ASHEBORO — Events celebrating and memorializing Juneteenth will be held throughout Asheboro this weekend.
Among them is a memorial honoring people who were enslaved in Randolph County.
The memorial will be on display on Thursday, June 15, Friday, June 16, and Monday, June 19, from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. each day.
“It is a 100 foot wide, 6 foot tall banner that lists 1,200 names of slaves that were bought or sold in Randolph County,” Chip Foust, the president of the Asheboro/Randolph County NAACP and a local business owner, said. “It lists the date they were sold, how much they were sold for — as much information as we can show.”
In the 1860 census, 10% of Randolph County’s population was enslaved. (Source: https://static01.nyt.com/packages/pdf/opinion/FULLFRAMEmap.pdf.)
“That happened in Randolph County,” he said. “That happened here. And hopefully, we can use this time to honor people who helped build what we have. They helped build the economy that we have now and they’ve never really been even acknowledged, much less honored.”
The records used to create the banner were extracted from the Register of Deeds office in Asheboro and deciphered by Wil Mahan, a property manager in Randolph County.
Mahan said he noticed other counties, such as Guilford and Buncombe, finding and interpreting slave deeds (documents that detail the sale of enslaved people) and began sorting through the handwritten documents he found on the Register of Deeds’ website.
Many of the slave deeds were lumped in with documents about real estate. Mahan, who has a computer science background, wrote software to convert the handwriting into text on the computer and then searched for keywords to find the specific documents. He also spent time reading the handwriting itself to factcheck.
“I felt like my way of being able to affect change was to turn my skill, which is technology, into something factual,” Mahan said.
He said he never anticipated the project growing into what it is today.
The banner will be erected on the lawn of the Historic Randolph County Courthouse, near the Confederate statue that stands at its center.
The County Commissioners have voted unanimously to keep the statue in its current place.
“I think what we’re doing with the banner and honoring those who were held in bondage here is a counter story,” Chuck Egerton, a member of the Randolph County NAACP and a professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at UNCG, said. “It’s a counter story to what’s being held up by that statue and the commissioners.”
Egerton, along with Foust and other members of the Randolph County NAACP, helped transcribe the names for the banner. He described it as “heart-crushing.”
“Each one of them took its toll on me emotionally,” he said. “It made it more real to me. And I think that’s what our hope is in showing this banner, it should touch hearts and hopefully move people to want to make a change here.”
Display of the banner will culminate on Monday with a march at 3 p.m. from Greater St. John Baptist Church to the County Courthouse.
During the march, Egerton said participants will yell the names of those listed on the memorial — another way of acknowledging the lives of those held in bondage in Randolph County.
In addition to the memorial, a number of other events will take place on Juneteenth weekend:
On the evening of Thursday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m., Dr. Arwin Smallwood of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University (NC A&T) will speak about the history of Juneteenth and the ongoing effects of slavery. Smallwood has been a speaker at the library several times.
Dr. Smallwood’s talk will be followed on Friday, June 16, by a lecture from Dr. Karen L. Cox at the George Washington Carver Community Enrichment Center on the history of Confederate monuments and the fight to move them across the South.
Eastside Park in Asheboro will also be hosting a Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 17, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
“I would hope that this becomes a yearly event,” Foust said. “I would hope that next year, we do the same thing, but only bigger.”