2 authors preserve mountain culture
Andrews – Two beloved local residents, Ann Miller Woodford and Eve Miranda Creasman, were featured in the 2018 edition of Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions and Practices from Southern Appalachia.
Shining light on Southern Appalachian culture, the Foxfire books preserve people’s stories through a series of essays. Written by Phil Hudgins and Foxfire student Jessica Phillips of north Georgia, the two travel across the region in search of traditions and history that exemplify Appalachian life.
The newest book of the series was published on Aug. 14, and contains pieces of both Woodford and Miranda’s lives while growing up in Andrews. Hudgins is the retired senior editor of Community Newspapers Inc., which includes the Andrews Journal.
When Miranda was approached by Hudgins, she said she was surprised and honored to be considered for the book.
Actively practicing as a medicine woman since she was a young girl, Miranda imparted some of her knowledge and personal story to Hudgins. She talked about the impact her grandmother had on her life by choosing her to be the family’s next medicine
At only 6 years old, Miranda began to take lessons from her grandmother. However, that came to a halt when she was diagnosed with cancer less than a year later.
Miranda said she was one of the first children to undergo radiation therapy during World War II. To the doctor’s surprise, she managed to survive the treatment. They thought the reason for this was due to her upbringing on a pesticide-free farm.
“It (cancer) made me understand what being alone was,” she said. “I had time to wonder if I was going to die. When you’re that age, you think about things like that.”
While she was still weak after undergoing radiation therapy, Miranda said her grandmother would carry her on her shoulders and take her foraging. Since then, Miranda has never turned away from her role as a medicine woman.
Passing knowledge down
As a medicine woman, Miranda often is confronted by those who ask if she is of Native American heritage.
Miranda said for most of her life, her grandmother would tell her that the family had a “black Dutch” background. Miranda said many Native Americans claimed black Dutch heritage to escape from the Trail of Tears.
However, as her grandmother was dying, she revealed to Miranda that she may have Creek heritage. Although she is still unsure of her ancestry, she said five tribes have claimed her without testing her DNA.
As a medicine woman, Miranda said it is her duty to pass down her knowledge to another person, whether a family member or not. She is teaching her daughter-in-law the ways of natural medicines.
Miranda hopes her chapter in the Foxfire book will help educate people on the importance of medicine women and keep the traditions alive.
“So many things are so quick and easy nowadays,” she said. “Herbs and old fashion ways are not a Walmart quickie. To me it’s very important to pass on the traditions and culture.”
She warns people who are inexperienced with foraging to not attempt at using herbs found in the wild. During the early spring she said there are certain plants that look like yarrow, but happen to be toxic.
However, if people need to carry around one type of plant, she recommends yarrow. She said the plant is great for staunching the flow of blood in open wounds.
“I want people to understand that you don’t need to go to a doctor every time you have a problem,” Miranda said. “Book knowledge is wonderful, but it’s also great to know the world around you and what you can depend on.”
Making the invisible visible
In Foxfire, Hudgins writes a chapter about Woodford’s life as an African-American woman growing up in Andrews. He also focuses on her father’s role in the community and highlights Woodford’s achievements in African-American literature.
Woodford, author of the definitive book on black history in western North Carolina, When All God’s Children Get Together, said she hopes the Foxfire chapter will help build a bridge between cultures. African Americans make up around 1.5 percent of the Appalachian region.
“When people think of Appalachia, they think of white people living in the hills,” she said. “We’re Appalachians, too – black Appalachians. We are still in the mountains, and we love our place.”
The book recounts Woodford’s time spent as a girl attending Andrews Colored School, which consisted of one room and one teacher. Embracing her love of art, she used to decorate the classroom with sculptures of farm animals.
After elementary school, Woodford then attended Allen High School in Asheville, which was a boarding school for African-American girls.
Remembering Miller’s legacy
Many living in Andrews today have either experienced or heard about the community impact of Woodford’s father, Purel Miller. Acknowledging his significance, Hudgins included a section about Miller in Woodford’s chapter.
He wrote about the time the Ku Klux Klan planned to march through Murphy and Andrews. Woodford recounted how her father went downtown and walked from store to store, telling white people they didn’t want this type of trouble in their town. Miller asked business owners to close their stores when the KKK marched through Andrews.
Respecting Miller’s wishes, the stores closed down, including Ingles, which Woodford said didn’t even close on Christmas Day.
The most “down-to-earth” person Woodford has ever known, she said her dad thoroughly enjoyed working outside. From building houses to plowing fields with a mule, Miller was a face most people recognized in Andrews.
Woodford said even five years after his death, people still continue to tell her new stories about the positive things her dad did for the town.
“There are so many beautiful stories that go across the lines of race,” Woodford said. “I would love to see young people carry them on.”