Monday, August 28, 2017

African Americans are an unsung part of Appalachia

African American coal miners in Lynch, Ky. (Photo by Lynch resident William Turner)
When someone is asked to imagine a person living in Appalachia, they'll likely imagine a white person. But the Appalachians have a significant African American population in certain places. The Washington Post's Emma Ockerman writes a fascinating piece about what it means to be an African American living in Appalachia, feeling "like a racial minority within a cultural minority." It's part of a Post series called About US on issues of identity in the United States.

Harlan County, Kentucky (Wikipedia)
Ockerman takes us to the coal-mining town of Lynch in Harlan County, Kentucky, where 200 of the 700 residents are African American. "If Lynch reflects the economic decline across the central Appalachian region, the outlook is worse for black Appalachians. There, black residents are twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree compared with their white peers. By a slimmer margin, they’re also more likely to experience poverty," Ockerman writes. But the black residents of Lynch say they love their hometown and want to be recognized and respected as both African Americans and Appalachians.

University of Kentucky professor and poet Frank X. Walker has a name for African Americans who live in coal country: "Affrilachian." He founded the Affrilachian Poets, which gives African American writers a space to talk about their identities at the intersection of race and geography. Affrilachian poet and West Virginia native Crystal Good told Ockerman that "It’s important now for the people of West Virginia to speak up and show the diversity of the region."


Unknown said...

I have asked students at UK for sometime for one of them to take on looking at the unique health problems of African Americans in Appalachia. Many were recruited to work in the mines during WW II and before. They are a unique and unusual, but incredibly interesting, group, racial minorities in a culturally deprived region.

Hilda Heady said...

Thank you for finally giving some honest recognition to non-white Appalachians. So much of our culture and heritage is dismissed because we are more than "96% white." Many African Americans native to Appalachia are/were coal miners in areas like Harlan County, KY and McDowell County, WV; however is your use of this photo not reinforcing a stereotype? There are many African American Appalachians who are non-coal miners. African Americans from our region have contributed significantly to American History in education, politics, literature, music, arts, and intellect such as 99 year old Kathryn Johnson a retired NASA mathematician. Her story and that of other African American women was belatedly recognized in "Hidden Figures" and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Harvard scholar, and of course, Booker T. Washington (who also was a coal miner and worked in the salt mines). Thanks for this article and please write more on this topics.