Slave deed preservation earns national award

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Press release from UNC Asheville, shared Sept. 16:

Click image to visit the project, which includes a video.

Click this image to visit the project archives, including a video about the effort.

ASHEVILLE — Deborah Miles, executive director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, and Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Register of Deeds, were named co-recipients of a 2013 Award of Merit from the national Council of State Archivists.

Issuing the award at its annual meeting last month in New Orleans, the council honored Miles and Reisinger “for their collaborative work on the preservation and digitization of slave deeds in Buncombe County, thereby bringing local records to the center of a national conversation on slavery and freedom.”

In the nomination for this award, Sarah Koonts, North Carolina state archivist wrote, “By digitizing and making these local records available in a variety of resources, Reisinger and Miles are helping educate people nationally on the variety of resources found in these local offices.”

Miles began the project collecting and preserving Buncombe County slave records in 2000, working with a team of local high school students who pored over a variety of records found in microfiche. Now, these Buncombe County records are available digitally, and Miles sees opportunity for greater historical understanding in preserving and digitizing other public records of the past, including co-habitation records, manumission records, wills and more.

Deborah Miles, director of the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville.

Deborah Miles, director of the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville.

“Making these documents available in every county, sometimes with the research work of high school and college students, can teach students to be the historians of the present and the future,” Miles said. “I hope that teachers in former slave holding states will see the value of students becoming diggers of history and not just passive recipients.”

Reisinger notes that some other counties in North Carolina are beginning to make their records available online, but feels more can be done.

“Most courthouses throughout the South have records of slavery collecting dust on their shelves,” he said. “Ms. Miles and I have been working with students, colleges and other Register of Deeds offices throughout the South to advocate for the preservation of these documents. And as more of these documents are becoming available we hope that the United States Congress will consider funding a database that will compile these records in one central place for everyone to have the ability to research them online.”

To see Buncombe County slave deeds and view a video about this award-winning project, visit BuncombeCounty.org/slavedeeds.

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About the Author

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 279-0949 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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