ISC Welcomes Dr. Alicestyne Turley as Director of Freedom Stories Project

(Jonesborough, Tenn.) – The International Storytelling Center (ISC), home to the world-renowned National Storytelling Festival and Storytelling Live! Teller-in-Residence series, welcomes Dr. Alicestyne Turley as director of the new Freedom Stories project.

Freedom Stories: Unearthing the African-American Heritage of Appalachia 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. Through Freedom Stories, ISC will implement a series of digital events that 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 multi-media resources that will be made accessible to a wide national audience.

Born in Hazard, Kentucky, prior to becoming an educator and public historian, Dr. Turley has worked in law enforcement, as a community organizer, and was the first African American administrator for the City of Toledo’s first woman mayor, Donna Owens. Also, the founding Director of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education at Berea College, Dr. Turley is a long-time scholar of history, political science, sociology and anthropology. She obtained a master’s degree from Mississippi State University in public policy and from the University of Kentucky in American History, where she remained and graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in American History. During that time, she also became the founding director of the Underground Railroad Research Institute at Georgetown College.

“Storytelling is as American as apple pie, and very much a part of African American and Appalachian life, culture and community. I am excited and feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the professional staff of the International Storytelling Center and professional Storytellers from around the country, to share African American Freedom Stories with other storytellers and the nation.” 

“We are honored to have Dr. Turley’s expertise and experience, as she 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.”

This Freedom Stories session includes digital discussion with leaders from the local, regional, and national level and will pose the question, “Do Black Lives Matter in Appalachia?”  The event will take place on July 3 at 1 p.m., streamed from the International Storytelling Center’s Facebook account and YouTube channel. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Turley and will begin with a story from Mama Linda Goss, founder of the National Association of Black Storytellers; followed by a discussion with Dr. William Turner, professor, writer, and speaker; Dr. Sandra Weissinger, Professor of Sociology and author from Southern Illinois University; Dr. Darin Waters, Assistant Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Asheville; Dr. Elwood Watson, author and Professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University; Alona Norwood, and community activist with Black Lives Matter movement in Appalachia. The session will be recorded and made available after the event via Facebook, YouTube, and ISC’s website.

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Discussions Grant, an award based on projects that bring the ideas and insights of the humanities to life for general audiences.  To learn more about the International Storytelling Center and its upcoming programming, please visit