• Roger W. Downes

How African Americans Found Their Dreams In A Timber Town

The early 1900's were not an equal playing field for African Americans, but one Western North Carolina timber town offered opportunity...

Sunburst Falls, named after the forgotten timber town of Sunburst, NC

Equal Opportunity was not an ideal held highly in America in the early 1900's. Even though slavery had been abolished decades before, the chances for a young African American to achieve their dreams of home ownership was out of reach for most. If your skin tone wasn't the correct pigment then you were subject to eating in back allies of restaurants, using different restroom, low wages and other degrading hardships unbelievable by today's social standards.

Listen to the interview with Cory Vaillancourt from the Smoky Mountain News

Even in those less than equal times, there was a light of hope in the logging town of Sunburst, North Carolina which supplied the Canton Paper Mill and the war machine of World War I with much needed timber. To keep up with the demand required to stay afloat the Sunburst logging company would reward anyone willing to work in their remote location with handsome employment, no matter the color of their skin.

This obviously wasn't some justice reform brought on by the logging company's conscience but it did offer multiple African American families the chance to earn a fair wage and the opportunity of home ownership along with the ability to start their own businesses in neighboring Waynesville and Sylva, North Carolina. Those families were then able to give their children opportunities other African American families only dream about.

Sunburst struggled to keep it's operation running after the end of World War I so they opted to flood the small valley town creating the recreational area of Lake Logan. The lake which now submerges the birthplace of so many dreams and opportunities is enjoyed by thousands each year who probably don't even know the role the waterlogged timber town beneath them once played.

You can hear more about the history of Sunburst in Episode 6 of Explore With RWD.

I want to personally thank Staff Writer for the Smoky Mountain News and Contributor to Asheville's NPR Radio Station, Blue Ridge Public Radio Cory Vaillancourt for sharing his research for this blog and the Explore With RWD Podcast.

Finally, it is no secret that a good portion of minorities still, over a hundred years later, live in impoverished areas throughout America without any hope. We need to stop ignoring those in less than adequate situations, claiming their circumstances are their fault. Instead we need to start giving them real opportunities to rise above their birth circumstances, like Sunburst did. Every child, no matter their financial status, racial or ethnic background should have the exact same opportunities to change their lives for the better.

We should start with real and true equal funding and opportunities for inner city schools. How can we honestly believe a child in a school full of fear with subpar facilities and resources will ever be able to change the status of their life? It is like asking a horse to run a race but pulling back hard on the reins. Yes, some horses may have the fight to still win against the pain of the bit, but the majority of them will slow, fall back and stop.

The famous race horse Secretariat, who consistently came out of the gate late, would make up the difference running from the back of the pack to win almost each time. But there was a trick that his jockey Ron Turcotte used to ultimately lead Secretariat to the prestigious title of Triple Crown Winner in 1973. Turcotte would give Secretariat the reins, resting the bit freely in his mouth, so he could run wide open. This strategy at the Belmont Stakes not only won the race, claiming the Triple Crown Title, but allowed Secretariat to do it by a record setting thirty-one lengths (leaving the other horses in the dust.)

So I believe, if we give people the reins we will find one champion after another who will lift up their families, our nation and the world by huge margins. They just need the chance to run.

Every child is precious in God's eyes and deserves the same opportunities, especially in a nation under God.



Thank you for taking the time to read about the adventures I take, the people I meet and the places I see.  

Please get out into the natural world and enjoy all the beauty and spender that is God's artistry...

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