People Not Property: The Beginning

In 2000, nine students from Asheville, Reynolds, and Roberson High Schools spent the summer in the Buncombe County Register of Deeds identifying microfiche records of Bills of Sale for enslaved people. Their work, with the support of the Center for Diversity Education, became the basis of the exhibit "An Unmarked Trail: Stories of African Americans in Buncombe County 1850–1900."  In 2012, the newly elected Register of Deeds learned of the students' work and digitized the records. Buncombe County became the first in the nation to place the records online as an act of public transparency. "An Unmarked Trail" has traveled to schools and other institutions since that time.

In addition, the office created an exhibit, "Forever Free," that traveled to local libraries, government offices, and non-profits. "Forever Free" included a video with interviews of local citizens and scholars. The project won numerous awards, including the National Association of County Information Officers and the National Council of State Archivists.

Since then, other Registers of Deeds across the 100 counties in NC are working to add these primary source documents to their digital systems. To date, the following counties have made these records available online:

Buncombe County Register of Deeds
New Hanover County Register of Deeds 
Iredell County Register of Deeds 
Guilford County Register of Deeds

Students and educators researched the primary source documents in archives across the state. Pictured from left to right, front row: Destiny Kindell, Keena Norris, Torie Leslie (UNC Asheville intern). Standing, from left to right: Ervin Hunter III, Ashland Thompson, Marcus White, and Bryan Burton, Dr. Dee James (UNC Asheville Literature Professor).