Since the 2016 presidential election, Americans have witnessed countless stories about Appalachia: its changing political leanings, its opioid crisis, its increasing joblessness, and its declining population. These stories, however, largely ignore black Appalachian lives. Karida L. Brown's Gone Home offers a much-needed corrective to the current whitewashing of Appalachia. In telling the stories of African Americans living and working in Appalachian coal towns, Brown offers a sweeping look at race, identity, changes in politics and policy, and black migration in the region and beyond. Drawn from over 150 original oral history interviews with former and current residents of Harlan County, Kentucky, Brown shows that as the nation experienced enormous transformation from the pre- to the post-civil rights era, so too did black Americans. In reconstructing the life histories of black coal miners, Brown shows the mutable and shifting nature of collective identity, the struggles of labor and representation, and that Appalachia is far more diverse than you think.
In 2007, while researching mountain culture in upstate South Carolina, anthropologist John M. Coggeshall stumbled upon the small community of Liberia in the Blue Ridge foothills. There he met Mable Owens Clarke and her family, the remaining members of a small African American community still living on land obtained immediately after the Civil War. This intimate history tells the story of five generations of the Owens family and their friends and neighbors, chronicling their struggles through slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and the desegregation of the state. Through hours of interviews with Mable and her relatives, as well as friends and neighbors, Coggeshall presents an ethnographic history that allows members of a largely ignored community to speak and record their own history for the first time. This story sheds new light on the African American experience in Appalachia, and in it Coggeshall documents the community's 150-year history of resistance to white oppression, while offering a new way to understand the symbolic relationship between residents and the land they occupy, tying together family, memory, and narratives to explain this connection.
Red, White, Black, and Blue began as a collaborative memoir by William M. "Bill" Drennen, a European American, and Kojo (William T.) Jones, an African American. These Appalachian men grew up in the South Hills section of Charleston, West Virginia. As boys they played on the same Little League baseball team and experienced just one year together as schoolmates after the all-white Thomas Jefferson Junior High School was desegregated in 1955. After that, class, race, and choice separated their life experiences for forty-five years. In 1992 both had returned to Charleston from lives mostly lived elsewhere. They decided to work together on a memoir of growing up through the trauma of desegregation. Their aim was to foster understanding between their distinct cultures for themselves and for their own and future generations. Dolores Johnson, in editing the two texts, observed two very different modes of expression: Bill Drennen's narrative is threaded with references that connote wealth, status, and personal privilege; Kojo Jones's memoir is interwoven with African American signification, protest, and moral outrage. The stories of their Appalachian upbringing in homes less than a mile apart are anecdotal in nature, but their diverse uses of the English language as they endeavor to communicate shared memories and common meanings reveal significant cultural connotations that transform standard American English into two different languages, rendering interracial communication problematic. Dr. Johnson's analysis is to the point. Red, White, Black, and Blue is a groundbreaking approach to studying not only cultural linguistics but also the cultural heritage of a historic time and place in America. It gives witness to the issues of race and class inherent in the way we write, speak, and think.
In The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation, Wilma Dunaway calls into question the dominant paradigm of the US slave family. She contends that US slavery studies have been flawed by neglect of small plantations and export zones and exaggeration of slave agency. Using data on population trends and Slave narratives, she identifies several profit-maximizing strategies that owners implemented to disrupt and endanger African-American families, including forced labor migrations, structural interference in marriages and childcare, sexual exploitation of women, shortfalls in provision of basic survival needs, and ecological risks. This book is unique in its examination of new threats to family persistence that emerged during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Wilma Dunaway breaks new ground by focusing on slave experiences on small plantations in the Upper South. She argues that a region was not buffered from the political, economic, and social impacts of enslavement simply because it was characterized by low black population density and small slaveholdings. By drawing on a massive statistical data base derived from antebellum census manuscripts and county tax records of 215 counties in nine states, on a vast array of slaveholder manuscripts, and on regional slave narratives, she pinpoints several indicators that distinguished Mountain South enslavement from the Lower South. These include a higher incidence of ethnic mixing between African and Native American slaves, heavier reliance on the field labor of women and children, and more frequent assignment of slaves to non-agricultural occupations. Dunaway also calls into question the notion that large numbers were necessary before slaves could engage in community building and resistance.
Throughout the Upland South, the banjo has become an emblem of white mountain folk, who are generally credited with creating the short-thumb-string banjo, developing its downstroking playing styles and repertory, and spreading its influence to the national consciousness. In this groundbreaking study, however, Cecelia Conway demonstrates that these European Americans borrowed the banjo from African Americans and adapted it to their own musical culture. Like many aspects of the African-American tradition, the influence of black banjo music has been largely unrecorded and nearly forgotten--until now. Drawing in part on interviews with elderly African-American banjo players from the Piedmont--among the last American representatives of an African banjo-playing tradition that spans several centuries--Conway reaches beyond the written records to reveal the similarity of pre-blues black banjo lyric patterns, improvisational playing styles, and the accompanying singing and dance movements to traditional West African music performances. The author then shows how Africans had, by the mid-eighteenth century, transformed the lyrical music of the gourd banjo as they dealt with the experience of slavery in America. By the mid-nineteenth century, white southern musicians were learning the banjo playing styles of their African-American mentors and had soon created or popularized a five-string, wooden-rim banjo. Some of these white banjo players remained in the mountain hollows, but others dispersed banjo music to distant musicians and the American public through popular minstrel shows. By the turn of the century, traditional black and white musicians still shared banjo playing, and Conway shows that this exchange gave rise to a distinct and complex new genre--the banjo song. Soon, however, black banjo players put down their banjos, set their songs with increasingly assertive commentary to the guitar, and left the banjo and its story to white musicians. But the banjo still echoed at the crossroads between the West African griots, the traveling country guitar bluesmen, the banjo players of the old-time southern string bands, and eventually the bluegrass bands. The Author: Cecelia Conway is associate professor of English at Appalachian State University. She is a folklorist who teaches twentieth-century literature, including cultural perspectives, southern literature, and film.
A groundbreaking book of poetry at the intersection of Appalachian and African American literature. In this fierce debut collection, poet Frank X Walker tells the story of growing up young, Black, artistic, and male in one of America's most misunderstood geographical regions. As a proud Kentucky native, Walker created the word "Affrilachia" to render visible the unique intersectional experience of African Americans living in the rural and Appalachian South. Since its publication in 2000, Affrilachia has seen wide classroom use, and is recognized as one of the foundational works of the Affrilachian Poets, a community of writers offering new ways to think about diversity in the Appalachian region and beyond. Published in 2000 by Old Cove Press
As a black Appalachian woman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison belonged to a demographic category triply ignored by historians. The daughter of former slaves, she moved to McDowell County, West Virginia, at an early age and died at ninety-eight in Huntington. The coalfields of McDowell County were among the richest seams in the nation. As Garrison makes clear, the backbone of the early mining work force--those who laid the railroad tracks, manned the coke ovens, and dug the coal--were black miners. These miners and their families created communities that became the centers of the struggle for unions, better education, and expanded civil rights. Memphis Tennessee Garrison, an innovative teacher, administrative worker at U.S. Steel, and vice president of the National Board of the NAACP at the height of the civil rights struggle (1963-66), was involved with all of these struggles. In many ways, this oral history, based on interview transcripts, is the untold and multidimensional story of African American life in West Virginia, as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman. She portrays a courageous people who organize to improve their working conditions, send their children to school and then to college, own land, and support a wide range of cultural and political activities.
Although southern Appalachia is popularly seen as a purely white enclave, blacks have lived in the region from early times. Some hollows and coal camps are in fact almost exclusively black settlements. The selected readings in this new book offer the first comprehensive presentation of the black experience in Appalachia.
Organized topically, the selections deal with the early history of blacks in the region, with studies of the black communities, with relations between blacks and whites, with blacks in coal mining, and with political issues. Also included are a section on oral accounts of black experiences and an analysis of black Appalachian demography. The contributors range from Carter Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois to more recent scholars such as Theda Perdue and David A. Corbin. An introduction by the editors provides an overall context for the selections.
Blacks in Appalachia focuses needed attention on a neglected area of Appalachian studies. It will be a valuable resource for students of Appalachia and of black history.
The 18 essays in this collection recognize not only a far greater African American presence in the highland South than was once assumed, but a wider variety of interaction between blacks and whites during the 19th century. The book explores topics including black migration and musical influences.
Junaluska is one of the oldest African American communities in western North Carolina and one of the few surviving today. After Emancipation, many former slaves in Watauga County became sharecroppers, were allowed to clear land and to keep a portion, or bought property outright, all in the segregated neighborhood on the hill overlooking the town of Boone, North Carolina. Land and home ownership have been crucial to the survival of this community, whose residents are closely interconnected as extended families and neighbors. Missionized by white Krimmer Mennonites in the early twentieth century, their church is one of a handful of African American Mennonite Brethren churches in the United States, and it provides one of the few avenues for leadership in the local black community. Susan Keefe has worked closely with members of the community in editing this book, which is based on three decades of participatory research. These life history narratives adapted from interviews with residents (born between 1885 and 1993) offer a people's history of the black experience in the southern mountains. Their stories provide a unique glimpse into the lives of African Americans in Appalachia during the 20th century--and a community determined to survive through the next.
By 1930, Huntington had become West Virginia's largest city. Its booming economy and relatively tolerant racial climate attracted African Americans from across Appalachia and the South. Prosperity gave these migrants political clout and spurred the formation of communities that defined black Huntington--factors that empowered blacks to confront institutionalized and industrial racism on the one hand and the white embrace of Jim Crow on the other. Cicero M. Fain III illuminates the unique cultural identity and dynamic sense of accomplishment and purpose that transformed African American life in Huntington. Using interviews and untapped archival materials, Fain details the rise and consolidation of the black working class as it pursued, then fulfilled, its aspirations. He also reveals how African Americans developed a host of strategies--strong kin and social networks, institutional development, property ownership, and legal challenges--to defend their gains in the face of the white status quo. Eye-opening and eloquent, Black Huntington makes visible another facet of the African American experience in Appalachia.
They shot them down like rabbits . . . September 30, 1919. The United States teetered on the edge of a racial civil war. During the previous three months, racial fighting had erupted in twenty-five cities. And deep in the Arkansas Delta, black sharecroppers were meeting in a humble wooden church, forming a union and making plans to sue their white landowners, who for years had cheated them out of their fair share of the cotton crop. A car pulled up outside the church . . . What happened next has long been shrouded in controversy. In this heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of courage and will, journalist Robert Whitaker carefully documents—and exposes—one of the worst racial massacres in American history. Over the course of several days, posses and federal troops gunned down more than one hundred men, women, and children. But that is just the beginning of this astonishing story. White authorities also arrested more than three hundred black farmers, and in trials that lasted only a few hours, all-white juries sentenced twelve of the union leaders to die in the electric chair. One of the juries returned a death verdict after two minutes of deliberation. All hope seemed lost, and then an extraordinary lawyer from Little Rock stepped forward: Scipio Africanus Jones. Jones, who’d been born a slave, joined forces with the NAACP to mount an appeal in which he argued that his clients’ constitutional rights to a fair trial had been violated. Never before had the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a criminal verdict in a state court because the proceedings had been unfair, so the state of Arkansas, confident of victory, had a carpenter build coffins for the men. We all know the names of the many legendary heroes that emerged from the civil rights movement: Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. among them. Whitaker’s important book commemorates a legal struggle, Moore v. Dempsey, that paved the way for that later remaking of our country, and tells too of a man, Scipio Africanus Jones, whose name surely deserves to be known by all Americans. From the Hardcover edition.