“In September 1923, a white woman in Mitchell County, in the mountains of western North Carolina, reported that she had been raped by a black man.
“Within hours, a white mob began rounding up black residents. Drinking whiskey and carrying guns, the mob marched their hostages to the train depot, stopped a southbound train and loaded them onto the railcars.
“Nearly a century after the ethnic cleansing, Mitchell County remains one of the whitest counties in the state…. Close to 80 percent of voters supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election….
“All of which makes it more striking that Mitchell County and its neighbor, Yancey County, are home to a large, thriving branch of the NAACP. Formed in 2013, the Yancey/Mitchell County NAACP branch has around 140 members. Virtually all are white.”
— From “This North Carolina County Has a Thriving Branch of the NAACP—and It’s Mostly White” by Michael Schulson in The Nation (Oct. 31)
Mitchell County has been listed as a probable “sundown town.”
“In three places, at least, in North Carolina a Negro is not allowed to stay over night. They are Canton (Haywood County), Mitchell, and Madison Counties, all in the western part of the State. Negroes may work unmolested all day, but, if they linger after nightfall, they are reminded that it would not be healthy for them to remain during the night.”
— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910)
Mitchell County and Hot Springs in Madison County are listed among James Loewen’s “Possible Sundown Towns in NC.”
“The tourist on horseback, in search of exercise and recreation, is not probably expected to take stock of moral conditions. But this Mitchell County [North Carolina], although it was a Union county during the war and is Republican in politics (the Southern reader will perhaps prefer another adverb to ‘although’), has had the worst possible reputation.
“The mountains were hiding-places of illicit distilleries; the woods were full of grog-shanties, where the inflaming fluid was sold as ‘native brandy,’ quarrels and neighborhood difficulties were frequent, and the knife and pistol were used on the slightest provocation. Fights arose about boundaries and the title to mica mines, and with the revenue officers; and force was the arbiter of all disputes. Within the year four murders were committed in the sparsely settled county. Travel on any of the roads was unsafe.
“The tone of morals was what might be expected with such lawlessness. A lady who came up on the road on the 4th of July, when an excursion party of country people took possession of the [railroad] cars, witnessed a scene and heard language past belief. Men, women, and children drank from whisky bottles that continually circulated, and a wild orgy resulted. Profanity, indecent talk on topics that even the license of the sixteenth century would not have tolerated, and freedom of manners that even Teniers would have shrunk from putting on canvas, made the journey horrible.
“The unrestrained license of whisky and assault and murder had produced a reaction a few months previous to our visit. The people had risen up in their indignation and broken up the groggeries. So far as we observed temperance prevailed, backed by public-opinion. In our whole ride through the mountain region we saw only one or two places where liquor was sold….”
— From “On Horseback” by Charles Dudley Warner (1885)
“I was digging around and came across something that I’ve been telling folks did not happen: escaped slaves on the ‘underground railroad’ in western North Carolina….
“It’s not so much that it did not happen, it is just that it VERY seldom happened. I have a post-war account here someplace that speaks on escaped Union soldiers telling slaves they could not come with the fleeing soldiers. A slave would be missed and sought after immediately. While escaped Union soldiers were always being sought after by the home guard, it is not the same as a master getting together a posse to hunt for an escaped slave.
“This account was written more than 40 years after the event, so we should not take it as gospel.
“Pine probably would have traveled through modern-day Avery or Mitchell Counties to join up with Federal soldiers. Of interest is his description of his escape in Charlotte.”