Asheville Area Human Relations Council


Letter to Rev. A. Allen Gardner from Ora A. Spaid, Executive Director of The Opportunity Corporation of Madison-Buncombe Counties. August 10, 1967.

Folder Item # Description Thumbnail






August 10, 1967


Reverend A. Allen Gardner

First Presbyterian Church

Church Street Asheville, North Carolina


Dear Allen:


As you know, our community has been torn with tension in recent days. This is clearly an overlay of national attention given to the race riots in some 27 major cities. It now seems apparent that no community with any sizeable Negro population has escaped the fear of riots, no matter what its racial relations might have been.


These have been difficult days because authorities do not want to take action or say things which would tend to unduly alarm the community and possibly provoke an incident. A course which does not disturb the equilibrium of the community seems wise but it also leaves the community at the mercy of wild rumors which spread the fear and heighten the tension.


The tension in Asheville seemed to reach a peak last Friday and Saturday When the shooting of a Negro youth by an edgy white patrolman failed to set off further trouble, it seemed evident that Asheville could escape violence. Tension is still present, and probably will be until school opens. But the high point of rumors and fear seems to have been reached and tension is subsiding, perhaps because of the slacking off of racial turmoil nationally.


In doing what little I could to deal with the situation here, I became keenly aware of just how little one can do. It is a frustrating experience. You soon find that no move of the moment counts for much; you are completely at the mercy of the spirit in the community between the races before the time of tension. Suddenly, things like the vote against Urban Renewal and the school board's go-slow policy on integration take on more importance. Fortunately, the generally amiable spirit between Negroes and whites in Asheville has stood the test.



letter_rev_gardner_1967_001_mod.jpg (247655 bytes)








My first move was to determine if there was any truth to rumors that something was afoot in the Negro community. I became convinced that there were no plans for demonstrations, provocations, or any activities out of the ordinary, let alone plans for a riot (as if a riot is planned). On the contrary, our office and our neighborhood centers were repeatedly called by Negro citizens frightened by what they had heard. It seemed to me that if Asheville was to have trouble, it would

certainly come from some spontaneous incident, and my concern was that incident would be provoked by over-zealous police or irresponsible white persons. We had numerous reports, for instance, of Negro citizens being aroused in the middle of the night by provocative telephone calls from obviously white persons, telling them such things as, "They have just killed three Negroes down on Pack Square. Get your gun and come on." It is significant that the shooting incident which occurred Saturday night was originally provoked by a car load of white teenagers from Haywood County.


The City Administration cooperated by softening the necessary surveillance by police. Control of white racist groups was much more difficult.


I think it can be said, guardedly, that Asheville has escaped violence, Whether we deserve this, I am not prepared to say. Perhaps it is merely that our Negro community is so placid, or so thoroughly intimidated, or so hopeless, or so lacking in leadership. I do believe that the white community of Asheville, which has been scared to death, got more than its treatment of Negroes entitled it to.


Of this I am convinced; the recent tension has placed a strain upon relations between the races. In talking with my own staff members, I am more acutely aware than ever before that I am a white man. We have had to curtail meetings involving Negroes because of the irrational assumption in the white community that wherever a group of Negroes is gathered, they are planning a riot. A wall of distrust has gone up between Negro and white. Whites seem to look apprehensively at our Negro neighborhood as if they are about to explode. Negroes, who earlier had no cause to do so, now regard whites with suspicion. I do not want to exaggerate this and there are many evidences of a return to the normal congeniality, but I have sensed some damage to the spirit between Negro and white.



letter_rev_gardner_1967_002_mod.jpg (214794 bytes)








This is why I am writing to you. It seems to me that it is time for the expression of some gesture of trust and reconciliation between the races. I believe this should come from the white community, because it was the white community which withdrew from trust into fear of Negroes our city. Asheville did not have a riot and this was because the Negro community did not retaliate for real or pretended provocations. It is true that the incitements of insurrectionists were not present here, as they have been in cities ravaged by riots. But I can't help but feel that the white members of our city ought to appreciate the fact that the Negro members of the community did not join the national tendency to violence.


If trust between Negro and white is to be restored and improved, we need to build some bridges. I am sure that you have thought of this and it is for this reason that I would like to make a suggestion.


Would it be possible for Negro and white churches in Asheville to have a pulpit exchange soon? I know this is something we do in February during Brotherhood Week, but it seems to me that it is called for now. I have in mind the minister of a white church preaching at some Negro church, while the Negro clergyman preaches simultaneously at the white church. I would like to suggest that this exchange include choirs as well as ministers. It is common practice among Negro congregations for churches to visit each other on special occasions. When this happens, the preacher and the choir and several members of one church attend the other church and conduct the service. Would such an exchange be possible?


I think the subject of the sermon and service during such an exchange ought to be our relations with each other. If we can confront with each other and speak frankly in Christian spirit, something positive is bound to issue.


I know that many ministers in Asheville preached forthright sermons on this subject on the National Day of Prayer proclaimed by President Johns an But this is not the same as facing and hearing a Christian of the opposite race talk about the problem.


Please understand, the building of good race relations requires more than a one-shot gesture. But I believe in view of the recent tension such a gesture is not only called for, but could go a long way to restoring calm in our community. I am also aware of the limitations in this suggestion Many of the people who need this confrontation the most are not in the pews of our churches on Sunday.



letter_rev_gardner_1967_003_mod.jpg (217617 bytes)








This suggestion need not require an extensive promotional effort. If you should think well of it, perhaps you could merely communicate the idea to another of your ministerial brethren and ask him to contact one other and start the chain of communication. The Baptist Pastors' Conference and the Ministerial Association might want to move in this direction. I don't believe this would dredge up problems of church integration because this would be a one-time arrangement.


I hope you will not feel that I am trying to lay some obligation upon you in making this suggestion. I am only writing to you and to Dr. Cecil Sherman, and if there are reasons why this cannot be done that I might not be aware of, or if you have a better idea, I will understand. My only motive in writing you was to indicate my feeling that our community would be well served by white Christians extending the right hand of trust and fellowship to Negro Christians. Maybe what I mean is that we need the church's ministry of reconciliation now more than ever.


Most sincerely,



Executive Director



letter_rev_gardner_1967_004_mod.jpg (121757 bytes)