International Storytelling Center Receives Major Grant to Highlight African American Heritage of Appalachia

(Jonesborough, Tenn.) – The International Storytelling Center (ISC), home to the world-renowned National Storytelling Festival and Storytelling Live! Teller-in-Residence series, has been awarded a $200,000 Humanities Discussions Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).The NEH Humanities Discussions Grant is awarded based on projects that bring the ideas and insights of the humanities to life for general audiences through in-person programming.

ISC will focus the funds on a new project, Freedom Stories: Unearthing the African-American Heritage of Appalachia. The project will illuminate the underappreciated and neglected aspects of African Americans in Appalachian history and highlight the role that face-to-face storytelling has played in both African and Appalachian cultures. “As the nation prepares to commemorate its 250th anniversary in 2026, N.E.H. is proud to help lay the foundations for public engagement with America’s past by funding projects that safeguard cultural heritage and advance our understanding of the events, ideas and people that have shaped our nation,” said Jon Parrish Peede, the endowment’s chairman.

Through Freedom Stories, ISC will implement a series of public events held throughout East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina. The events will marry performance and discussion, connecting prominent African American storytellers, humanities scholars, and community experts to trace the rich history of African Americans in Appalachia—from the first African arrivals in Appalachia, to the shaping of a distinct culture, to the struggles for freedom and equality. The project will also produce podcasts and other multi-media resources that will be accessible to a wider national audience.

As ISC’s National Storytelling Festival approaches its 50th anniversary, the project will also include an event at the Festival that celebrates African American history and highlights the Appalachian role in emancipation. The nation’s first newspaper devoted to the abolition of slavery, was printed in Jonesborough, TN, now headquarters of the International Storytelling Center and the National Storytelling Festival.

“We are honored to have the support of the NEH, an organization that values excellence in the humanities and understands the deep value of Freedom Stories,” said Kiran Singh Sirah, President of the ISC. “Our larger goal with this project is to support the ongoing collaboration between storytellers and humanities scholars that will lead to a deeper public appreciation of the roles that stories have played in struggles for freedom, equality and justice—bridging divides and strengthening our democracy. Storytelling connects with the lives of all people. It creates a shared experience. When we connect through stories we see our shared humanity, a key foundation for building a better world.”

To learn more about the International Storytelling Center and its upcoming programming, please visit