Renaming the Community Center for Tempie Avery

Joe Newman

The proposal to rename the Montford Community Center in honor of Tempie Avery is moving ahead. Tempie was a freed slave, a woman of remarkable achievement, whose home stood on the site now occupied by the center.

What Has Been Accomplished So Far

The proposal was initiated by Martha Warren, Tempie’s gr-gr-gr-grandaughter, and carried forward by Cathryn McLeod. It has won the support of the African American Heritage Commission, the Historic Resources Commission (HRC), the Montford Neighborhood Association and its Executive Board, and the more than 200 citizens who signed a petition to rename the center. Having gained the approval of the Advisory Board of the City of Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, the proposal is now ready to go before City Council.

Tempie Avery’s Life and Significance Today

Based on historical research conducted by Martha Warren, Cathryn McLeod, and others, we know that Tempie was born circa 1826 and came to Asheville as an enslaved girl in 1840. She served the Nicholas Woodfin family as a nurse and midwife until the Civil War ended in 1865 and for several years after emancipation, learning skills she would use to make her living as a free woman.

In 1868, Nicholas Woodfin gave Tempie one acre of land where the Montford Community Center now stands, land that was then on the northwestern fringe of Asheville. Tempie made her home there for almost 50 years, leaving the land to several descendants when she died in 1917. From her little home at what became the intersection of Pearson Drive and West Chestnut Street, Tempie could watch Montford developing as a neighborhood. Even earlier, she was able to look out at the wooded land behind her home and see the African American community of Stumptown coming to life.

Tempie’s services as a midwife and nurse were in demand throughout Asheville. Over the course of her life, she delivered hundreds of babies, black and white. She became so popular that when she grew ill and eventually passed away, tributes and memorials were published in the Asheville Citizen. Tempie’s love for children of both races and her devotion to their well-being were the hallmarks of her life and her legacy to us.

Her life as a free woman was not easy. Tempie had to work hard to support herself, her husband, and her children, sometimes as the sole bread-winner of her family. In addition to serving as a nurse and midwife, she found it necessary to take in laundry to make ends meet.

Today we can view her life as a symbol of the struggle for survival of the many African Americans who lived in Asheville from Reconstruction through the early 1900s, years that were marked by the legal restoration of white supremacy.

What Remains to be Done

Tempie Avery (1823-1917) holding baby Pauline Moore. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library.

Many citizens who signed the petition to rename the community center commented that given the deep cultural and political divides in our nation today, it seems timely to rename the center for this extraordinary woman. With the advice of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, we will ask Asheville City Council to rename the center the Tempie Avery Montford Community Center.  We encourage supporters of the proposal to attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber on the Second Floor of City Hall.

October 3 will be a big day. Tempie is honored on one of the historical panels recently installed on the bus shelters at the intersection of Montford Avenue and Cullowhee Street. The dedication of the panels will take place at the intersection on Tuesday, October 3, at 9:30 a.m. (See the article in the August/September 2017 Montford Newsletter, p 5.)

Read More about Tempie Avery

From Zoe Rhine: packlibraryncroom.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/tempy-avery-1823-1917/

From Cathryn McLeod and Martha Warren: montford.org/index.php/group-petitions-to-rename-the-montford-community-center/

From Rob Neufeld: www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2017/09/17/visiting-our-past-getting-know-freed-slaves-asheville/672081001/