Unearthing the Black Heritage of Appalachia
Freedom Stories: Unearthing the Black Heritage of Appalachia is an ongoing series that marries performance and discussion, connecting prominent Black storytellers, humanities scholars, and community leaders with the public to trace this rich history and highlight the role that face-to-face storytelling has played in both African and Appalachian experience—from the first African arrivals in these mountains, to the shaping of a distinct culture, to the ongoing struggles for freedom and equality. This project is funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Join us for our sixth Freedom Stories event Melungeon: What’s in a Name? as we explore the history of a tri-racial ethnic group prevalent in Central Appalachia and the rural Southeastern United States known as Melungeons. Through performance and discussion with storyteller Lyn Ford, author and community scholar Wayne Winkler, and Anthony Mayle, Assistant Director of the Marietta College Office of Diversity and Inclusion, we will examine the unique history and meaning of Melungeon culture in Appalachia. This event will take place live on our ISC Facebook timeline.
Have you been able to attend a virtual Freedom Stories discussion? If so, we would appreciate your feedback! As part of this project, we are partnering with the National Humanities Alliance to document the impact of the Freedom Stories initiative. Your feedback is very important in this regard, so we invite you to complete the survey by clicking here. Responses are voluntary and confidential—but letting us know your thoughts is vital to helping us understand the impact of this program. Thank you!
Freedom Stories: Meet the Panelists.
Underground Railroad Panel
Reverend Robert Jones, Sr.
Reverend Robert Jones, Sr. is a native Detroiter and an inspirational storyteller and musician celebrating the history, humor and power of American Roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American traditional music is shared in live performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs. Reverend Jones has been performing for more than 30 years, entertaining and educating audiences of all ages in schools, colleges, libraries, union halls, prisons, churches and civil rights organizations across the nation. At the heart of his message is the belief that our cultural diversity tells a story that should celebrate, not just tolerate.
Slavery in Appalachia Panel
Frank X Walker
Poet/Professor, University of Kentucky
A native of Danville, Kentucky, Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. Walker has published ten collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, which was awarded an NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. His honors also include a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, the Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry in Appalachian Heritage, and the West Virginia Humanities Council’s Appalachian Heritage Award. He is also the author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award, and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, which he adapted for stage. His poetry was also dramatized for the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV. Walker coined the term Affrilachia and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets, whose story is documented in the film Coal Black Voices. The founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Walker serves as Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Slavery in Appalachia Panel
Dinah Mayo-Bobee, PhD
Eastern Tennessee State University, Johnson City
Dinah Mayo-Bobee is an Associate Professor of history at East Tennessee State University. She began developing and teaching college-level courses in 2002 and earned a Ph.D. in History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2007. Dr. Mayo-Bobee’s research focus is the early republic producing the book New England Federalists: Widening the Sectional Divide in Jeffersonian America (2017), as well as articles in The New England Quarterly and Slavery and Abolition. She has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses at East Tennessee State University since 2011.
Slavery in Appalachia Panel
Ilene Evans, Voices from the Earth
Thomas, West Virginia
Ilene Evans, M.A., is an inspired storyteller, performer and scholar who weaves music, poetry, dance and drama, to bring history alive. Ms. Evans creates and presents storytelling/theater programs and workshops/seminars that inform, educate and entertain audiences young and old. She has toured extensively across the US and internationally with her historical and original works. In 2009, Ms. Evans worked with staff from the US State Department to tour to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Columbia to share African American history and culture through arts, education, literature, and music. In 2015 she travelled to Ghana, and in 2018 to Marwa, Tanzania. She has received the Foundation of Freedom Award from Wheeling Jesuit University for her outstanding work. She is a Chautauqua scholar, developing presentations of historical women who have contributed significantly to African American culture; selected by the United States Embassy to share her work in the history and culture of African Americans, Ms.Evans’ historical storyteling presentations include Harriet Tubman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, Carrie Williams, Coralie Franklin Cook, Ethel Waters, Bessie Coleman, and Eslanda Robeson, and Elizabeth Catlett.
Slavery in Appalachia Panel
Executive Director, Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia
Anne G’Fellers-Mason is the Executive Director of the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. She has worked for the nonprofit for over ten years. Anne has a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and History from Mars Hill University, a Master of Arts in History from East Tennessee State University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from Hollins University. She puts her research and writing skills to use to craft original, history-based plays for the Heritage Alliance that are presented in schools, museums, and even in the Old Jonesborough Cemetery. Her cemetery play “A Spot On the Hill” has been held in the historic cemetery every year since 2014.
When she’s not researching or writing history, she publishes short stories and novels that are set in the Appalachian region. Her first novel The Summer Between was published in 2018 by Mountain Gap Books. She also has two, short stories included in Haints and Hollers: New Ghost Tales from Appalachia. Two of her ten-minute plays have been published in anthologies by YouthPLAYS. Anne lives in Jonesborough, TN with her spouse and their three, energetic cats.
Emancipation Saturday Panel
Dr. Cicero Fain
College of Southern Maryland
Dr. Fain is a third-generation black Huntingtonian. He is the recipient of the Carter G. Woodson Fellowship from Marshall University and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University. His teaching career includes positions at Marshall, Niagara University, and his current position as professor at the College of Southern Maryland as a faculty member and member of the Male Student of Color Mentee Program. He has authored several articles in peer-reviewed journals, including “Buffalo Soldier, Deserter, Criminal: The Remarkably Complicated Life of Charles Ringo,” in the Ohio Valley Journal, which is his current book project. His first book, Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story, was published in May 2019 by the University of Illinois Press. Fain has also been a contributing historian to: “It’s Time to Talk about West Virginia’s Slaves,” by Nicholas Brumfield, Expatalachians, January 29, 2019, slaves. Reviewer, “The African Blood Brotherhood in the West Virginia Coalfields,” West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies, April 2018. Reviewer, “Reading ‘The Storer Record:’ Education, Race, and John Brown in the Storer College Newspaper,” West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies, January 2017.
Emancipation Saturday Panel
William Isom, II Director of Community Outreach, East Tennessee PBS Knoxville
Black in Appalachia: https://www.blackinappalachia.org/
Community History Database: https://blackinappalachia.omeka.net/
Terran Young, Big Stone Gap, Virginia: firstname.lastname@example.org
William Isom II is a 6th generation East Tennessean and Director of Community Outreach at East Tennessee PBS in Knoxville. As the director of Black in Appalachia Project for PBS, he coordinates the project’s research, community database development, documentary film & photography production, oral history collection and educational events in conjunction with local residents. He is also the proud father of two boys, Devin & Isa. In his role of Director of Community Outreach, he teaches an after-school media training program with Knoxville high school students (PBS Newshour’s Smoky Mountain Youth Media), hosts free community screenings of Independent Lens documentaries, produces and directs short historical films under “Blacks in Appalachia Films.” That documentary series is aimed at preserving and raising up the narratives of Black history and culture in Central Appalachia.
Emancipation Saturday Panel
Jasmine Henderson, Recording Secretary of Umjoa, Unity in the Community, Johnson City, Tennessee
Jasmine Henderson serves as a board member and recording secretary for Umoja Unity Committee, a nonprofit organization focused on bridging diverse cultures through education and artistic presentations in East Tennessee. As a board member, Henderson has produced events and campaigns dedicated to celebrating diversity through education and artistic performance. A prolific community organizer and spoken word artist, Henderson has produced events and campaigns dedicated to celebrating diversity in Appalachia and beyond, helping to raise funds for the “Water for Flint” crisis and work with the NAACP. Most recently, she has partnered with the 400 Years of African American History Commission to develop a series entitled “An Evening with Our Elders,” a dinner conversation featuring local notable elders and their stories. Jasmine states, “I am hopeful that this project will encourage a much deeper appreciation of the diversity of Appalachia and the important role African Americans have played in American history. Henderson acknowledges the International Storytelling Center Freedom Stories Project is capable of helping connect African Americans in Appalachia realize with a larger American legacy.”
Henderson is supported in her community work by the Langston Education and Arts Development Centre (LEAD) where she has also performed as a spoken-word artist and community activist. As a spoken-word artist, Henderson has also performed at LEAD, the Pack Memorial Library in Asheville, North Carolina, the Yarn Exchange Radio Show in Jonesborough and several events at Eastern Tennessee State University. Jasmine is the daughter of Elizabethton, TN native, Bonnie Henderson and the twin of Jessica Henderson. While she was born and raised in Hampton, VA, she accredits Johnson City and former Washington County NAACP President, Ralph Davis for birthing her dedication to community action. She is still blooming and hopes to help others bloom as well.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
Mama Linda Goss, Co-Founder and former President
National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS).
Born in Alcoa, TN, Mama Linda Goss is the storyteller ambassador for the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD and the storyteller-in-residence at the Peale Center. Named the 2019 National Heritage Fellow, Goss is known nationally. In 2019, Goss was honored by the American Folklore Society which hosted a forum entitled, “Black Storytelling and Cultural Preservation: The Legacy of Mama Linda Goss.” “Well, Oh Well, Oh Well. It’s Storytelling Time!” is her recognized legendary call. As a forerunner of the Black Storytelling Movement in America during the 1970s, she rang her bells and told her stories on the streets of Washington, DC and Philadelphia. As a community folklorist and activist, she believes “Black Storytelling is a combination of the oral, the written, and the rhythms of our people. It bends, it curves, not separating spirit from the art.”
In 1982, Mother Mary Carter Smith (1919-2007) and Goss founded the “In the Tradition…” Annual National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference in Baltimore. The co-founders understood the need to institute an organizational structure to perpetuate African diasporic storytelling and began the Association for Black Storytellers in 1984 in Philadelphia, which developed into the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS). The annual festival continues today and has taken place in communities across the United States.
Goss is the author of seven books, including co-editing Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling with Marian E. Barnes and with an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Significant works appear in other anthologies, and she has two albums of storytelling with Smithsonian Folkways.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
Darin J. Waters, PhD
University of North Carolina, Asheville
Dr. Darin J. Waters is an Associate Professor of History and Director of Community Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Asheville where he teaches courses in American history, North Carolina History, Appalachian History, African American and Brazilian History. He also specializes in the history of race relations in both the United States and Latin America.
Dr. Waters received his doctorate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012. Dr. Waters’ research focuses on the history of African Americans in Asheville and Western North Carolina. More recently, Dr. Waters has written about issues surrounding the construction of the nation’s collective historical memory, exploring the impact that that memory has on the present. In his role as Special Assistant to the Chancellor of UNC Asheville, Dr. Waters works closely with community leaders and organizations to strengthen old and build new partnerships for and with the university. For the past three years, he has successfully organized three major conferences on the history of African Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia. The conference has grown to become a major annual event for the university. Dr. Waters is also the co-host of The Waters and Harvey Show, a weekly radio program that airs on WCQS the local NPR/Public radio station in Asheville.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
William H. Turner, PHD
Retired Distinguished Professor of Black and Appalachian Studies, Berea College. Dr. Turner is also a consultant to non-profits serving marginalized communities, and Director of Education for the Appalachian African American Cultural Center.
The fifth of ten children, Dr. Turner was born in 1946 in the coal town of Lynch, Kentucky. His grandfathers, father, four uncles and older brother were coal miners.
Bill has spent his professional career studying and working on behalf of marginalized communities, helping them create opportunities in the larger world while not abandoning their important cultural ties. He is best-known for his ground-breaking research on African-American communities in Appalachia, but Bill’s work is universal. As an academic and a consultant, he has studied economic systems and social structures in the urban South and burgeoning Latino communities in the Southwest. What he strives for on behalf of his clients and their communities is what we all want: prosperity, understanding and respect.
- Co-edited the path-breaking textbook Blacks in Appalachia and thematic essays on Black Appalachians in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.
- Research associate (1979-1991) to Roots author Alex Haley, who said, “Bill knows more about black people in the mountains of the South than anyone in the world.”
- Chair, Department of Social Sciences, Winston-Salem State University.
- Center for the Study of Civil Rights & Race Relations, Duke University. Ford Foundation-sponsored post-doctoral fellow. John Hope Franklin, Adviser.
- Formerly Dean of Arts and Sciences and Interim President, Kentucky State University, Vice President for Multicultural Affairs, University of Kentucky; and, Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador at Berea College.
- At the time of his retirement in late 2017, Turner was Research Scientist Leader at the Prairie View A&M University College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, where he led the collection and analysis of data on underserved Texans, the economically insecure, and long-term impoverished.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
Sandra Weissinger, PhD
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville
Dr. Weissinger is Associate Professor of Sociology at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. She also currently serves as Director for the Department of Sociology Graduate Program at Southern Illinois University where she was awarded the 2018 Emerson Teaching Award, Saint Louis, Missouri; and the 2018 recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award, Faculty Development Council, Southern Illinois University. Dr. Weissinger is an author, editor, and sought-after lecturer on issues of Race, Class and Gender in American society.
Dr. Sandra E. Weissinger is an internationally recognized scholar in the areas of inequality and violence. Specifically, her work seeks to uncover the various ways racism and inequality have usurped every aspect of society and important societal institutions. Though she uncovers the grim realities of our times, her work is not without hope. People make institutions. Therefore, people can change the marginalizing practices which shackle us all and leave us limited, wanting, and unable to reach our highest potentials.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
2020 Berea College Peace and Social Justice Major
Community Activist, Johnson City, TN
Alona Norwood, 21, was born in Elizabethton, TN. Alona currently resides in Johnson City, TN where she is active in community protests and continues her work with several grassroots organizations as a member of The New Generation Freedom Fighters. Alona grew up as the epitome of blackness, often as the only black student in classes or as a member of sports teams. She used her many hours of free time reading fiction to escape her feelings of isolation in the mountains. Upon attending Berea College, the first integrated, co-educational college in the South, Alona found her identity as an Afrolachian woman. Her classes challenged her and allowed her to break free of preconceived mental chains.
Graduating from Berea College with her undergraduate degree in Peace and Social Justice, Alona’s work as a community activist seeks racial and economic justice which require police and community reforms in the Tennessee Tri-City area. New Generation Freedom Fighters work directly with local leaders, which include Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock and Johnson City Chief of Police Karl Turner, to make communities in the Tennessee Tri-City region safer and more inclusive for all Tennessee residents.
Do Black Lives Matter Panel
Elwood Watson, PhD
East Tennessee State University, Johnson City
Dr. Elwood Watson is Professor of History, Gender Studies and African American Studies. He has published numerous articles about race, gender, higher education, popular culture and American culture in national newspapers and magazines and is a blogger for Diverse Education, Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, X/Y Online, The Black Past.org, Medium.com, New York Times, The North Star, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, US News and World Report and others. He has served as guest editor for a special issue of Masculinity in the 21st Century. Interactions: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Research (Spring 2016)
He is the author of several books, including: Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield) and Understanding The Humanities (Kendall Hunt, 2014). Race in America: Critical Essays (University of Chicago Press, 2019) and Today’s Man: essays on 21st Century Masculinity (Connection Victory Publishers, 2019). His edited collections include Performing American Masculinities: The 21st Century Man in Popular Culture (Indiana University Press,2011) Pimps, Wimps, Studs: Thugs and Gentlemen: Essays on Media Images of Masculinity (McFarland, 2009), The Oprah Phenomenon (University Press of Kentucky, 2007), Searching the Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2006), and There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities (McFarland , 2012) Generation X Professors Speak: Voices From Academia (Scarecrow Press, 2013), Overcoming Adversity in Academia: Stories From Generation X Professors,(University Press of America, 2014 and Beginning a Career in Academia: A Guide For Graduate Students of Color (Routledge Press, 2015). HBO Girls: The Awkward Politics of Gender, Race and Privilege (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015) and Violence Against Black Bodies: An Intersectional Analysis of How Black Lives Continue to Matter (Routledge Press, 2017).
Alicestyne Turley, PhD
Freedom Stories Coordinator, International Storytelling Center, Jonesborough, TN
Born in Hazard, Perry County, Kentucky, the fifth of ten children, Dr. Turley’s father, paternal and maternal grandfathers were Appalachian Alabama and Kentucky coal miners and entrepreneurs. Dr. Turley currently serves in the newly created position of Freedom Stories Coordinator for the International Storytelling Center, a position funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Prior to her time with the Storytelling Center, Dr. Turley served as an Assistant Professor of General Studies, African and African American Studies, Appalachian Studies and the founding director of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education at Berea College. As a Public Historian dedicated to the preservation of African American life, history, and culture, Dr. Turley has served in many capacities over the years in the preservation and interpretation of African American heritage sites nationally and internationally. She remains a Lifetime Member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History where she served as a member of the Restoration Committee for the Carter G. Woodson Home in Washington, DC; a current member of the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission; Board Member of the Kentucky African American Heritage Center. She has served as a member of UNESCO; the National Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Washington, DC; Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission; National Park Service Underground Railroad Advisory Committee; founder and director of the Georgetown College Underground Railroad Research Institute; Historian for the Kentucky Association of Blacks in Higher Education; scholar for the Kentucky Humanities Council; preservation work with Parks Canada for restoration of the Henry Bibb Underground Railroad church and community; as well as organizer of several academic conferences and Study Aboard classes on black history in Europe, the Caribbean, and North America.
Turley’s first book, Black Evangelicals and the Gospel of Freedom, detailing the birth of an Underground Railroad network beneath the Mason-Dixon Line, is expected in the fall of 2020.
With thanks and appreciation.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.
Because democracy demands wisdom, NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.
The National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS) promotes and perpetuates the art of Black storytelling–an art form which embodies the history, heritage, and culture of African Americans. Black storytellers educate and entertain through the Oral Tradition, which depicts and documents the African-American experience.
The Green McAdoo Cultural Center and Museum tells the compelling story of twelve high school students, who in 1956, braved threats of violence to attend Clinton High School, making it the first desegregated public high school in the South. Tennessee holds the honor of having the first black graduate from an integrated public high school in the South after the Brown vs Board of Education landmark decision.
The Appalachian African-American Cultural Center consists of a community of people dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the history, heritage, and culture of Black Appalachians, with particular focus on Lee County and Central Appalachia.
Black/White Dialogue is an open Facebook group has been created to assist in our communication efforts to share stories information, joys, and concerns about our ability to come together as a people desiring community, understanding, respect, and support for one another.
Black in Appalachia is working to highlight the history of African-Americans in the development of our region and its culture. Through research, local narratives, public engagement and exhibition, this project aims to raise the visibility and contributions of the Black communities of the Mountain South.
LEAD is an acronym for Langston Education and Arts Development, Inc. Founded by alumni of Langston High School in Johnson City, Tennessee along with many friends and supporters from the community, LEAD has as its mission to: preserve the integrity, legacy and historical value of Langston High School campus for the posterity and enhancement of the community.
The Town of Jonesborough understands the value of the arts in improving academic achievement in youth, enhancing understanding, tolerance, and self-esteem, as well as building relationships and community. The mission of the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington is to provide a comprehensive program through Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts which teaches various art skills to all participants through a quality program of instruction open to all segments of Jonesborough’s population.
The Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association (NETTA), chartered in 1977, is a non-profit tourism organization that serves and supports Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties in Tennessee, as well as portions of Southwest Virginia.
Our mission is to serve as a catalyst to enhance regional economic and community growth through the promotion and development of tourism.
The Heritage Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of the architectural, historical, and cultural heritage of our region and to providing educational experiences related to history and heritage for a wide range of audiences.
The Leadership and Civic Engagement team at ETSU is the one-stop shop for students, faculty, and staff to identify local organizations addressing some of our region’s most pressing needs. One can connect with them to attend special events, serve, log and track volunteer hours, and register to participate in campus-wide service initiatives.
For further inquiry and learning please visit – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture – Talking About Race Portal, The East Tennessee Public Broadcasting Station, Equal Justice Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and 400 Years of African American History Commission.