Activist Cauley continues advocating for African Americans in county

Black History Collective of Henderson County founder Crystal Cauley, right, stands with her daughter, Tiara Channer, at the Historic Henderson County Courthouse.

HENDERSONVILLE – Black History Collective of Henderson County founder Crystal Cauley sat in anticipation at the Feb. 7 Hendersonville City Council meeting for a moment she’d envisioned happening for several years.

Thanks to Cauley’s efforts, Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk made a proclamation that the city celebrate Black History Month throughout February. Although it has celebrated Black History Month in the past on social media, it was the first time the city had made the proclamation. After reading it, Volk presented the proclamation to two students, Ibrahim Newborn and JT Williams.

“It was a phenomenal moment to witness two young future leaders accept the Black History Month Proclamation from the mayor, who has helped create many opportunities for everyone in this city. I was excited to see many of my friends come to witness this moment,” Cauley said. “I counted 25 people whom I personally invited, and afterwards we celebrated with photos and cheers.”

Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk presents the Black History Month Proclamation by the city to two students, JT Williams, left, and Ibrahim Newborn.
Crystal Cauley reads poetry during the Juneteenth Story Hour at the Henderson County Library.

Embracing Black history

Cauley is a native of Hendersonville, and her parents are Marilyn and Gerald Cauley, who both grew up during the Civil Rights Movement.

“They were a part of school integration to being displaced by urban renewal,” Cauley said. “My father grew up in the Black Bottom, West End and Peacock Town communities, and I hear many stories from his childhood that are priceless, especially from the West End area. Since 2022 I have spent hundreds of hours researching my family history.”

Cauley said her maternal lineage originated in Sierra Leone in West Africa from the Mende Tribe. She said her mother was also a Black history historian.

Crystal Cauley, right, smiles as she poses with her mother, the late Marilyn Mills Cauley, in this 1995 photo. Cauley was 15 then.

“My natural fight and activism comes from this bloodline being that my ancestors were a part of overpowering the 19th-century two-masted schooner, La Amistad. I also have Gullah Geechee roots from my paternal grandmother, the late Carrie D. Cauley. I grew up exposed to Charleston and Johns Island’s vibrant culture, devoted faith and food like my Memaw’s famous Hoppin John dish,” she said.

Cauley said growing up in Hendersonville, her childhood was filled with great Black teachers and mentors.

More:A new bird sanctuary has been installed at Hendersonville’s Sullivan Park

“I reflect many times on the influence of great Black women educators, such as the late Catherine’Honey’ Sarratt, Ruby Rivers and Deborah Broadus Gary. I also had Gary Rivers, Mike Coleman and the late Rev. Dr. James McMinn in middle and high school who taught me lifelong lessons from the YAE (Youth Academic Enhancement) Club to Project Edge,” she said.

Creative genes

Cauley has long been a leader and activist in the community, serving on several local boards. But one of her favorite passions is creative writing, which she said, comes from her mother. Cauley, a 1998 Hendersonville High graduate, said she also has a love of books and reading, also gifts from her mother, she said.

“My mother was a creative writer, an she studied botany, pharmacology and enjoyed traveling with my father across the United States beginning in 1998,” she said.

Another one of her passions is music, which comes from her father, she said.

This is a portrait of Crystal Cauley taken in 1984 when she was 4 years old.

“My father raised me with a love for music being that he can play seven instruments and write songs,” she said. “Another one of my biggest creative influencers was my late grandfather, Ulysses Mills Sr., who was a self-taught artist and farmer,” Cauley said.

Carrying on her family’s legacy

Following graduation and the birth of her son, Tyrese, Cauley said at the age of 19, she enrolled at Cecil’s Business College and later graduated from Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina.

“I lived in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, for seven years then I returned to Hendersonville for my son to grow up in Hendersonville. This was the best decision I made, and I would never look back,” she said. “I was married for 18 years, and this union brought my daughter into the world — Tiara Channer, who is now 15.”

Cauley has had many firsts as an activist in Hendersonville. On March 24, 2019, the Black History Collective of Henderson County was founded with the first Black art exhibition in Hendersonville, she said.

“The event had the grand unveiling for the painting ‘Legacy’ by Diamond Cash,” she said.

The collective has had several milestones, with the Black History Month Proclamation by the mayor as the most recent.

“Others are the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Kwanzaa proclamation by the city and also the Juneteenth proclamation,” she said. “The collective has had 12 cultural events that have been well attended and free to the public, including an educational workshop for Henderson County schools. It has also had many public educational exhibits with the help of the Henderson County Public Library, Hola Cultural Center, First Congregational Church, The People’s Museum and the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County.”

What’s next?

Cauley is currently running for a seat on the Henderson County Board of Education, but she has many more plans in the works, she said.

“I plan to continue to be an activist and stand up for what is right in my community. I plan to continue to use art and performing arts events to tell the history of Henderson County,” she said. “I will reach out to small southern towns to help them achieve what we have here in Henderson County, which in my opinion is a new diverse awakening.”

If she is elected to the school board, she said she plans to take a deeper look at bullying policies in the county schools.

Another one of her organizations is the Black Business Network of Western North Carolina, which began in 2016.

“There will be many new opportunities in the network that will be unfolding this year,” she said.

While she has a full plate with the organizations she runs, serving on local boards, being an activist and also being a school board candidate, Cauley said she still has even more goals she wants to reach.

“I intend to study more on becoming a genealogist, specializing in African American research, and use this passion to reconnect people with their family history. I have been encouraged to write a book, and I will work on that, too,” she said. “So, stay tuned.”

More:Cauley receives Radical Rest grant to support community work

Dean Hensley is the news editor for the Hendersonville Times-News. Email him with tips, questions and comments at DHensley@gannett.com. Please help support this kind of local journalism with a subscription to the Hendersonville Times-News.

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