surely have felt most welcomed in every aspect into the town.
This I know for sure… Robbinsville has become a wonderful and hospitable tourist town and I thank the locals in making that so!
I read”Walk across America” several years ago.I long for the peace and quiet and friendliness of how Robbinsville,and all of western North Carolina sounded to me,in the book.
This is what small town America is.And I want it now,and I want it forever!The arrogance and pollution of the northern cities is sickening.Real moral values and ethics are non-existant here.We can learn a valuable lesson from Robbinsville,and Southern culture.
I grew up in robbinsville and remember Mr Jenkins coming to our classroom and telling about his walk across the country. I think he ran into trouble because he looked like a hippy and was hanging around the schools. People were afraid of drugs and we’re distrustful of anyone getting too close to the kids. There was no way to verify who he was or if he was indeed writing a book. I am sure the officers asked him to leave mostly for his own safety. You could not do what he did now days as the schools would not allow him in without some proof of who he was and what he was doing. I am sad that he was mistreated but mountain folks have been duped many times by outsiders and have become distrusting of strangers. Things are much friendler now as the county has become a tourist area. The hwy 129 dragon highway is being in people of all types there. Graham county is a great place to live or visit.
I’m reading the comments with mixed feelings. I happened upon Robbinsville while looking for land on the Internet and though I’ve never been there, it looks like the ideal place to call home. Being of Caribbean heritage and dark skin, some of these comments make me cringe. I do hope it’s different now as I hope to spend a some time there next year just to see what it’s like.
I’m from Robbinsville and you will not have any issues!! There are African American, Cherokee American Indians, Hispanic, etc…all living in Robbinsville.
I have lived in Robbinsville my entire life and I can attest that some truly terrible things were both said and done in this county in that time period but, as a society, we have changed and matured. It is true that there are still people that live here that are very set in their ways, but it’s like that everywhere. Graham County is now well-known for its hospitality and friendly locals. In this county you can come across both the most generous and kind-hearted peoples but, in the very same day, find the rudest and foulest of them. People that have never come here will not understand what we’re really like and I welcome you to come. Why not stay a few days and get to know the area? It really is a wonderful place to live.
It should also be pointed out that in the book Jenkins was welcomed by a Robbinsville police officer who invited him to stay on his property. Thus, the reception he got was not totally hostile. Certainly if the threats he got (from someone from the sherriff’s department if I recall correctly) would be more than enough to send him on his way but it should not overshadow for readers the welcome he got as well.
Having lived in the mountains of western North Carolina all my life I can say that Robbinsville has had a reputation for being hostile to blacks and often heard about the sign others have mentioned here although I never actually saw it on my occasional trips into Graham County.
If the people of Robbinsville have really changed, do they regret the actions and the way they treated Peter–and probably many others who didn’t write a book? Have they ever formally apologized to Peter? Probably their only regret is that this became so public.
Hatred, bigotry and racism are very difficult to eradicate. It’s nice to think they have changed, but outward appearances can easily hide an unrepentant heart.
As Paul Harvey would say, ( Now The Rest Of The Story). I am now 69 yrs. old and have lived in Robbinsville N. C. since 1957. I’m a southern Virginia native. My family relocated here when at the time a division of Lee’s Carpet in Glasgow Virginia built a carpet plant in the county. The small town we came from was called Buena Vista. It was some what small like Robbinsville. I can still recall some of the old timers ( now dead and gone) tell about the stories, or I should say tales that have been told about African Americans hanging in pine trees if they let the sun set on their presents here. First of all they were not pine trees they were very large oak trees that grew just below what is now called Lynn’s Place Restaurant along side of the county court house. There was a story that circulated in my childhood days about the hanging of two Negroes in one of the trees. Whether the story was true or not who or if anyone knows. One merchant who is now long dead and buried told me and my father about a negro asked him once where the black folks hung out in Robbinsville and he told them the last two hung from one of the oak trees as described above. He said he was filling their Pink Cadillac’s fuel tank as he was answering the mans question and upon getting the fuel tank full he said he then pumped a few gallons in the drivers back seat and told him a lit match was next if he didn’t get #%*^ out of his sight. My experience knowing this man up until he passed on I really think he actually was telling my father and I the truth. As far as what Peter Jenkins wrote in his book describing Robbinsville police or anyone else’s treatment of him came from some of the stories that he probably had heard before he even crossed the Topton bridge or ever how he entered Graham County. Robbinsville’s citizens native or where ever they came from are honest hard working descent people. The bad apples in the bushel are few and far between. The Concrete Man
I was born, and lived a good part of my life in Asheville. My family goes back in Appalachia since before the American Revolution. The best way to come to understand the people of the region is a book by Jack Weller, called “Yesterday’s People.” A book that illustrates the lives of Appalachian people, and why they appear to be rather “odd,” to “outsiders,” and how this had survived at least up and until the 1970’s, when the book was written. Certainly there has been some “growth,” surely there is internet and cable and satellite, in Graham County, and all manner of things from the “outside world,” but even I am perplexed as to how the area is a rather a “black hole” in tourism and how you never here anything about the area. This is most likely a good thing, with more positives attached to it than negative. I’ll take out of the way, backwater places like Robbinsville, over the crime and crowds of Charlotte NC. Leave these people alone. Obviously its what they want, and they have a right to it…..
How was the town named?
Charles Wesley Robbins
I’ve lived here since 1996. The people here are great, and rightfully distrustful of outsiders…. to those of you who decide to blaspheme the area and people: who in the he** do you think you are? Are you so great and fantastic that you’ve never been cross with anyone?! Are from a place so perfect that never a wrong has been done?! I’m glad you don’t like the idea of coming here, and I hope you never do! Leave the goodness of this area alone and unspoiled by your negativity!
I’m from this area, born and raised, and I can honestly say that I do not find what Jenkins wrote to be surprising in the least. Yes, racism and bigotry exist everywhere, but the advent of social media has made it clear that Graham County has more than its fair share. I have been shocked and appalled to learn what people actually think. Worst of all, many people are so self-righteous here (only because they go to church every Sunday…not because they are full of the love of Jesus) that they refuse to believe there is anything wrong with their worldview—hence the many ruffled feathers on this thread.
I am a Black man who visited the area early this year, both as a birthday gift to myself, and to drive my new(new to me)Vette on the Dragon which I saw on YT and just HAD to try. While planning my trip, I looked up the population and was SHOCKED to find little to no Blacks lived in Robbinsville. Slightly concerned, but not deterred, I made my cabin reservations. During my three day stay, I did not SEE a SINGLE Black person, not one!!!. I arrived in town about 8:45 pm, lost and with 15 minutes to find my cabin(Owners went to bed at 9). Stopped at local drug store and asked the first people I saw(Young white couple)where I was and how to get to my cabin before 9 pm. I promised gas and money for his time. He got me there in the nick of time. The owners looked a little shocked, but were friendly. Lot’s of white people walked up and talked(Nicely fishing as to WHY I was there. Most saw my Vette and could guess). The Dragon store was nice, staff as well. I can say that “I” absolutely loved my time there. The Hub was a GREAT place to eat. Owner was very nice. One or two “cool” stares, but NOTHING serious. Over all a very nice and beautiful place. Will return again soon.
What he says is very true. I have lived in Robbinsville, NC for eight years now, and I can not tell you how many times African Americans are called the ‘N word’. In this town, nothing has changed, and I pray that not another unfortunate soul comes into this town expecting a home, this place is a nightmare.
I lived in Robbinsville and was threatened for sticking up for a Black guy who was not being treated well…..I heard that the KKK is just an organization that wants law and order. I heard from a man who witnessed a lynching as a child. This was a scary place for an outsider…many were treated very badly. This was in 1970. I often wanted to go back to see if it has changed but i would be unable to go with my extended family, as both my sons have married non white women. So my grandchildren are hybrid and most do not look .like me. I would be amazed if inter racial marriage is accepted there.I was also told how to vote in the local election and “We have ways of knowing how you vote!” You were okay there if you could just fit in and have good luck doing that to the best of your ability.
Does anyone have a photograph of the billboard ?
There is supposed to be a photograph of it in the book “Sundown Towns” by James Loewen. I have not seen to book so I can’t verify that it does.
Did he not first run into problems when he tried to camp out in the Junaluska grave area. If he did no wonder he does not like the town. Have lived here my entire life except for the time in the Air Force. One good thing about it. When it finally hits the fan and runs down the wall in the USA, here is the best place to be.
Lived in Robbinsville my whole life thus far and dont really believe the racism is that bad like it used to be or so i heard. I will say that for a such a small town it is overun with rampant drug abuse. Hopefully it gets cleaned up one day. I dont expect to stay here much longer either way though. The small town way of living aint for me no more.