Home News Preserving Community: Black in Appalachia

Preserving Community: Black in Appalachia

by Alexis Barton

Since 2019, the Center for Studying Structures of Race (CSSR) has brought a unique perspective to the Roanoke community. Through their advocacy and research, the CSSR has challenged the narrative of how many in our community view the history of Roanoke College, including bringing to light the history of enslaved labor in the development of our campus. In a true reflection of the Center’s dedication to empowering underrepresented voices, the CSSR will be hosting two events for the community. For both events, the Center will be partnering with Black in Appalachia, a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving the history and contributions of Black folks in the Appalachian region. 

Black in Appalachia is a non-profit organization that “works in collaboration with public media, residents, university departments, libraries, archives, and community organizations” to uplift the history of Black folks in the region, according to their website. The organization challenges the narrative of Appalachia as a homogenous, all-white region through their community presentations, research, and social media outreach. Their work revolves largely around sharing the stories of Black Appalachians and highlighting communities where existing organizations are deeply connected to preserving Black culture within the region. Some of these communities include Pennington Gap, VA, Blackfork, OH, and Knoxville, TN. The organization also hosts a popular podcast under the same name, which serves a dual purpose of sharing stories of Black folks’ experience living in Appalachia and bringing to light some of the harsher realities of Black folks in the region. In a recent interview with The Post in Athens, OH, the organization’s Director William Isom II shared, “It’s almost like making a quilt… Oftentimes, these pieces of Black history are fragmented all over the place, and so a lot of our work is gathering these little scraps together to be able to tell these stories” (Imwall, 2022). 

The RC community will have the opportunity to hear directly from Isom II and researcher Alona Norwood about the process of piecing the quilt of Black Appalachia together in two on-campus events. The first will be a Community Archiving event on Tuesday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pickle Lounge. This event will highlight the history of the organization as well as give insight into the process of preserving the history of Black communities. The second event will be a Humanities Presentation on Wednesday, March 22 at 10:50 p.m. in West Hall Rm. 127 with Dr. Rosenthal’s HIST 209 class. This lecture will dive deeper into the methodology of interpreting and researching the history of Black Appalachia. 

For more information about these two events, reach out to Dr. Samantha Rosenthal – rosenthal@roanoke.edu. For more information about Black in Appalachia, head to their website, www.blackinappalachia.org or follow them on Instagram @black_in_appalachia.