Thursday, August 06, 2015

Project captures history and culture of African Americans in Appalachia in early 20th century

A Brown University student working on her sociology dissertation drew from her family history to create a project that examines the culture and history of the little known story of the tens of thousands of African Americans who lived in thriving coal country in Appalachia in the early 20th century. The Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project, created by Karida Brown, captures the stories of more than 200 African Americans who still call the region home.

Brown, who grew up in New York but whose parents were from Lynch, Ky., was interviewed this week about the project by Frank Stasio of North Carolina Public Radio. Brown, who hadn't been to Lynch in more than 10 years, told Stasio, "I went home, and I sat on my grandmother's porch, and I looked around, and all my childhood memories of this small community that meant so much to me as a child just starting flooding back, and I realized that that the town was the third the size of I remember it being when I was a child. And I said, 'This might not be here for the next generation,' and what can I do to reconstruct the history of not only this place but the people that once made it so beautiful."

Brown's goal was "to create a community archive, from the ground up, through the personal donations of African Americans who share a social heritage with the Appalachian region; to contribute to the proliferation of public knowledge by providing access to the materials donated to the archive; and to create an opportunity for interdisciplinary research collaborations amongst graduate students and faculty in the social sciences and humanities." An exhibit, "Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia," is currently on display at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. To listen to the radio interview, click here.

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