Asheville community center to be renamed after former slave, midwife

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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The Montford Community Center is one step closer to being renamed to honor Tempie Avery, a prominent African-American nurse and midwife in Asheville in the late 1800s.

Asheville City Council on Tuesday announced their intention to rename the Montford center the Tempie Avery Community Center. City Council plans to formally vote for the change at their next meeting later this month.

Avery was a former slave of the Nicholas Woodfin family in Asheville. After emancipation, she worked as a nurse and midwife in the black and white community alike, according to city documents, and lived at 34 Pearson Drive, the current site of the Montford Community Center.

Neighborhood resident Cathryn McLeod and Martha Warren, a direct descendent of Avery, began working together for the renaming, and to have a plaque noting Avery’s contributions to the city placed on site. Several city boards and committees have already given their approval to the renaming, which will cost the city about  $8,000 to $10,000 for new signage and other support for the name change, according to city documentation.

A group of residents spoke in favor of the change. Resident Joe Newman said Avery became “an esteemed midwife who delivered hundreds of babies, black and white, through the city” over the years. She was so well known that several tributes and memorials to her were published upon her death in 1917, a rare occurrence for a black woman at the time.

“Tempie’s love of children and devotion to their wellbeing were hallmarks of her life and her legacy to us,” he said.

Resident Sharon Fahrer said the renaming “encourages the current generation to look to past for role models.”

Asheville City Council members also expressed their enthusiastic support of the renaming. Mayor Esther Manheimer noted that Tuesday was a special day because of a ceremony to honor the Montford neighborhood’s placement of historical markers at bus stops honoring local African-American history, including Avery’s story.

Councilman Keith Young thanked community members and Avery’s descendants for their diligent work. Young said he hoped the renaming would spark more recognition of African-American contributions to the city of Asheville.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield echoed those comments, and noted ongoing discussions about the place of Confederate monuments in the city and limitations in changing or removing them. Community centers and firehouses “are ours,” Mayfield said, adding that “I just hope this is the first of several or many opportunities to celebrate histories of people who aren’t usually honored,” she said.

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

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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