UNCA and Vance Birthplace examine Civil War governor's legacy


UNC Asheville’s Department of History and the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site will present a two-day symposium, "Zebulon B. Vance Reconsidered," Thursday-Friday, Sept. 14-15. The symposium, which has been in the planning stages for almost a year, will take place as the region and the nation discuss and debate the fate of the many monuments to Confederate-era figures like Vance.

Zebulon Vance was both a slave owner and a war-time governor whose place in N.C. history is being considered during this time of discussion about Civil War figures.

The 7 p.m. symposium is free and open to all, but tickets are required for the symposium events at UNCA. Seating capacity is limited, and each symposium event is ticketed separately. To get tickets in advance, visit No backpacks will be allowed, and bags will be checked at the door.

David Blight

The symposium will begin with a keynote address by Yale University historian David Blight at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 in UNCA’s Lipinsky Auditorium. On Sept. 15, two events will take place in UNCA’s Sherrill Center Mountain View Room - a 10 a.m. panel discussion with historians Gordon McKinney, Joe Mobley, Steve Nash and Darin Waters, and a 2 p.m. talk, "Vance in Fiction," by novelist Sharyn McCrumb. The symposium will conclude with a reception 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15 at the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Western Office, with the opening of an exhibit of photos by Brenda Scott of scenes from the Vance Birthplace that depict life on a mountain homestead. 

The base of Vance Monument in downtown Asheville is seen on a recent foggy morning. It honors Buncombe County native Zebulon Vance, who served as a military officer and North Carolina governor during the Civil War and as a U.S. senator and governor again later.

Vance, who served as a Confederate officer and then North Carolina governor during the Civil War, was imprisoned after the war. Later pardoned, he practiced as an attorney, and then became governor again and then U.S. senator. Commemorated with statues, monuments and historical sites, including the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville, and the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site near Weaverville, Vance's legacy is now being re-examined and debated.


“The heated debate we see now over Vance and others from his era is a natural development in our nation’s history – it was past moments like this that led to construction of many of the monuments now being reconsidered,” said historian Dan Pierce, UNCA's National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor and co-convener of the symposium. “I am glad to see the importance of history come to the fore, and with this symposium, we hope to present historical context and facts to help inform and advance the public debate.”


“Zebulon Vance was a prominent figure in our state for four decades, and his is the story of both a hero and scoundrel,” said symposium co-convener Kimberly Floyd, site manager of the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, which is administered by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “It is not our job to tell the public what they should think about Zebulon Vance. It is our job to present facts and context that illuminates the connections between places and through time. We hope to bring the community together, and create a safe space where we can all learn and encourage discussion and understanding.” 

Keynote speaker and Yale University professor of history Blight is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale. A leading scholar of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Blight is a past president of the Society of American Historians and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Blight’s many books include "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory," which won eight book awards and four awards from the Organization of American Historians; and the monograph, "American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era," which received the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book in nonfiction on racism and human diversity.

He has served on many boards and advisory boards, including those of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the National Civil War Center at Tredegar in Richmond, Va., and the board for African American Programs at Monticello in Charlottesville, Va. Blight’s lectures for his Yale University course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, are available online at

The panel discussion Sept. 15 from 10 a.m.-noon at UNCA's Sherrill Center (Mountain View Room) will bring together historians Gordon McKinney, Joe Mobley, Steve Nash and Darin Waters as panelists.

McKinney is the author of "Zeb Vance: North Carolina’s Civil War Governor & Gilded Age Political Leader." A former director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College, the now retired McKinney received the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award from the WNC Historical Association.

Mobley is the author of eight books on North Carolina history including "War Governor of the South: North Carolina’s Zeb Vance in the Confederacy." Now retired, Mobley taught history at N.C. State University and Louisburg College and served as editor-in-chief of North Carolina Historical

Nash, associate professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is the author of "Reconstruction’s Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains," winner of the Appalachian Studies Association’s Weatherford Award.

Waters, assistant professor of history at UNCA, has studied and written about the historical memory of North Carolina events and people in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. He is the co-host of "The Waters and Harvey Show" on Blue Ridge Public Radio and is convener of the annual African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference, which will take place Oct. 19-21.

Questions from the audience may be submitted on paper at this event, and selected questions will be discussed by the panelists after their opening presentations.

"Vance in Fiction," the talk by McCrumb from 2-2:45 p.m. Sept. 15 at Sherrill Center(Mountain View Room) is, of course, about Vance, who often appears as a character in McCrumb novels. Winner of the 2014 Hobson Prize for Southern Literature, she is a New York Times best-selling author known for her Appalachian “ballad” novels celebrating the land and history of the mountain South. 

A reception and opening of the exhibition "The Mountains Are Calling: At Home in Western North Carolina" from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15 at the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Western Office, 176 Riceville Road, Asheville will feature photos by Brenda Scott. Scott uses scenes of the Vance Birthplace to explore the many facets of early life on a homestead in the mountains of North Carolina. No tickets are required.