Archive for February, 2013

“This work has brought me into many very delicate and difficult positions. It has caused its full share of criticism and heartache. Some of my white friends have berated me for going too fast; some of my colored friends have called me names because I would not go faster.”   -Dr. Weatherford

The Controversy

Residents of the surrounding area did not always approve of the Assembly’s progressive racial practices. Blue Ridge sometimes received anonymous threats when area residents learned that African American speakers would be guests at the center. For example, in August 1919, a black YMCA secretary came to Blue Ridge, and a “disgruntled white man in the neighborhood made his disapproval of this integration known.” Several weeks later, the laundry building near Robert E. Lee Hall burned. Weatherford believed this man set the fire that destroyed the building.

Beyond these physical threats, Blue Ridge also had to consider the reactions of its supporters and take care not to alienate or offend them. At the time, many Southern whites did not want forced integration. Weatherford feared that by welcoming African American guests to Blue Ridge, it might stir up controversy among its long-term friends and family, southern leaders, parents of young conferees, and worst of all, the Assembly’s generous donors. If Blue Ridge were to be perceived as a radical place that fostered “dangerous ideas”, it would undoubtedly lose its mainstream appeal and support.

These funding issues in particular limited Blue Ridge’s activities, but furthermore, by allowing blacks to eat and sleep side by side with whites, Blue Ridge would be violating the law. To go against both social and legal norms would enable authorities to revoke the Assembly’s operating license. Weatherford believed the racial stances that Blue Ridge took at this time were as liberal as the institution could make and still keep its doors open.

Changing Perceptions

From 1912 to 1930, Blue Ridge was primarily an all-white conference center. In those years it did not openly dispute segregation, argue explicitly for social equality between blacks and whites, or condone interracial dating or marriage. Instead, Blue Ridge served as a place where whites and blacks could meet and discuss racial problems and where African American leaders could come to speak and offer their views on a variety of subjects. This alone dramatically influenced how white attendees perceived and treated African Americans.

The impact of Weatherford’s subtle, grassroots effort was profound.  Blue Ridge helped to influence the attitudes of the young college men and women it served, thereby changing how people interacted with one another in day-to-day life. This moderate approach would eventually help whittle away at the racist structure of southern society over the years. And because these conferences were held primarily for young people, the future leaders of America and those most open to new ideas, the movement touched countless lives over the course of history.

While perceptions cannot be quantified, it is clear that white students in particular were affected by what they saw, heard, and experienced at Blue Ridge. It influenced how many of them chose to spend their lives, inspiring bold action to stand up to racism. For instance, it is noted that one leader of the Louisiana delegation, who previously had threatened to walk out on Carver’s 1924 Blue Ridge speech, later tried to prevent a lynching in his hometown.

Reflecting on the impact of the center later in life, Weatherford proudly wrote, “Blue Ridge has probably done more than any other single institution to make the white people of the South conscious of their responsibility to serve this largest minority group in America. . . . The spirit of cooperation developed there has sent thousands of the choicest college students back to their respective colleges or out into the world as advocates of better racial understanding.”

Meanwhile, many strides were being made at the national level. In 1931, delegates from the National Council vowed to “work steadfastly toward the goal of eliminating all racial discriminations.” Later in 1946 Y-USA urged local branches to formally desegregate. Finally, in 1951, the color bar was broken at Blue Ridge.

1956 staff photo

1956 staff photo

The Legacy

Weatherford’s interest in race relations directly influenced the five principles upon which Blue Ridge was founded:

  1. There is a dignity in all human labor. Anything ministering to human need is a God-given responsibility.
  2. The study of religion must be intellectually respectable.
  3. Religion is indispensable in building life values.
  4. All people are created in the image of God and worthy of love and respect.
  5. In the beauty of Blue Ridge’s natural setting, guests and staff should spend time in reflection/introspection through quiet time, prayer, Bible study or meditation.

Weatherford believed that the ethics of Christianity required Southerners to address the treatment of African Americans and work to improve the social and economic problems faced by black people. As a Christian, it was an obligation of each person to find the value in others, especially those different from oneself, and love them as equals.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:16

Furthermore, Weatherford strongly believed in the value of manual labor. He wrote “the experience of slavery had left a deep psychological scar on the South and its attitude toward work. He reasoned that “the slave hated labor because it branded him as inferior, and the white man shunned labor because he thought it was the slave’s province.” Weatherford wanted to change these attitudes and instill the idea “that any task which added richness to human existence was a sacred task.”  Each summer he used the college-aged men and women who worked at Blue Ridge to help manifest this vision.  The conference center also employed a small number of African American workers who assisted with providing food and laundry services. Some of these employees commuted daily from Black Mountain, while others resided in Booker T. Washington Hall (later demolished in the 1970s).

Martha Washington Hall

Martha Washington Hall

In Weatherford’s opinion these men and women, white and black, represented the South’s future and would help transform the lives of many others. Because he viewed them as potential leaders, Weatherford hoped that a summer program of work and study would encourage them to contribute to their schools and communities. Blue Ridge Assembly promoted the philosophy that race relations would improve by broadening bright young students’ perspectives on race, and they, in turn, would change the world through their future work. These collegiate were held to high standards in speech and behavior. Racist language in particular was not permitted among the staff. For example, it is said that on one occasion, after a white member of the staff complained about the nature of manual labor, Weatherford responded, “You had better change your attitude toward both work and Negroes—or leave Blue Ridge. We respect both here”, reflected the founding principle that everyone should be treated equally.


Weatherford’s attitudes on race and equality continue to be a part of our heritage, preserved in the five founding principles that our staff still follow to today. We are proud to have been a part of this civil rights movement in the South, influencing a generation of young leaders, united under the Y values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.Today YMCA B lue Ridge Assembly is just as committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion. Each day, we work to ensure everyone, regardless of gender, income, faith or cultural background, has the opportunity to experience our life-changing programs.


YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly continues to adapt to needs of the changing times as we build healthier communities and strengthen mind, body, and spirit- for ALL.




“The Limits to Improving Race Relations in the South: The YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, 1906–1930” by Andrew McNeill Canady, 2009


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When the YMCA movement began in America in 1851, African Americans were excluded from membership based on legally mandated practices of segregation. Just a few years later,  the first YMCA for African Americans was founded in Washington DC. Over a decade later the onset of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery created new opportunities for black people, especially students, in the Y.

Anthony Bowen, founder of the first YMCA chapter for African Americans in 1853

Anthony Bowen, founder of the first YMCA chapter for African Americans in 1853

Finally in 1915, Carter Woodson organized the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago. This was the beginning of Negro History Week, the forerunner of today’s annual celebration of Black History Month.

Carter Woodson establishes Black History Month, 1915

Carter Woodson establishes Black History Month, 1915

Black History Month is particularly close to our hearts here at YMCA Blue Ridge. Our founder Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, Sr. was an outspoken activist for race equality throughout his career. In turn, Blue Ridge served as a hub for these progressive ideas and marked us a modern institution for the civil rights movement in the south.

Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, founder of Blue Ridge Assembly.

Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, founder of Blue Ridge Assembly in 1906.

Prior to the founding of Blue Ridge, Weatherford served as the Student Secretary of the International Committee for the YMCA. Under this position he traveled throughout the country, delivering speeches and providing mentorships to passionate young college students. At these campuses Weatherford found himself establishing friendships with “Negro waiters and janitors” despite the social and legal implications of the South’s Jim Crow policies. He developed an intellectual curiosity for the plight of African Americans and from these experiences, became increasingly focused on improving race relations between whites and blacks. Most notably, he desired to work on this problem at the local level.

It was during this tumultuous time, in the wake of widespread racial hostility and prejudice that Weatherford set out to establish Blue Ridge. He dreamed of a permanent meeting place where young people, of all races, could gather in an inspirational setting to discuss new ideas and strengthen their faith. And so it came to be in 1906- a southern conference and training center founded on the principles of the dignity in labor, the value of religion, the beauty of nature, and respect for all mankind.


Weatherford’s interests in improving race relations eventually gave rise to the five principles upon which Blue Ridge was founded. In 1908, he sought to publicly address these problems. He and six other southern religious and educational leaders—four of whom were African American men—gathered for an open dialogue about “the present race question, with special reference to what the college men of the South might do to better conditions.” This conversation, extremely uncommon at the time, would inspire Weatherford to write a book about African Americans in the South, the first of many of nationally-recognized publications that would be used in YMCA study groups and even as text books in college courses.


The Conferences: Unity & Action

When Blue Ridge hosted its first conference in 1912, the South had long been a racially divided region. The Assembly became a unique isolated place where social and religious issues could be confronted, examined, and challenged. It was unlike any institution of its time, one of the few southern places where progressive and liberal subjects were not off limits. Here, Southern white leaders and college students would meet and discuss the subject of race and eventually, welcome black speakers and participants to join them. While their presence was limited, even a small number of African Americans guest speakers was significant in the context of the segregated and racially hostile South.

1917:  A meeting of 48 southern Christian leaders, “educators, ministers, social workers, clubwomen, church workers, doctors, judges, public officials, and YMCA/YWCA personnel” who represented “nearly every state in the South . . . [and] included twelve women and several blacks.” The conference focused on the problem of lynching but also discussed the migration of southern blacks, legal measures to prevent mob violence, and “the role of religion in racial reform.” During this time the United States entered World War I and the YMCA established the Colored Work Department under the War Work Council to organize African American troops.

1919: Training program for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. This committee, organized by Weatherford, was one of the first of its kind in the South to bring the races together on a local level and foster communication and understanding. The interracial programs of the CIC also sought to help reintegrate black soldiers back into America and eliminate the resurgence of racial tension and violence.

1920: Conference for religious leaders to discuss the “relationship of the church to race problems.” Over seventy-five southern ministers and  college presidents, including Robert Russa Moton, Tuskegee Institute principal and successor to Booker T. Washington,  attended.  Participants voiced their support for the CIC and other local interracial organizations, called for better schools and housing for blacks, and urged white southerners to live up to the “equal” element of the “separate but equal” creed. Moton in particular spoke on the subjects of lynching, social equality, disfranchisement of African Americans, and Jim Crow transportation.

Robert Russa Moton and Dr. Weatherford.

1923: The Southern Student Conference (held annually at Blue Ridge since 1913) welcomes George Washington Carver as a guest speaker. Carver was a well-known African American horticulturist and faculty member at the black Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, most known for his scientific research with the peanut. Carver’s experience at Blue Ridge was significant and student interest in his leadership was immense. Carver’s appearance at Blue Ridge proved to be the start of several friendships and mentorships with a number of white YMCA students, showing them that African Americans were capable of high achievement. Carver would return again in 1924, arguably making an even greater impact. As a “guest of the Virginia Delegation” during his time there he was treated as such- invited to eat and sleep among the all-white group. Since the conference center still segregated the dining of blacks and whites, Carver’s stay, in effect, was the first recorded racial integration of Blue Ridge Assembly.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver’s stay becomes the first known racial integration at Blue Ridge.

1925: Southern Student conference welcomes the African American educator Mary McLeod Bethune as a guest speaker. She is the first known African American woman to visit the Assembly.

Mary McLeod Bethune , the first  African American woman guest speaker at Blue Ridge Assembly

Mary McLeod Bethune , the first African American woman guest speaker at Blue Ridge Assembly

1926: Southern Student Conference welcomes Mordecai Johnson of Howard University. Johnson’s speech said, “I don’t advise you to start out putting your hand on this political measure, and putting your hand on this institution trying to change it around. This is not where you begin. You start out with John Jones when you meet him tomorrow morning—the individual toward the individual—acting radically upon the principles of creative love.”

1928: Southern Student Conference welcomes John Hope of Morehouse College as a guest speaker.


“Blue Ridge was the first place in the South where outstanding colored leaders could come to present to the leadership of the white South in large numbers, the needs and problems of the Negro people and the ways of meeting the same.”   

-Dr. Weatherford

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner we wanted to give a shout out to everyone out there who has romantic ties to the mountain. The Blue Ridge Marriage Roster is a book commemorating married couples who met at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. It originated as a gift from Billie Camp Younts in 1978, whose husband Charles R. Younts served at Blue Ridge Assembly for more than 40 years. To date, there are nearly 30 couples documented in the Roster.

YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Marriage Roster

YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Marriage Roster

  • Willis Duke Weatherford and Julia McRory met at a YWCA student conference at Blue Ridge in 1912. They were married in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1914.
  • Geneva Kirby and Herbert Warner met at Blue Ridge in 1924. He was a Y exec receiving certification and she was on staff in the dining room. They married in Birmingham, Alabama on July 19, 1927.
  • Frieda Traweek (collegiate staff) and Finley Eversole (YMCA student delegate) met at Blue Ridge in 1931. They were married in Birmingham, Alabama on July 9, 1932.
  • Mabel Orr from Birmingham, Alabama and Martin England from Mars Hill, North Carolina met working as dining room staff in the summer of 1929. They were married in 1933.They went on to honeymoon with the American Baptist Mission in Burma and have 4 children.
  • Eileen Aull  and Howard Covington  met in the summer of 1935 as collegiate staff. Mr. Covington was a protege of Dr. Weatherford and went on to have a career as a YMCA Secretary.  Their daughter, Flossie Covington Hickland, went on to work at Blue Ridge in 1960,  their grandson James Hickland served in the mid- ’80s, and their great grandson will attend Leaders’ School this summer. “It is great to have such a family legacy”
  • Edna Erle Waters and Sam Marshall met the summer of 1940 as guests with the YMCA/YWCA conference. They were married in Tupelo, Mississippi on December 25,1941.
  • Mary Ann Henry and Hyman McCarty met as collegiate staff at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1942. They were married in Meadville, Pennsylvania on December 24, 1943. Mary Ann says, “Blue Ridge definitely has a tremendous place in our hearts!”
  • Emily Cottingham (YWCA student conferee) and Robert C. Stuart (store staff) met at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1940. They were married in Douglas, Georgia on August 10, 1946.
  • Marilyn Zibell and Olson Huff met summer of 1959 as collegiate staff. They were married in Decatur, Georgia in 1963. ”It was a great summer. Walked to Black Mountain under a full moon!”, Olson writes.
  • Kay Clement and Frank Edmond Hogan met at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1962. They were married in Greenville, South Carolina on August 8, 1964. They have 2 daughters.
  • Camilla Bolin (housekeeping ‘63-64, librarian ‘66) and J. Craig Weaver (collegiate staff ‘63-64, desk clerk ‘66). They were married on August 28, 1965.
  • Pat Goldthwaite (collegiate staff ‘63-65, senior staff ‘68) and Robert Wilhem (collegiate staff ‘62-64, senior staff ‘65-68). They were married in 1968.
  •  Rosemary Tenney and Judge McFerrin Smith met at Blue Ridge in 1967. She was renting North Carolina cottage and he was staying in Florida cabin. They were married in 1968.
  • Ann Hodge and Jerry Carl Hogan met at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1969. They were married at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee in 1970 and have one son.
  • Barbara Delores Steiner and Joseph Kenneth Mustoe met at Blue Ridge as staff in 1970. They were married in Morganton, North Carolina on July 25, 1971.
  • Carol Fassold and Larry Geiger met as Blue Ridge summer staff in 1972. They were married on June 15, 1974. The couple visited again on their honeymoon and again in 1977 when they served as dorm parents in Martha Washington Hall.
  • Kitti Ann Ruebenstahl (staff ‘73-76) and Kenneth Ray Kelly (staff ’73-’76) met at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1973. They were married at Warren Wilson Chapel in Swannanoa, North Carolina followed by a reception at Blue Ridge Center on October 9, 1976.
  • Cheryl Elrod (collegiate ’77, senior staff ’78-80) and Scott Washburn (collegiate ’68-75, senior staff ’77-79) met in the summer of 1979.  They were married on August 22, 1982 at Blue Ridge Assembly.
  • Deborah Meredith Dyer (collegiate ‘76-79, senior staff ‘80-83) and William Cameron Williams (collegiate ’80-81) met at Blue Ridge in the  summer of 1980. They were married on May 26, 1984.
  • Beth McGirt (collegiate staff member in ’84–85, senior staff ’86) and Tony Adams (collegiate  ’84): “We met at Blue Ridge the summer of 1984. Tony and I were both fresh out of high school — he hailed from the town of Jefferson and I came from Irmo. . It was pretty much love at first sight for both of us. I especially loved Tony’s outgoing personality and no one could sing like him. He starred in our staff production of Carousel and throughout the years that followed I could still hear him sing “If I Loved You “. We went our separate ways after that summer, but we still kept in touch over the years. And even though we both went on to live separate lives, 15 years after we first met — after both of us had gone through divorces in our first marriages –we tracked each other down and got married! That Blue Ridge Magic has always stayed with us and we just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary (but we like to count 28 since that’s how long we’ve loved each other!).”
  • Dan Matthews (collegiate staff ’80, senior staff ’81-83, and ’85-86) met Lynn Rabon (collegiate staff ’85 , senior staff ’86,’87) during the summer of 1985. They were married in 1989 in Camden, SC  “after much convincing”, and settled there. They have two children, Roland and Meg.
  • Mary Catherine Saidla & Trevor Krister Person met at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1988, while  attending the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs.  They were married in Auburn, Alabama, in the summer of 1999.
  • Amy Cushnie and Brandon Vaughn met as conferees during Blue Ridge Leaders School in 1998! They were married in June of 2002 in Richmond, Virginia and have a 5 year old daughter, Emily Grace. They currently live in Midlothian, Virginia.
  • Domenick Risola and Keena Meyer met and worked together at Blue Ridge in the summer of 1992, and have been together ever since. “Twenty years and two kids later still going strong, and we still reminisce about our summer of love; climbing Chimney Top together, pillow fights while on housekeeping detail at Weatherford Hall, and first kisses at the bonfire at the end of summer…Our kids are tired of hearing how romantic the Blue Ridge mountains can be when you’re 18 and fall in love for the first time, and then get married and stay together…it does still happen, folks!”
  • Phillip and Helen Day met as Blue Ridge as staff in the summer of 1997. They were married December 30, 2004.
  • Rebecca Beltrame and Rene Moncivaez met as staff at Blue Ridge and were married in 2006.
  • Brent and Lillian Hadas met at Blue Ridge as staff in 2005. They were married in 2007 in Asheville, North Carolina. They have one daughter, Zoe, and are expecting another child this spring.
  • Travis Silver (Grounds Manager ’00-Present) and Michelle Miller (Dining Room Supervisor, ’09-‘11) were married in October 2010 in Marion, North Carolina. They have one son, Sean
  • Ryan Welsch (CONA  ’97 – Alabama delegation) and Lucie Swain (CONA ’04- Kentucky delegation) met in 2008 while volunteering at the 2008 Conference on National Affairs. Ryan proposed on the mountain 3 years later, and on June 16, 2012 they were married in nearby Asheville, NC.
  • Andrew McKinney (Program Coordinator ’08-Present) and Beth Snook (Event Planner, ’07-Present) married August 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina.

We want to know YOUR Blue Ridge love story! If you would like your names added to the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Marriage Roster, please write Melissa Logan, Development Director, at mblogan@ymcabra.org with your information or simply reply as a comment in this blog post! Please share your maiden names, how you met on the mountain, as well as the date and location of your wedding. If you were visiting the Assembly as a guest, please specify which conference you were a part of, and if you were part of our staff, which department you served in. We’d also enjoy hearing any updates on how you and your family are doing today!

Again, best wishes and congratulations to all of the sweethearts we have united. We hope that YMCA Blue Ridge will continue to touch lives and bring people together in faith and fellowship in the years to come. Happy Valentine’s Day!


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