Exploring the Black Heritage of Appalachia
Freedom Stories is an International Storytelling Center (ISC) initiative that illuminates underappreciated, ignored, or neglected aspects of African American and Appalachian history. The program brings together the folk art of storytelling with humanities scholarship to guide the public through a deeper public appreciation of the roles that African American stories have played in struggles for freedom, equality, and justice in the Central Appalachian region. This project traces the history of African Americans over time, showing how the past has shaped the world we know today.
While originally conceived as a regional program based in Central Appalachia, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to go to an entirely online format. As such, we were able to reach far more participants than we ever thought possible, and make more resources available more quickly. The project’s multimedia toolkit serves as a resource for the nation and the world. We’re eager to highlight the diversity of our Appalachian communities, the complexities of Appalachian histories, and the role the region has played in US history—all of which has been subject to misunderstanding and stereotypes.
Supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Freedom Stories weaves together art, scholarship, and public discourse into an inclusive setting to address histories that have been previously silenced, as well as and our roles in the histories and silencing. The program’s interpretive goals are to foster a better appreciation of:
- the histories of Appalachia that intersect with the broader histories of the Black experience in the US;
- the contributions of African Americans to the economic, cultural and religious history of Appalachia;
- and the role that face-to-face storytelling has played in African American, Appalachian, and Black Appalachian communities.
Online discussions about African American heritage and Appalachian history include Black scholars, storytellers, thought leaders, and community experts. Each event features a live storytelling performance followed by a panel discussion on topics surrounding African American and Appalachian history, as well as life in the region today.
All Freedom Stories discussions are recorded and uploaded to the Freedom Stories Toolkit on the ISC website as part of the organization’s educational resources. The toolkit includes recorded performances, discussions, auxiliary resources such as discussion PowerPoints, information about each contributor, and links to external resources. More resources will be available in the future including curriculum guides, book lists, and other resources prepared by scholars and experts that organizations and individuals across the globe can use for facilitating similar community collaborations. We hope these materials will help these urgent humanities discussions reach larger audiences in and beyond Central Appalachia. Like a story, which often changes over time, the online multimedia toolkit will continue to grow and adapt in response to participants’ changing needs and demands.
Stories serve as powerful analytic tools that reflect on culture, helping us grapple with complex and difficult experiences in equitable and accessible ways. Freedom Stories has been designed to provide a foundation for this work through ongoing engagement and communication across communities, disciplines, and specializations that will contribute to informed, community-driven solutions to contemporary challenges.
We recognize this project does not represent the complete story of Black heritage in Appalachia. However, it is our attempt to open the door to these important narratives, and explore them more through storytelling. This is an ongoing voyage, and we invite you to use the resources in your own journey to a more complete understanding of who we are.
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With thanks and appreciation to our supporters
This Freedom Stories initiative is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. However, we continue to seek funds to support this type of work in all our programs. You can be part of this support by making a recurring or one-time donation to ISC’s operations. Your donation helps promote intercultural discourse and dialogue, equity, inclusion, and education. To give a gift, please click the banner below. Thank you.
For more information about Freedom Stories, please email us at FreedomStories@StorytellingCenter.net.