Resilience through Community in Eastern Kentucky

Article Written by Lilly Rice

National Weather Service, July 30, 2022

From July 25 through July 30, nine to twelve inches of rain resulted in a record-breaking flood in Breathitt, Letcher, and Knott County. Twelve counties became eligible for FEMA assistance, including Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Perry, Pike, Owsley, and Whitley Counties. Within these five of those counties, thirty-nine people died, including one during clean-up efforts. As of September 1, according to the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, which is based in Perry County, 1,722 homes had been destroyed or lost and 3,986 partial homes damaged.

Flooding in Eastern Kentucky is not a new obstacle for our communities. Annual spring floods are a defining characteristic of the region, bringing destruction and difficulty for development across hundreds of miles. Many of us who call Eastern Kentucky home ask, “Why do these natural disasters keep happening, and how can we better prepare ourselves for the next flooding event?” Although some questions are hard to explain, part of the answer involves how the region’s topography leads to severe flooding.

Although most of Kentucky mountains aren’t incredibly tall, they are intricate and full of communities tucked back into small, steep valleys called “hollows.” These hollers, as local people call them, typically have a water source like a creek or stream, which becomes dangerous during a flash flood. With the summer drought, the record-breaking rain couldn’t absorb the ground fast enough, and basins were overwhelmed.  All those streams are tributaries to larger streams, and as those fast-rising streams turned into raging rivers, many people were unable escape. Many communities were swept away by the water or trapped for days. Along with excess water and the oversaturation of the soil, missing trees and compact soil from resource over-extraction of timber and coal caused landslides that destroyed infrastructure vital for these small communities’ function. The combination of environmental factors caused communities and cities to be devastated beyond anything that the region has seen in recent history.

Residents bring supplies into West Perry Elementary School for flood survivors on Friday in Hazard, Ky. Michael Swensen photo from NPR Article

Within days of the devastation, vast resources were being compiled to alleviate the burden of this natural disaster for individual families, non-profits, and small businesses. The quick and compassionate response of the Eastern Kentucky community embodies Appalachian culture. Throughout Appalachia, you’ll find a theme of service to others as a cultural love language. Giving and receiving help is one of the ways that Appalachian communities become intertwined.

Although the flooding didn’t directly impact every Kentucky Appalachian county, a call to action went out across the area to step up and help where able. This eagerness to lend a helping hand quickly caught national attention. The benevolence continued through initiatives such as free farmers’ markets by the LEE initiative based in Louisville, KY, over $2,000,000 of grants distributed within a month of the flooding directly to people affected by the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky from donors across the nation, and benefit concerts such as Healing to the Holler by Appalachians for Appalachia and Perry County Community Fund to name a few. With people in the region helping everyone they could however they were able, this natural disaster demonstrate the strength and resilience instilled in Appalachian culture.

Photo from the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky

Local community support wasn’t the only aid that Eastern Kentucky received. Numerous regional, state and national agencies gave (and continue to give) support that will be essential to the recovery of the communities. President Joe Biden and Governor Andy Beshear visited some flooding sites to show their support. The Commonwealth of Kentucky set up the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund in the days following the initial flooding for anyone who wanted to donate to those impacted. As of August 18, the total donated amount was $6,715,099. According to Governor Beshear, all 39 funeral payments have been paid for with a total of $390,000. By August 26, Kentucky lawmakers had passed a $213 million aid package for EKY flooding relief. As of August 26, more than $42 million in grants have been approved under the national FEMA individuals and Households Program for 5,267 households. Applicants have been encouraged to reapply if they don’t receive funds initially, and more grants are expected to be allocated directly to those impacted by the flooding.

Other than the financial assistance, plenty of volunteers across the nation have traveled to EKY to support our communities in their time of need. The overwhelming support of our national community will be remembered by the many Appalachians, including myself, who pride themselves on their Appalachian values of community and benevolence.

Yet much work remains to be done to replace decades of investment in homes, businesses, and infrastructure such as bridges and schools.  People in the region will see that work gets done.

As the Water Rises

Article Written by Charity Gilbert

As a young child, I recall the times my Mama told me to be careful not to go down to the creek. “If you can’t see the bottom, don’t go in it or you might drown.” She’d say.

Charity and her two brothers helping out in the garden when they were kids

This was in the small community of Fogertown, Kentucky. I was raised on a tobacco farm where our family had rented homes and helped to work the land. I recall the rain. Almost every time it rained, the bridge leading out of our holler would flood, and we’d get to miss school for the day. We’d go down to the edge of where the muddy water had spread itself out across the “bottom”, as we called it. I recall seeing that muddy, cloudy water after the rain. Mother warned us not to touch that water, as we didn’t know what was in it. We often took pictures of the flooding, as we were trapped. We lived up high, though, and the water would never reach us.

Photograph of Charity’s Granny and Papaw Gilbert

In my teenage years, we moved to Oneida, Kentucky, to be closer to my granny. It was an adjustment, but I felt more at home in Oneida than I ever had. The connection I felt to that land and the people there was something I still can’t explain. And at our new home, it didn’t flood. There was a small creek that ran all the way down the holler. I recall a rock I would sit on, up in the holler. I’d put my feet down in the water and pull out my guitar. That was my spot. I wrote many of my favorite songs there, sitting by the creek.

I came to Berea to go to college, and stayed to work this summer. I recall when the flooding happened. I was scrolling on Facebook when I saw photos of the water in Whitesburg. Appalshop was halfway underwater. The pit in my stomach was something I hadn’t felt very often in my life. I first thought of all the history that was probably lost. Then came the concern for the people who were affected. And I suddenly wondered how Oneida was. I call my parents every day, and for the previous day, I hadn’t been able to. I thought it was fine though, since, years prior, we had a pet who chewed into our telephone line a bit. Now, when it rains, the water gets in the lines and I can’t call home for a few days. I assumed that was the case. But then I realized no one in Oneida had made any posts on Facebook or online for the last day or so, which concerned me. I made a post asking friends if they knew how things were in Oneida. I expected flooding there but not specifically on Bullskin, where my family lives. I looked at the post a few hours later to find comments.

One read: “Last I heard it was flooded on Bullskin pretty bad. Granny’s yard is gone. They closed down Bullskin right at Panco.” (Panco is the church I go to when I’m back home.)

It was a few more days before I could call home again, but I was so glad to hear from my family. They were doing well, aside from having lost a refrigerator full of food due to not having electricity to keep it good. It took a full month for their gas to get fixed, so they were cooking on a little electric hot plate all the way up until the last week of August. The gas meter had been pulled from the ground as an impact of the flooding. The thing about this flood wasn’t the depth, it was the speed at which it came down. It came in the night and hit so hard and fast that the water just rushed out of the hollers into the lowest place it could go, bringing down trees and pieces of the hills with it. The lowest place for it to go around my home was the holler across from ours. Our road was up higher,Map of NE Clay County but the one across from ours went down into a field and then back into the holler. My dad had a friend who lived in a small house/shack there. The man came up to our house and told him that he woke up surrounded by water. He had to bust the window to escape and worried about his dog, but thankfully found it. The little house is no longer standing there.

An older man who lived back in that holler sadly passed away due to the flooding and another person passed in Oneida as well. The roads had completely caved inward in a few places. And it was soon apparent that while our community had been hit hard, many others had it worse. Thinking about that destruction and loss was devastating.

A week later, I was able to visit home. The mudslides that had taken trees and bits of the hills left me shocked, but it was clear that I had missed the worst of it. My Granny’s creek had rerouted, and her little driveway is gone, leaving no way to get into her yard by vehicle. The creek where I wrote songs and watched the minnows was mostly dried up because it had widened. It must have had a blockage way up in the holler. The roads were already fixed, which blew my mind.

When I went home most recently, the first weekend of September, the spring that has been a source of clear, refreshing water had a new sign beside it. When I asked my dad about the sign, he said that the water was now contaminated with E. coli, he believes as a result of the heavy flooding. People used to stop there almost every time you’d go by it, filling up jugs of water. Now it’s contaminated and can’t be used anymore.

Charity’s Papaw Philpot next to the field where they’d plant tobacco when she was growing up.

There was some good from the flooding, though. That is, community. It made me think about how quickly people come to help in times of crisis. As we got to my house, I realized that for many in our community, similar situations are just a part of life. While some did lose their homes and some their lives in some of the hollers, the food disparities and the “make do” attitude was just how you lived. It is how my family has lived for all of my life. Of course, it was stressful, but the disparities already present in those areas didn’t feel much different than this. It was just a slightly different roadblock.

The outsiders who came in to help saw the poverty and the way we lived, and many thought it was a result of the flooding, but a good portion of it was just the struggle of living in such a rural area with very little opportunity and few resources. Something as simple as needing a new car part can throw off everything when you live in a poor community. These people are adaptable, tough, and generous. While I’m proud to be a part of this community of tough individuals who do what they can to make it work, I wish there was more security.

I’m thankful that people stepped up to help the community in a time of struggle. There are those in the community who do that daily. It’s in the form of the congregation at Brutus Baptist church, who, even before the flooding ever happened, would come around to the community once a week and give a meal to everyone. It’s also in the form of Jerry Rice, the preacher from Panco Community Church, who, to most outsiders and even those who know him well, seems a bit crazy. He’s someone who dreams big when it comes to the community and he will make things happen if he sets his mind to it. Members of the church are known to help out the community with yard work, housing repairs, and whatever is needed when they are able. And if you go on down the road, there is another Pastor, Brad Stevens from Church of God Worship Center, who made sure people were safe in the time of the flooding. I could also name countless individuals who have helped during this time of need in the community, but I will refrain from doing so.

As rebuilding continues, I hope we can all take note about how these communities have banded together to help each other. No matter how muddy the water, the people in Eastern Kentucky are strong, adaptable, and willing to reach out a hand to their neighbor when times are hard or when the water starts rising.

Missy n’ Mammy: The complexities found in Anna Ernberg’s intentions regarding the Appalachian Craft Revival

Weatherford Hammond Award Winning Paper by Takudzwa Madvuta 

While breadlines elongated perpetually during the 1930s, the proliferation of the Mammy stereotypes and the Appalachian Craft Revival were at their peaks. The production of Missy n’ Mammy by the Fireside industries under the leadership of Anna Ernberg, circa the late 1930s, represents these peaks (Figure 1).[1] The first time I saw Missy n’ Mammy was at an exhibit by the Appalachian Studies’ Collection Center with a group of weavers. When everyone saw the doll, a plethora of vulgar comments came out from the weavers, complaining about how insensitive this rag doll was to the African American population.

Despite feeling those emotions as well, I wondered if I would react the same had I been steeped in the visual culture of the 1930s. I also wondered if I would have succumbed to the visual culture that demanded derogatory images like Missy n’ Mammy. In this paper, I argue that Anna Ernberg’s Swedish background, Appalachian Craft Revival, and visual culture influenced Ernberg’s production of Missy n’ Mammy during the 1930s, challenging her feminist efforts. To progress this argument, I asked the following questions. What did the Mammy-stereotyped doll mean for black and white female bodies, and did the production of the Miss n’ Mammy monumentalize this meaning? How influential were the demands of the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture on Ernberg’s production of Missy n’ Mammy, did it also represent the influence of her peers?

At first glance, the production of the Missy n’ Mammy confirmed the efforts of the Appalachian Craft Revival, which sought to promote the restoration of lost colonial art, while increasing the self-efficacy of the craft artists who made these artworks. It was a lament from Lost Cause preservers who feared that the culture of the second wave of western Europeans would taint lost colonial art. [2] The Lost Cause was a belief adopted after the civil war, painting the Confederates’ war efforts as brave and honorable.[3] This belief praised Southern lifestyle and culture before the civil war, claiming that slaves were content with plantation life. Thus, Missy n’ Mammy achieved the goals of the Appalachian Craft Revival by providing jobs for the weavers who made these dolls and by perpetuating a stereotype connected with the colonial Mammy and the Southern Belle.[4]

The Southern Belle was a stereotype used for southern women whose upper socioeconomic class, was identified by their trendy dressing, sexual innocence, and passion.[5] Even though it developed in the 1850’s, its proclivity to female suppression is seen in the 1930s in fictional characters like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the wind film.[6] It is also seen in the Missy side of Missy n’ Mammy as they both are fashionable and do not suggest sexual immorality.[7] Both are symbols of the Lost Cause rhetoric that promoted plantation life.

Through the inclusion of the Missy side, Missy n’ Mammy symbolizes unity between black and white women striving to gain rights like equal pay. However, the difference between the treatments of the doll sides leans towards the class difference between black and white women. The juxtaposition of the Missy’s blue-eyes and white skin, suggesting its Anglo-Saxon ancestry, against the Mammy’s bulging eyes and black skin, proclaiming the demeaning Mammy stereotype, showcase class difference.[8] Moreover, the types of headwear worn by the dolls signify this class difference. While the Missy side wears a decorated green bonnet, signifying the Southern Belle, the Mammy wears a kerchief, indicative of domestic worker uniform at the time.[9]

The use of Missy n’ Mammy as a nurturing teacher and a storytelling assistant sheds light on the reasons why black women could not pass through the line that class differences had created.[10] As benign as it was to teach children to take care of objects living and non-living, the class difference taught by dolls like Missy n’ Mammy progressed from generation to generation. It is this act of taking care of Missy n’ Mammy, that fed the faithful slave rhetoric found in the Lost Cause doctrine that claimed that the Confederacy’s reasons to enter the civil war were just and heroic.

This faithful slave rhetoric rose to fame during the Great Depression and the Jim Crow eras when the Southerners’ fetish of an imagined past filled with content and faithful slaves was at its peak.[11] This nostalgia was translated to black domestic subservience as represented by Missy n’ Mammy, resulting in generations of white girls who would later want a Mammy of their own. To the generation of black girls whose mothers wore this stereotype as domestic workers, it deflated their hopes of becoming more than just a Mammy in a country that was hungry for them.[12] However, for others, it motivated them to become more than just a stereotyped domestic worker, as seen in the actress Hattie McDaniel.[13]

As Missy n’ Mammy’s contemporary, Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning performance as Mammy in the film Gone with the wind serves as a living monument to the Lost Cause doctrine that supported the “faithful servant” rhetoric.[14] Although her mother’s job as a domestic worker motivated her to pursue entertainment, the Mammy stereotype followed her in Gone with the wind (Figure 2). However, even after following her, McDaniel’s reinterpretation of the Mammy stereotype as:

… an opportunity to glorify Negro womanhood-not the modern, stream-lined type of Negro woman who attends teas and concerts in ermine and mink- but the type of Negro of the period which gave us Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Charity Still. The brave, efficient, hard-working type of womanhood which has built a race, mothered our Booker T. Washington, George W. Carver, Robert Moton, and Mary McLeod Bethune. So, you see, the mothers of that era must have had something in them to produce men and women of such caliber.[15]

Unlike Hattie McDaniel, Missy n’ Mammy’s ornate contemporaries only had one dominant interpretation of the Mammy stereotype, which fueled white paternalism towards black domestic women. Mammy-stereotyped objects like Aunt Jemima pancake flour, Fun-To-Wash, Ole Mammy shortening, conjured black servitude nostalgia, giving the white employer the right to be paternalistic toward black domestic women (Figure 3).[16] Prevalent at the time, the employers paid their black domestic workers with clothes or food instead of money, believing that money would disturb the master-faithful servant relationship that was in their imagination.  Even poverty-stricken white families sacrificed their possessions for black domestic workers to feed their paternalistic ambitions and to maintain social status in the community.[17]

The proliferation of the Mammy stereotype in a society where black and white people excused these derogatory images as mediums to educate the viewer of different black identities is not shocking.[18] Although white people mostly imposed the black stereotypes, African American critics like W.E. Du Bois praised Mammy-stereotyped paintings like Palmer Hayden’s Midsummer nights in Harlem for their New Negro representation.  Thus, Missy n’ Mammy perpetuated numbness to the harmful effect of these stereotypes on black self-perception.

The presence of such a doll in an interracial school like Berea College, during President Frost’s era, is also not startling as the 1904 Day Law was signed into the Commonwealth of Kentucky laws prohibiting interracial education in Kentucky schools. This act disrupted the Berea’s commitment to educating all races, resulting in its segregation to form the Lincoln Institute, which allowed the college to continue providing education to all races.[19] It was an act that Thus, the absence of African Americans licensed the production of such stereotypes. Not only did Fireside industries produce Missy n’ Mammy, but Ernberg also led the women into making other similar dolls like Mammy, Dinah, Sambo, and Petunia (Fig 4&5). Unlike Missy n’ Mammy, these dolls received more demeaning descriptions in the catalogs, like Dinah’s “fat and happy” description. Missy n’ Mammy was also unique in that it had the Missy side, which could explain why the doll’s description was not as harsh, as it could have been an effort to respect the Missy side.[20]

The production and sale of Missy n’ Mammy and her contemporaries would not have been possible without the leadership of Anna Ernberg.  Ernberg moved from Sweden to the U.S. with her husband, Hjalmar Ernberg, and two sons in 1898 (Fig 6). When Ernberg arrived in New York, her prior experience from the Normal School of Sweden and Art and Sloyd School, propelled her to become a textile and hand weaving teacher at the Pratt Institute and later Teachers College of Columbia University until 1911.[21] Ernberg was hired by William G. Frost as the Director of Berea College’s Fireside Industries from 1911 to 1936 and died on April 1, 1940, from an extended heart illness.

Frost’s hiring of Ernberg stems from his prioritization of Appalachian culture and the welfare of its people, resulting in the Fireside industries, which helped provide jobs and income to Appalachian women.[22] Thus, Frost wanted a leader who had the passion, skill, market knowledge, and a business-mind, resulting in the hiring of Ernberg.[23] Due to the influx of Swedish immigrant-weavers like Ernberg, Frost advised Ernberg only to teach Appalachian women regional weaving patterns and products, including defamatory images like Missy n’ Mammy.[24]

Thus, Ernberg’s participation in the production of Missy n’ Mammy suggests her adaptation to the Appalachian visual culture, which President Frost fostered. Ernberg could have adapted to Frost’s regionalism to keep the Fireside Industries in business.[25] Thus, Frost’s artistic suppression of Ernberg’s Swedish was an influence in the production of Missy n’ Mammy.

However true this might be, as the Director of the Fireside industries, Ernberg had the right to choose which type of lost colonial art she would design into a product.[26] Ernberg knew of the Berea College’s interracial precepts and thus had the authority to choose whether to honor these precepts or deface them. There is also no correspondence between President Frost and Ernberg that suggests that Frost mandated Ernberg’s decision to make these derogatory images.

Missy n’ Mammy signifies Anna Ernberg’s cognitive dissonance, as seen on the Missy side that symbolizes her efforts to progress the estate of unemployed Appalachian women and on the Mammy side, which shows how she participated in womanhood minstrelsy.[27] To the onlooker, Ernberg fought women’s rights by providing jobs for community women and students. As a spokesman, Ernberg marketed products and the need for donations through speeches and articles distributed to buyers on her sales trips, to keep the weavers employed.[28] As a leader, she taught other women how to initiate and manage their weaving schools like Lucy Morgan, a student who started the Penland School of Crafts.[29] As a designer, Ernberg designed a small hand loom in 1913, inspiring other women’s creativity.[30] Overall, Ernberg is viewed as a champion for women’s rights.

Nevertheless, when Ernberg’s studio working environment and marketing schemes are considered in addition to the production of stereotyped dolls like Missy n’ Mammy, this view is challenged. Ernberg was known for being uncooperative to both her employers and employees, and even though this kept her production levels high, her employees can attest to a toxic working environment.[31] One example is an incident where Ernberg replaced Julia Smith’s weaving job after the employee begged her to save her job after her vacation. From this incident, Smith’s replacement could have been caused by Ernberg’s need to keep production levels high.[32] However, if this was the case, Ernberg should have welcomed Smith back after the break, which she did not.

Additionally, Ernberg’s marketing scheme often portrayed Appalachian women as ignorant and weak, to gain buyers who bought Fireside products to protect colonial tradition from mingling with immigrant culture. Ernberg’s articles like They have eyes and see not, they have ears but do hear not, and news articles confirmed her condescending view of the Appalachians, which she claims to have made “more American” (Fig 7).[33] Economically, the Fireside industry products would not have high sales, without this demeaning portrayal’s appeal to lost cause preservers. This thought might be relevant yet, Ernberg continued to depict Appalachian women as uneducated and poor well after the Fireside industries had become stable enough to deserve a better portrayal.[34]

Missy n’ Mammy also represents the influence of Enberg’s peers who furthered the Appalachian Craft Revival either for the restoration of lost colonial art or their capitalistic interests. One of Ernberg’s peers who progressed the Appalachian Craft revival for the restoration of lost colonial art was Eleonor Roosevelt, who, like Ernberg, was the leader of craft programs. Together with her co-founders Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, Roosevelt established a furniture-making shop called Val-Kill Industries in 1926 and later supervised the Arthurdale experiment.[35] Just like Ernberg, Roosevelt fought for the inclusion of government-funded craft programs, despite the government’s suspicion of the presence of socialism in these programs.[36] Unlike Ernberg, Roosevelt supported black artist and their works instead of making stereotyped images of them.[37]

Anna Ernberg 1911

The lost cause preservers often were at odds with Ernberg’s peers who prioritized the profitability of the crafts sold, representing Ernberg’s capitalistic ambitions. Although Ernberg was not a businesswoman by training, she knew how to appeal to the market just like her peers.[38] These intentions were also present in the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild leaders like Isadora Williams, who emphasized the making of craft products “like the person who buys it likes it.”[39]  Thus, Ernberg’s peers influenced her production of dolls like Missy n’ Mammy as the doll appealed to the restoration of lost colonial art and capitalistic ambitions.

Missy n’ Mammy accomplishes the goals of organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) as they petitioned for a Mammy monument in Washington, D.C.[40] Although the UDC’s requests managed to reach the government, they were followed by backlashes from leaders like Carter G. Woodson. Woodson resented the proposed monument for insulting the African American population and undermining the struggle that colonial Mammies had to endure.[41] Later in 1955, black domestic women would retaliate through demonstrations like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, demanding a shift from the 1930s master-faithful servant relationship to an employer-employee relationship.[42]  Despite all these efforts, the production of Missy n’ Mammy made this monument more accessible to the public as people did not need to go to Washington, D.C, to see Mammy when they had her in their children’s drawers and toy boxes.

  Thus, Anna Ernberg’s immigrant status is ignored as an underlying factor in the production of Missy n’ Mammy, based on the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture’s influence on this production. However, Ernberg’s immigrant status plays a significant role in her complacency to these stereotypes, as seen when she says the following in an interview in 1931:

It is self-evident that Negroes don’t mix with whites. A Negroe is like a child. If he is intelligent, he has quite a lot of white blood in his vein. You live separated from the Negroes.  In a country where there are very few Negroes, it wouldn’t be so, but in America, there are so many.[43]

Through this saying, the main root of Enberg’s intentions regarding the production of Missy n’ Mammy is showcased. To Ernberg, Missy n’ Mammy did not seem like a problem that needed addressing as she believed that black people would be passive to these stereotypes, just like children.[44] Even if Ernberg wanted to address the issue surrounding those stereotypes, her separation from black people, prevented such conversations.[45]

Without Jim Crow laws that promoted segregation like the Day law, Anna Ernberg would not have adapted well to a life where there were “so many” black people.[46] Without this adaptation, the influence that the visual culture and the Appalachian Craft Revival had on Ernberg would not have been as effective in persuading her to make these derogatory images. Ernberg’s life coming from Sweden, where there were “very few Negroes,” would not have adapted to a desegregated Berea College, possibly preventing the production of Missy n’ Mammy.[47]

The Mammy stereotype and its prototypes were devices used to demean the African American population throughout the Jim Crow Era. Missy n’ Mammy represented these devices, revealing the influence of visual culture, peers, and the Appalachian Craft Revival on the Swedish identity of Anna Ernberg. Missy n’ Mammy ignored the struggles that black domestic workers, and later their granddaughters, faced, perpetuating female class differences, Lost cause doctrine, and colonial art preservation. The doll signified Ernberg’s dilemma caused by her adaptation to visual culture and the Appalachian Craft Revival, where her capitalist and colonial-art preservation ambitions clashed against her feminist efforts. Conversely, this adaptation resulted in Ernberg’s role as a contributor to the Appalachian Craft Revival and visual culture. Therefore, even though the influence of visual culture and Appalachian Culture seems to absolve Anna Ernberg from her participation in black female minstrelsy, her Swedish background enabled this influence, resulting in the debasement of African American culture and the questioning of her feminist efforts.


Adams, Ellen. “Tales from the collection at the Alice T. Miner Museum: ‘From Kentucky to Chazy: Anna Ernberg and the Berea Fireside Industries’.” Alice T. Miner Museum, 2016. March 24, 2020.

Alvic, Philis. “Berea College and Fireside Industries.” In Weavers of the Southern Highlands, edited by University Press of Kentucky 35-55. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.

[Item 19/ Folder 10/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 5.28: Belknap Carrol to Berea College Student Industries, 5 June 1933. Needlecraft-Report and Correspondence, Price lists, Labels, 1. Berea: Administrative Divisions: Student Industries, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

[Item 11/ Ernberg/ Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Broomfield, Sarah. Anna Ernberg: Appalachian Crafts Revival Artist/ Swedish Artist (WST/HIS 155). Berea: Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 8/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. An appeal to the women of America. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 16/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. They have eyes and see not, and ears and hear not. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[Item 24/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Ernberg, Anna. Ruskin’s ideal for humble homes. Berea: Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2016.

[ SC-CT-845-018], Evans Ellen, Smith Julia, interviewed by Phillis Alvic. Berea Weaving Oral History Collection. Berea College Special Collections & Archives, April 12, 1995.


Grieve, Victoria M. “Work That Satisfies the Creative Instinct.” Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arts and Crafts.” Winterthur Portfolio 42, no. 2/3 (2008): 159-82. Accessed March 8, 2020. DOI:10.1086/589595.

[Item 24/Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: Marzolf, Marion. They came, they saw, they wove, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky. 2016

McDaniel, Hattie. Interview by Wings over Jordan. “Speech for Sunday, July 7, 1940 broadcast of Wings Over Jordan for Miss Hattie McDaniel, Los Angeles California/Negro Star of Gone with the Wind and winner of the 1939 Academy Motion Picture Award for the best-supporting actress.” Wings over Jordan. July 7, 1940. Quoted in Micki McElya, “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM,” in Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, Cambridge, Massachusetts: London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007.

McElya, Micki. “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM.” In Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, 207-52. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007. Accessed March 5, 2020.

Missy n’ Mammy Doll: 1930-; 2018.35.1, Appalachian Studies Technology Collection, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky.

[Item 23 /Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: Nadja. “I, A Swedish Immigrant. Make American more American.” Stockholms Tidningen. Translated by Marion Marzolf and Elisabet Lindqvist, December 9, 1931. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.

[Item 25/ Folder 11/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 5.28: “Needlecraft of Berea College Student Industries, Cuddle Toys… for Little Folks!! Other Clever Needle Products.” Berea: Administrative Divisions: Student Industries, Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

[Item 29/ Folder 11/ Series 4, Box 1], RG 05/5.28:  Needlecraft of Berea College Student Industries, Cuddle Toys… for Little Folks!! Other Clever Needle Products. Berea: Berea Special Collections and Archives, 2018.

Petty, Miriam J. “Hattie McDaniel: ‘Landmark of an Era.’” In Stealing the Show: African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood, 27-71. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Accessed March 23, 2020.

Pilgrim, David. “The Mammy Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Ferris State University. 2012, April 9, 2020,

Quisenberry, Rosetta. “Aunt Jemima.” A Saga of the Black Woman Part 2, Arturo Alonzo, Cover page. Lexington, KY: Host Communication, 2003.

Quisenberry, Rosetta. “An Early Breakfast on a Dinah.” A Saga of the Black Woman Part 2, Arturo Alonzo, Cover page. Lexington, KY: Host Communication, 2003.

Reef, Catherine. “The Youth of a New Nation:1790-1850” in Childhood in America, 1-24. New York: Facts on File. Inc, 2002.

Sibande, Mary. Interview by the British Museum. A Reversed Retrogress: Mary Sibande. YouTube, Nov 25, 2016.

Seidel, Kathryn. “The Southern Belle as an Antebellum Ideal.” In The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from The Southern Quarterly. Edited by Douglas Chambers, Kenneth Watson, Prenshaw Whitman, Alexander Walker, Alfred Bendixen, David Berry, and Augustus Burns et al. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2020. DOI:10.2307/j.ctt24hxzz.11.

[Item 8 /Ernberg/Box 21], RG 09/9.00: Faculty and Staff Records: “Revives Colonial Industry in Mountain of Kentucky.” Unidentified newspaper. 24 March 1915. Berea College Special Collection and Archives. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.

[Item 10/ Folder 13A/ Series 6.1, Box 1], RG 5.28: Vaughn Marshall to President Frost, 23 April 1920. Fireside Industries:  Correspondence, Other Regarding Personnel, hiring at Fireside Industries by Anna Ernberg. Berea College Special Collections and Archives, 2018, 1.

Williams, Isadora, “Miss Isadora Williams Honored for Citizenship.” Highland Highlights, Feb 16, 1965.  Quoted in Jane S. Becker, “The Southern Highland Handicraft Guild,” in Selling Tradition, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998, 76-77.

Williams, David. “Lost Cause Religion.” In The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion, edited by Inscoe John C., 194-97. University of Georgia Press, 2011. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Wilson, Shannon, William Goodell Frost: Race and Region. Berea College Special Collections and Archives. 2017, March 20, 2020.

Wolfskill, Phoebe. “Caricature and the New Negro in the Work of Archibald Motley Jr. and Palmer Hayden.” The Art Bulletin 91, no. 3 (2009): 343-65. Accessed March 5, 2020.

Woodson, Carter. “The Negro Washerwomen, A Vanishing Figure.” FNH 15, no. 3. July 1930. Quoted in McElya, Micki. “CONFRONTING THE MAMMY PROBLEM.” In Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, 207-52. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2007. Accessed March 5, 2020.



Most of the primary sources related to Anna Ernberg and the Weaving Department at the time were supplied by the Hutchins Library’s Special Collections & Archives.


Hannah’s Reflections on Ezell

by Hannah From

When my grandfather came to this land he saw potential.
He saw the tall trees and fertile soil
The rolling hills
And clear waters flowing

He built a cabin
And cut that lumber, sending it down stream
To be masts of the ships sailin’ for some far off land


The trees were cut
And that deep, dark soil ran down the mountain side
Leaving behind just red clay
It’ll choke the life out of anything you try and plant

Nothing grows there
Just red clay
Like a scar on the hillside
But he made do
Sent his children to work good jobs
He knew they’d not have to worry as hard as he had

And he smiled
He knew he’d done good

When my father came to this land he saw potential.
Where his father hadn’t seen
Those black diamonds below the surface
“Black diamonds… black diamonds”

He built himself a house
Stripped that land for all he could
Washing and wishing
Poisoning up our spring water
Can’t use the well anymore

The land was ripped up and moved
And put back and re-molded
Not the same though
Like a scar on the hillside

But he made do
Sent his children to good schools
He knew they’d not have to work as hard as he had

And he smiled
He knew he’d done good

When I came to this land I saw potential.
Oh what beautiful potential I see.
It’ll never be the same again
And left behinds

But the birds still sing,
The mourning dove still weeps
The crow caws, the Chick-a-Dees chatter
Their notes all the way down
Like a musical patchwork across the hillside

It takes time to mend what has been broken.
By wishing,
Soil can’t become fertile
Trees can’t grow tall
Water doesn’t run clear
But I’ll make do

So when the time comes I’ll send my own children out into the world
They’ll know what it means to tend
And care
And hope and wish
And I’ll smile
And know

I’ve done good.

Note about the poem

The “Black diamonds… black diamonds” part is from a the poem “Black Diamonds” by Crystal Good. She’s a fantastic West Virginia poet.

The poem isn’t a direct reflection of the class but it was something I thought of when I was taking the class and watching the play. I wrote snippets of it in my journal and I finally pieced it all together at the end. I wrote it to be spoken because that’s how I write. I hope it comes across well when being read.

The poem is loosely based off the story to my mother’s side of the family. Ezell and them have a similar fate, unfortunately their homestead and roots were lost forever. No one came back to tend and listen to the land.


I come from a family of storytellers and land lovers. I was taught from an early age the importance of story and the impact it can have on the listener and the teller alike.

This class and this experience re-affirmed what I hope to do when I graduate. I want to help people through the arts, do a bit of community story activism myself. I also want to be about to help people tell their own stories because when people start talking to one another they often find we’re a lot more similar than we’d originally perceived.

For the convo production I played the fox and the full Ezell performance I was a musician sprinkled in the woods.

Important and memorable moments in this class:

When we (the class) first started to bond to one another. For me this was probably somewhere between the movement workshop and the class where we found our dogs. We all got to be a little silly together and I think this made all of us band together which made putting on the convo and production much easier.

When I was in the woods playing music. (I loved playing music in general but this moment stood out to me in particular.) I think it was the second or third show and I was in the woods standing among the trees. I think I was playing just a little melody and looking at the light and how it was coming through the trees. It was quite beautiful. I was looking around when I saw the shadow of a bird gliding across the ground. I looked up and saw a hawk riding the breeze. It was a serene moment and I think it helped set the mood for the rest of my woodland playing.

When we got to share stories together. Check-ins in class were always wonderful. I loved hearing about all of the hard and the humorous moments of everyone’s days. We talked about music and movies as well as deep diving and problems we didn’t think we’d get out of.

Being able to finally see and experience the full Ezell experience made me cry a little. There were parts of Ezell that I saw in myself and my loved ones. It wasn’t like looking in a mirror—more like a decently polished spoon. When people share their stories those who listen can find things that ring true for them and I think that is the most important thing about this work. Well, that and the awareness y’all bring to issues like the environment and place.

Overall, this class has be a wonderful experience. I’ve loved meeting all of the new people and working alongside them. I almost didn’t take this class but I’m definitely glad I did!

Article Written by Hannah From


Ainsley’s Reflections on Ezell

Dearest EZELL:

If you would let me dance about architecture for a moment, I would appreciate it. The tale of Ezell is in everything we’ve done (and are doing). Ezell spoke while we set the table each night, while we checked in, and while we climbed the mountain. It was in our heart beats and our breath. Watching the irises bloom was because of Ezell, and they said that beauty lives beneath my feet—Ezell taught me that love exists where you plant your feet. Telling your story is not just for the benefit of other people, it is a chance to move your feet and spread your love. I spread my love through the forest and onto the risers, in the “Break Room” where our food was born, and in the mix of love from other people following the same asphalt path.

The love came out of my hands and my mouth and my eyes, and it’s sitting in my chest and my head, waiting for more. This experience felt like just a warm-up for the care that I’ll extend to the rest of the world for the rest of my life. I was told that I was good at helping out, and I know that it’s true because it felt good. Being on-site and running around was so fulfilling. It’s so rare for me to not be pre-occupied with something these days, whether it be a want to rest, or stress about school. But when I was there, so was my mind, and everything else fell away. Which I’m counting as a good thing even during a tumultuous finals season, because as a very wise and caring man once said to me, “If you have a time where you can work or you can rest, you should rest.” (It was Chris.)


Chatting with people during the dinner and after was super cool. It felt like a wedding—one massive celebration of life—w ere I got to meet people from all over Bobby B and Carrie’s lives. It would start with questions like, “Where are you from?” or, “What did you all think?” And information about them, and then the cast would present itself. Each conversation was a piece of a puzzle, and we all gained some which make a picture unique to us and to this place. I even met a woman who graduated from the same high school as I did, which is crazy.

I wish I had more time (or was maybe a little braver during the time we had) to talk to everyone on the team individually. Knowing I was entering your space, I tried to leave time to just sit back and observe, and to let everyone do their thing. I have an immense amount of respect for the people who worked on this with me and can only look forward to future opportunities to get to know people even more.

Being a part of Ezell was not only an honor because of its reverence—both in content and after-effect—but also because it is a beautiful creative project. Each night I ended proud of myself for not disrupting the experience for others with my excitement. It was a struggle for me to not leave the group, dancing, every time I heard Mudd’s “Ashokan Farwell,” (I love that tune!) and the talent in the forest this spring was so inspiring and delightful. The minds and the hearts and the hands that built and sustain Ezell each contribute something so essential, and I take with me the hope that someday I will find a group of people—a team—like this one to hang out with for a while.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and the top of my head.

All my love,


To learn more about what Ezell is visit Clear Creek’s Website here


Mental Struggles in Appalachia

When I was in middle school, I began to notice that I was “not okay.” I was struggling with anxiety and depression; however, I did not know those names then, and it terrified me. How could my brain deceive me like this? Am I the only one feeling like this? Why do the people in my hometown belittle people like me?

How is mental health in Appalachia different than in other regions within the U.S? Eight percent of the U.S. (or 24.9 million people) lives in the Appalachian Region, but the average resident typically reports to be mentally unhealthy 14% more often than the average American. One cause of the higher percentage is that mental health has been taken less seriously due to the lack of education on it and because most Appalachians value being independent. This feeling or need to be independent stems from having fewer financial resources, so all too often, people lack access to quality medical care. This can be detrimental to some because it keeps some people from asking for help even when they desperately need it.

Mental health and therapy have always been a part of my life, whether it was noticeable or not. For instance, after my parent’s divorce, when I was in the 2nd grade, I had a court-appointed therapist. Unfortunately, this arrangement was not as beneficial as it was intended because I did not have a basic understanding of what was going on at the time. I have had a handful of therapists throughout my 21 years, and I have learned that not only do you have to want the therapy, but you also need to feel comfortable with your therapist. Not every therapist will work well with each client, and that is okay.

Other reasons for increased issues with mental health disorders in the region include financial stress. People in the Appalachian region’s economically distressed counties are 14% more likely to commit suicide than those in non-distressed counties. These distressed counties are mostly in central Appalachia, such as the Virginia county where I grew up that borders Kentucky and Tennessee. Also, as mentioned before, the lack of education about mental health along with having few resources to access quality care means that young Appalachians who have mental illnesses do not feel welcomed or like they belong. So they either think of leaving or find their way out by other means—sometimes by adding to the percentage of those who have taken their own lives.

I have known many people who share these thoughts. When I was in middle school, I would end up in situations where I would have to talk to friends going through this. This was not healthy for me as well because it would drain me emotionally. Eventually, they were able to get the help that they need.

As mentioned before, many Appalachians really hate asking for help because they seemingly find themselves having to do everything for themselves. For example, many people in my family or close friends to my family will try every at home remedy they can before even considering going to see a health-care professional. This self-dependence makes it hard to admit they might need professional help, so many of us end up relying on advice from our family and friends. The issue here is how the lack of knowledge in the area about current mental-health thinking means that uninformed people do not always know what they are talking about, which could potentially create tension for those wrestling with mental illness and their loved ones.

Growing up, I was always really aware of mental health. My mom has bipolar, and anytime I had questions she would answer as well as she could. But like many places throughout the Appalachian region, my hometown does not prioritize or understand mental health to the extent that they should—especially the medical professionals. I mentioned this because the ones that I have experience with typically medicate people before having full evaluations of what they might be struggling with. Doing so can make people they treat feel small, like they are failures, when in reality it is the system failing them.

What can we do to fix this problem? In the Appalachian region, we should advocate for more mental health resources that are accessible and affordable, and for professional who have at least a basic sense of the region’s culture and how that may affect health. We can start by continuing to spread awareness with the intent to make it normal for people to seek out help and to freely express how they feel. This awareness needs to start when we are young though, so schools should add this education into the curriculum. Finally, through this awareness and education, we can help lift each other up and create a space and understanding for the generations to come.

For an introduction to the health disparities and bright spots in Appalachia, interested readers can consult Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia (

Article Written by Erika Wilson

Activism as a Queer Black Appalcahian in West Virginia

Article written by A-Nya (Thena) Badger

Activism and protesting are a crucial part of what makes up West Virginia’s culture. Most of what I learned about the area was pretty minimized and disconnected from anything I was experiencing on a day-to-day basis. Like any other kid, I wished desperately to fit in, but this included wishing I looked more like the other kids around me. My first challenge to my desire to disappear came when I was around three years old. I went to a protest march with one of my parents. When I became too tired to continue walking, I was carried on their shoulders as I shouted with the crowd, “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.” A local restaurant owner offered everyone who protested free wings. I couldn’t tell you who the protest was for or what it was really about, but I knew it was against racial injustice. At that moment, I was overwhelmingly aware that there was a difference between most people in my community and me.

My high-school West Virginia history course was littered with the countless stories of manipulative coal companies and resistances put together by residents and workers. Growing up, I learned in school that we used to protest all the time, but we don’t anymore because everything is fixed, and now we just need to work harder.  The Battle of Blair Mountain was one we learned about a lot. Ten thousand miners standing up for better conditions by protesting and organizing were held up as heroic, while people doing activism in the present day often did not receive such reverence. In addition to the stories of rebellion, though, we also learned how rich West Virginia’s land was and is. We learned how we used to export a lot of timber, make glass, make chemicals, and now that coal was our primary export now.

My image of someone who belonged in Appalachia was a stereotypical one: I could only envision someone who was white, enjoyed country or folk music and enjoyed the outdoors. While I came to enjoy a few folk and country songs, the rest of that description was the opposite of myself. I grew up in the Chemical Valley, which follows the Kanawha river right through the heart of Charleston. Similar to most of my family, who also is from that area, I inherited asthma and allergies. Being a young black girl with no genuine interest in the outdoors made me feel utterly alien to the stereotypical Appalachian identity. Comparing myself to the mental image I had of an Appalachian person, I saw the pieces of identity that I held of being a bookworm, black girl, Christian, progressive, queer, and Appalachian as constantly in conflict with one another in some way. I could recount several experiences of racism that are unfortunately a part of my life, but most of those fade into one big clump of alienation from Appalachia. Appalachia symbolized the antithesis of who I was for several years of my life. I had yet to learn that this region was characteristic of whatever I made it.

I felt a lack of agency in being a person of color in predominantly white spaces. The outside ridicule of my natural hair texture and other pieces of being black from peers and teachers turned into internalized racism and self-loathing for being black and living in my skin. I so badly wanted to assimilate to stop people’s stares that I didn’t even consider the possibility of being queer when I got my first crush on a person of the same gender. I wanted to be admired and adored but also to minimize as much of myself that broke from the heteronormative eurocentric standard as possible. I wanted to avoid cornrows, listening to rap music openly, talking about black media, or using slang because the possibility of being labeled as “too black” or “Ghetto” loomed over me like my own personal antagonistic storm cloud. Though I’ve grown in strength and gotten used to resisting and existing unapologetically, the feeling of shrinking back never entirely has left me. For so long, I’d assumed that the only viable option for me was to save up enough money to leave and be able to go to a more metropolitan area. I felt pushed out and alienated in a place that I was born into, grew up in, and graduated from. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to make a good life in my hometown or in Appalachia, but it’s at least something I want for myself now.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I was able to gain some grasp of what it feels like to organize with people with whom you share community and have a common passionate goal. I spent that time in a fellowship with my close friend Katelyn working with Rise Up WV to effect some form of change in our local community. I had no direction or idea about what it was I was searching for. I was ready to explore and work on anything that gave me some kind of control at all.

Katelyn and I ended up working and organizing around the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. I’ll be honest, because I didn’t directly connect to the issue, I wasn’t interested in it, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. All I really knew was that whatever I could possibly do would be better than working a minimum wage summer job like so many other people my age. I want to be clear, though, just because I had no initial investment in the work or passion for it at first didn’t mean I did the job half-heartedly. I’d already been exposed to many tenets of anti-capitalism and other progressive theories, so I was primed to absorb what Rise Up had to offer me. Doing that work is where I would meet some of the women that I’ll admire forever: Jennifer Wells, Cathy Kunkel, Savanna Lyons, Alex Gallo, and many others. I spent that training period taking in every word the more experienced organizers said and really internalizing it. Learning about things like the subconscious power of positioning someone in a room and the practical elements of starting a movement like navigating media resonate with me to this day. Most importantly, I learned how to be a facilitator and what my facilitation style is.

We had a massive schedule for the summer, and I was overwhelmed. We met with community partners, went to bill hearings at the WV capitol, got involved in voter registration before I could even vote myself, and held a few panels. We spent weeks investigating the opioid epidemic and how people have been finding ways to cope. One of the experiences I was privileged to attend was a panel with a public health expert who helped start Canada’s first safe-injection site. Seeing the fruition of someone working to fight for a more livable place in their home was moving and transformative. I began to feel as if I really might be able to accomplish something.

In all this work, I was also plugged into the network of people who make organizing their livelihoods, which is such a close-knit group in Charleston and West Virginia. You really start to see the deep and insidious roots of how intersectional just about every issue is when you meet with this person or that person who seem to be fighting the same fight from a different angle. The ultimate goal is to dismantle white supremacist systems and make our homes places where we can live and grow and thrive. For some, this looks like providing medical care and clean needles to those battling addiction, making sure discrimination is codified as illegal through actions like the fairness campaign (which fights to make gender or sexuality-based discrimination unlawful), organizing online through the pandemic to make sure our children have food, conducting voter registration drives, or countless other routes. Our region’s reliance on extractive and/or exploitative industries has created a negative space where all the issues are bleeding into one another. Healthcare bleeds into the environment because poor air and water equal poor health, which bleeds into redlining and racism because factories are usually in largely disenfranchised communities, which bleeds into poverty, which bleeds into crime, reproductive health issues, and a million other things which are connected all in one big web. Sometimes to yell at the nighttime Appalachian sky with your fellow organizers is all you can do to stop from going mad because of the overwhelming hopelessness of it all.

On top of all this, the added challenge of being a young person in these spaces was disheartening, to say the least. It’s not uncommon to be the token young person expected just to watch the adults do everything rather than actively having a chance to shape things. At the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Summer Institute in 2019, I remember that after a long and draining day of talking about the forces taking advantage of our communities, we spent the rest of the day sharing space, living out what our ideal communities would look like if built on mutual respect for our personhood, and danced outside with one another in the middle of Hungry Mother Park in Virginia. We became a home away from the world where you have to be on the utmost guard to keep any shred of respect from those who see you as less than because of your age, race, gender, or sexuality.

Growing in this experience helped prepare me for what came next. We needed to reconfigure our goals due to funding, so we focused on creating a forum where citizens could ask their local lawmakers directly why they have been left to suffer. We wanted to give the attendees a chance to engage with the lawmakers on a human level while educating, so we set up some games and activities that helped illustrate the human consequences of the legislation they passed. To hold them accountable for the Q & A portion, we researched and wrote out difficult questions and questions from the audience. One person after the other shared honest and pure stories. Still, the moment I will remember forever is when we expressly asked them why drug felons were excluded from SNAP benefits when the focus is to try and rehabilitate them. That’s when West Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo paused and sincerely admitted that he didn’t know that was the case. This meeting catalyzed a rapid change that impacted hundreds of thousands of lives in my community.

The next few months felt like they were passing by faster. In February 2019, we worked with Lida Shepard and a few others to get a bill sponsored and passed that allowed some drug felons to benefit from SNAP. Coming off the heels of that win, I was asked to be co-chair of the Rise Up Youth co-chair with Katelyn. I continued to gain important organizing experience through this opportunity. I found myself in a nurturing, youth-positive, non-profit space–which is, unfortunately, not always the case. This was when I also got involved in Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) that was absolutely instrumental in developing my views of power structures and issues.

Before I met any of the STAY folks in person, Katelyn put me in contact with Mekyah Davis, who was beginning to organize something that would become very dear to my heart. They were putting together what would become Black Appalachian Young and Rising (BAYR) and were looking for steering committee members.  During the 2019 Stay Summer Institute (SSI), I experienced a level of mutual respect and autonomy like never before. We spent a week at Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia. STAY is youth-driven and youth-led, which means that no one under 30 is a part of the organization. I was so used to paternalistic power structures that having people in charge as young as seventeen. I learned more about how power was distributed and the access anyone from the 14-30 age range could have. Not only was leadership encouraged, but we were educated about how so many of the oppressive forces we face are functions of white supremacy and capitalism. Seeing everyone’s input being valued so much in combination with the utilization of popular education left me riveted.

During that time, the BAYR group met to start scheming and planning what would become the first BAYR gathering in November. My childhood was spent either trying to distance myself from my Appalachian identity or my black one, so to have both of those intentionally converge was a mental reset. Deliberately saying, “I’m black and that’s ok, I’m Appalachian, and that’s ok, and I am both of these at the same time, and that’s beautiful!” was refreshing. BAYR was similar to the SSI week, but I got to explore more nuance with people that have experienced the challenges of being a black person in this area. My soul was nourished in a way that I couldn’t explain for a while. Being a part of a community united by common struggles was transformative. This experience made me crave fusing other pieces of my identity that I found disparate from one another.

Being queer and pro-choice are identities and values that people see as polar opposites from being spiritual or religious by any means. But I am all of those. It took me so long to feel comfortable coming out as a bisexual woman and as someone who is deeply progressive, but affirmation of my spiritual side was still missing. I’d been participating in the Youth Abortion Support Collective (YASC) to learn and build community with other young pro-choice activists. Whenever I engage in activities that fight for LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and comprehensive sex ed, I’m used to the settings being decentered from anything spiritual. Sincerely, I believed that there was no space for other people of faith who accepted queer folks or believed in bodily autonomy, but then  Rose Miller mentioned in the YASC chat that they were trying to start a faith-based branch. It was riveting to hear that other spiritual and religious folks wanted to stand up for these rights.

The experience has led to our creation of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, focusing on organizing on college campuses. Discussing these kinds of issues with other like-minded people fosters community that hopefully brings about change. This group is desperately needed, especially in Appalachia, since access is being slowly crushed. Abortion and the right to choose is a profoundly spiritual issue for me, but I thought I was completely alone in feeling that way. Feeling more and more of my pieces come together is helping to build myself into a person who is more sure of themself and can not only hold but is able to wield their power in the world.

My experience at Berea has become a function of who I am and who I am becoming as a person. I knew that I’ve always been drawn to organizing and standing up for what I believe in but at Berea here has brought that out more. Initially, I wanted to become a therapist and serve the black community, but counseling made me realize the job was a lot harder than I first expected. I felt like I might take on the traumas and struggles of others outside of work. Then I fell into a patch where I thought I might be a professional organizer, but I backed away from it for similar reasons. I considered many other options but came to the same conclusion. All work that has any kind of passion will have a degree of emotional vulnerability. Fighting for others in any way will take some emotional investment. I learned this first in my Peace and Social Justice courses, which mostly talked about the issues closest to my soul or connected the material to some of the raw bits of my life experience.

Attending a school that’s founded on two of the identities, being Black and being Appalachian, I’ve struggled with all my life, it’s proven impossible not to be faced with those two realities at every turn.  While I had undertaken great growth, I was still working to bring together other parts of myself.  When I became a Student Chaplain with the Campus Christian Center, I expressed only wanting to be a Student Chaplain if I could continue to live in Gender Inclusive Housing. My current supervisors did me one better and made me the Gender Inclusivity and Spiritual Care Student Chaplain. This solidifying combination of parts of me that I once thought could never interact was being used to create something extraordinary.

I see the spirits and truths of so many other change-makers in the region in myself and my story. The ones who don’t get the chance to flourish because of oppressive systems, the ones who burn out because they find no support in this hard work, and even the ones who end up pouring all of themselves into the job while not asking for enough in return. Activism isn’t just rallies and protests. Activism is putting together those pieces for yourself and others, no matter the venue or the occasion. It’s also finding joy and finding a home with the people that love you. Any venture for change or revolution should also be met with fun and filling life-giving experiences. Being able to open up and being vulnerable is required part of advocating for someone or something. It’s nearly impossible to organize for people’s needs and rights and not find bits and pieces of your heart to be slowly mixed into the whole batch.

Maybe creating such interconnection is more true for the young people striving to carry Appalachia forward than anywhere else.




Learning from Dr. William Turner

Over a decade ago I sat in a small classroom a couple floors above the Appalachian Center, learning about Contemporary Appalachia from the ever charismatic Dr. William Turner. To learn about Appalachia from a Black professor born and raised in Lynch, Harlan County Kentucky, reading books like Uneven Ground by Ron Eller and Lost Mountain by Erik Reece, is truly a unique opportunity even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

I’ve since graduated and now work for the Appalachian Center as a Program Associate. Dr. Turner went on to retire and write his newly released book, The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachia. Our paths crossed again last week when he came to Berea as a distinguished convocation speaker for his talk “Between Birmingham and Black Mountain in Kentucky: The Harlan Renaissance in Central Appalachia’s Coalfields.” It’s been over a decade since I’ve seen him, but he’s the same as he ever was. Wearing a suit and bow tie, he paced up and down the floor of the stage, captivating the audience with his sense of humor, speaking uncomfortable truths, and even singing Bill Wither’s classic “Grandma’s Hands.”

Dr. Turner was an endless fountain of knowledge on Appalachian history, but he also knew the importance of keeping up with the times. We were not only encouraged, but REQUIRED to keep up with current events. I remember frantically browsing online for tidbits of news before rushing off to class in the mornings, so if Dr. Turner called on me I would have something to share. He often had a way of calling on you when you least expected it and while we were never punished for not staying up with current events I couldn’t bear to disappoint him.

Dr. Turner demanded that his students actually engage in class material. It was not enough to simply show up and read the materials. He wanted to us to be curious, think critically, and not be afraid to delve in to difficult and uncomfortable truths. I remember receiving a C on a paper once (a low grade for me), and asking where I went wrong. He said “Your paper has all the right ingredients, it’s just opaque. The message is unclear.” To this day I strive to make my message clear in my writing and get at the heart of each story.

So what is the heart of this essay? I suppose it’s the fact that students are lucky to have mentors like Dr. Turner in our lives. Someone who expects greatness. Someone who challenges you to think differently. Someone who cares deeply about Appalachia and for his students.

Article Written by Heather Dent

Wicked John

As retold by Hannah From

I love fall! It’s by far my favorite time of year. Hot apple cider, warm sweaters, and stories remind me of this season.  This photograph is of the farm my family helped tend and where I spent the first years of my life and we told each other stories.  My dad used to tell me this story all the time growing up. He first heard it from a man named Bud Stanley from Wise County, Virginia.

So get your favorite sweater and a cup of your hot drink of preference and enjoy!

This is the story of Wicked John.

There once was a man who lived way up in the mountains who ran a blacksmith shop. He was said to be the best smithy who ever lived, but he was so mean that everyone took to calling him Wicked John.

He was so mean he made cats hiss and dogs cower by just walking by. It was said he could sour milk by just looking at it. If not for his temperament he would have been very popular, after all he was quite a looker!

Now, he was mean to just about everyone except for strangers. If any of his neighbors came to visit he would give them dirty dishwater to drink and send them away. But if a stranger came a-calling, looking for a meal or a place to stay, he would make sure they had a good rest and a full belly.

Well, one day a stranger dressed in rags came up the road and passed right in front of Wicked John’s house. Upon seeing him John invited him in and fed him cornbread and soup beans and for dessert, a beautiful buttermilk pie.

After they were done the stranger suddenly began to change. His posture straightened up and his rags turned to a bright white robe. He then turned to Wicked John and said, “Well, John, I figure you probably know who I am now.”

John hadn’t the slightest idea who this stranger was after all, his shadow hadn’t ever darkened any church door.

“I’m St. Peter, the guardian to the gate of heaven,” the stranger said, “and in return for your kind hospitality I’d like to give you three wishes.”

Now, Wicked John had to think about this for a moment since this wasn’t something that happened every day.

Finally, he turned to St. Peter and said, “Well, Peter you see that hammer over there in my workshop? There are boys who like to come down here and take it out to the field and see how many big rocks they can break with it. They leave it out there to rust and I have to go down there to find it. So I wish that anyone who touches my hammer will get stuck to it and have to hammer away until I say ‘Stop!’”

St. Peter looked at Wicked John and shook his head in a sad sort of way and then snapped his fingers.

Wicked John was getting a bit excited thinking about the possibilities. “For my next wish, you see that rocking chair on the porch? That’s my rocking chair and there are no count loafers who like to come down here and rock back and forth and back and forth and I don’t like it one bit. I wish to make it so if anyone but me sits in my chair they’ll get stuck and get rocked around like something crazy until I say ‘Stop!’”

St. Peter looked at Wicked John and shook his head in a sad sort of way and then snapped his fingers.

“Now,” said Wicked John, “you see that thorn bush over there out there in the yard? There are folks who like to come down here and take switches for their horses. I wish to make it so if anyone but me tries to break off a piece of that bush, the bush will grab a hold of them. The bush stick all of their thorns and prickly parts into them until I say ‘Stop!’”

St. Peter snapped his fingers and said, “May God be with you, John. I pray for your soul.” And then he disappeared.

St. Peter hadn’t been gone but five minutes when a baby devil came heading down the road toward Wicked John’s house.

Wicked John called out to the baby devil, “Well, howdy there.”

“Howdy, Wicked John,” said the baby devil. “My daddy says you’re a very bad man. You have to come with me now. It’s your time.”

“Well,” said Wicked John, “I have to finish up some work before I go anywhere and I could use your help. If you help me I’ll go with you.”

The little devil ran over to the hammer, giggled, and picked it up. The hammer started swinging around like something crazy and the little devil tried to put it down but he couldn’t let it go. He just kept swinging it and swinging it.

“Wicked John, help me! Help me!” cried out the little devil.

But Wicked John didn’t pay him any mind. He just went about his work.

A few hours go by and the baby devil says, “Wicked John, please let me go! I’ll go and tell my daddy that you aren’t coming! You’ll never see me here again!”

So, Wicked John says, “Stop!”

And the baby devil takes off arunning as fast as he could.

Well, a few hours later, down the road comes another little devil, this one was a bit taller, a bit older, probably a teenage devil.

Wicked John spied him coming and he called out to him, “Well, howdy there.”

“Howdy, Wicked John,” said the second little devil. “My daddy says you’re a very bad man. You have come with me. It’s your time.”

“Well,” said Wicked John, “I have to finish up some work first.”

“No,” said the second devil, “I’m not falling for that. I’m not doing any work for you!”

“Alright,” says Wicked John. “Then, why don’t you go over on the porch and sit down for a while? I’ll be done soon and then I’ll go along with you.”

The second little devil ran over to the rocking chair, giggled, and plopped down. The chair began to swing around, rocking back and forth like something crazy. The little devil tried to get up but realized he was stuck.

“Wicked John, help me! Help me!” cried out the little devil in the chair.

But Wicked John didn’t pay them any mind. He just smiled and went about his business.

A day goes by and the little devil cried out, “Wicked John, Wicked John! You let me go and I’ll tell my daddy that you aren’t coming! You’ll never see me again!”

“Stop!” said Wicked John, and the chair stopped rocking and the second little devil took off a running as fast as he could!

Well, a few hours later down the road comes the devil, Old Scratch himself.

Wicked John spied him coming and he called out, “Well, howdy Devil.”

“Howdy, Wicked John,” said the Devil. “I’ve come to get you. You have to come with me right now. I ain’t playing games.”

“Well,” says Wicked John, “I guess we’ll have to fight then. But not here in my shop, Let’s go outside.”

So they headed outside and Wicked John said, “Now, whatever you do, Devil, don’t break off a piece of that thorn bush and whip me with it. Anything but that!”

“Anything but that you say?” said the Devil with a smile.

He went right over to the thorn bush and broke off a switch, and that bush grabs him and puts all its thorns and prickly things into him.

“Wicked John, help me! Help me!” cried out the Devil. “Let me go!”

But Wicked John didn’t pay them any mind. He just smiled and went about his business.

Wicked John left the Devil out there for a whole week.

Finally, the Devil said, “John, you tell this thorn bush to let me go and me and my boys won’t bother you anymore!”

“Alright, Devil, you got yourself a deal!” says Wicked John and then he yells, “Stop!” and the thorn bush lets him go, and the Devil takes to running as fast as he can.

And none of them came to bother him anymore.


Many years went by and Wicked John got older and older. Finally, it was time for John to travel to the other side.

So he made his way up to Heaven, and there he met St. Peter at the gate.

“Well, Howdy there, Peter,” Wicked John called out. “Can you let me in?”

“Oh, John,” said St. Peter. “You’ve done so many bad things in your life. You’re not welcome here. You might want to try downstairs.”

So John headed down to Hell. The little devils were out by the gate playing with their chains and they saw Wick John coming. They ran inside to their daddy and said, “Hurry, hurry close the gates. Wicked John is coming! Don’t let him in!”

The Devil came and met Wicked John at the gate.

“Well, Howdy there, Devil,” Wicked John said. “Can you let me in?”

“Oh, John,” said the Devil. “You’re so wicked you can’t come in here.”

“Well, then what am I supposed to do?” cried out Wicked John. “Ain’t no place in heaven or in hell for me!”

The devil took his tongs and fished into the fire and pulled out one of his hottest flames.

“Here,” said the Devil, thrusting the flame towards Wicked John. “Take this and get out of here. Go take this flame and your hammer and raise a Hell of your own.”


You’re probably wondering where Wicked John went after that.

There are all sorts of speculations that folks have made, but I’ll tell you what my dad says.

When you see the moon and it’s a yellow or an orange color that’s just Wicked John trying to find place to make a Hell of his own.

Appalachian, Twice Removed: Celebration of Traditional Music

Article written by Ali Hassan

The Saturday CTM concert, hosted virtually, provided four distinct and unique flavors of the music from the Appalachian region. With each performance, the sound progressively drifted away from its traditional Appalachian roots. The music nonetheless powerfully witnessed the lives and aspirations of the many people who have found a home in these mountains. The diaspora’s innovations that have taken this old-time music with it, spreading the sounds of these hollers far and wide, were also showcased.

Elizabeth LaPrelle kicked off the night’s proceedings in true October fashion. She deftly applied her quivering, sensitive mezzo-soprano to plaintive ballads that left a haunting aftertaste in their wake. Much of this came from her choice to deliver songs either a capella or with just a single banjo. Minor and pentatonic inflections could be discerned in pieces like Cuckoo from the Virginia-North Carolina border, Texas Gladden’s Three Little Babes, and her song from East Virginia. The telltale mountain twang rang clear in these songs, and her conversational delivery of repeated, limited-range melodic motifs drove the point home. On occasion, her slight use of vocal fry to add grain to her lower register also added a subtle undertone of woe to the macabre lyrics interwoven with nature metaphors.

The duple meters of these songs also contrasted nicely with the triple grooves of Sheila Kay Adams’ Young Hunting and Elizabeth’s rendition of the old Irish lullaby, The Castle of Dromore. These songs favored the Dorian and Major Pentatonic modes, respectively, and applied a lilting sway to great effect, albeit for different purposes. While in Young Hunting, the ill-fated lover finds himself violently subdued and buried in a beechen grove, the Irish lullaby was sweetly and softly delivered by Elizabeth with noticeably small vowels and a hooty, airy vocal tone that would be expected of a doting mother. This was rounded off by the dialogue between a besotted lover and her rude, disinterested partner in What Did You Have For Breakfast? The call and response in this piece were remarkable due to the characters’ different motivations and the vocal technique applied to illustrate them. The soft, bright, and tender sung part was sharply contrasted with the terse, guttural spoken replies. As far as the old Appalachian ballads go, this a capella piece remained faithful to its roots.

The next performers brought a heady mix of cross-cultural influences to the table. The Lua Project featured Estela Knott on vocals, clogs, ukulele, David Berzonsky on double bass, Matty Metcalfe on banjo and accordion, and Christen Hubbard on fiddle and mandolin. As described by Estela, the band had a Mexilachian sound – combining her paternal roots in the Shenandoah Valley with the Fonterra, Cumbia, and Veracruz landscapes of her maternal ancestry. Their starting song set the mood for their performance, outlining the staples of their style. This included sprightly duple grooves with accented offbeats, basslines walking with their head held high, vocal harmonies between different band members, strummed chords on mandolin and ukulele with contrapuntal motifs dancing around on the accordion. The rounded, centrally placed vocals only customarily tipped their hat to the Scots-Irish twang expected of all things Appalachian.

La Bruha, a traditional Mexican song, featured harmonic minor interplay with its pentatonic cousins, lending a discordant tinge to the vocal melody without being excessively onerous. The accordion strutted along timidly, etching interesting accents on the triple groove with its short lines reminiscent of old telenovelas. The texture remained squarely homophonic during the verses, with some polyphonic play in the instrumental interludes between them. The vocals were delivered with long Latin vowels, spread sparsely to emphasize specific words. This vocal delivery remained consistent, even on the Scots-Irish-influenced Cabbage White and Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. Estela’s voice lacked the clarion ring of the region, but the compositional dexterity of the pieces more than compensated for this. Whether it was the dramatic pauses interrupting the steady duple groove on the former, or the modal exchange playing out between the mandolin and the chicken-picked banjo, before nudging gently back to the familiar pentatonic ground on the latter, these songs did not fail to impress. Caracho was a unique synthesis – the mandolin alternating between Big Band-influenced strumming and Johnny Cash inspired stylings. However, the highlight of the performance was Ragged Mountain Cumbia. With its Klezmer modality, common time groove with accents shifted all over the place by Estela’s animated clogging, and the percussive call and response between her and the double bass, the piece showed off the band’s maturity and diversity.

David Holt was introduced as the host of River Walk and the recipient of this year’s CTM Lifetime Achievement award before he shared his musical journey and an excerpt from an old performance of his was played. It combined his multi-instrumentalist skills on the banjo, harmonica, mouthbow, and washboard with clogging and a charming storytelling vocal style. From the clawhammer banjo on Black-Eyed Susie and Little Billy Wilson to the clear African influences in the pulsing mouthbow of Songs About Drovers and the triple-voiced tapped and scraped washboard rhythm in Raincrow Bill, his music featured plenty of Appalachian elements. However, his vocal style was more reminiscent of Country and Americana and had little of the mountain twang heard earlier in the night.

Berea graduates Theo and Brenna rounded off the evening with their cultivated voices and modern Pop-Country influenced music with few references to their Appalachian roots. Their time spent in Nashville could be clearly heard in their music. The duo brought guitar and banjo together as harmoniously as their two voices sat as comfortably perched with one another as partners holding hands. Melodically, the duo spent most of their time firmly in the pentatonic stream and within a span of an octave. However, they spiced this up with the key change in Alison Kraus and James Taylor’s How Is The World Treating You? The musical theater inspired grace notes, and chromatic riffing in the John Hartford song, Gentle On My Mind, was another notable innovation. The subtle modal exchange lent a romantic lilt to the melody.

Rhythmically, the pair did not stray too far from their duple moorings. However, the guitar did create interest with its accented up-strums, such as on the Tim O’Brien and John Hartford songs. Particularly in the latter, the detail in the guitar-work was remarkable, with accents shifting between various 16th subdivisions and nuanced up-strum accenting. About Airplanes And Being Wild brought together this delicate rhythmic sense with an unexpected harmonic deftness. Conservative Travis-picked pentatonic sections found themselves spliced with Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy-swing, passing chromatic chords, and dueling stabs thrown in for good measure by both the banjo and the guitar.

Vocally, however, Theo and Brenna seemed to eschew the Appalachian twang in favor of Indie and Country stylings. Of all the performers, their voices seemed the most manicured and cultivated and least emotive. Their lyrics pined within reason, unlike the unbearable forlornness of the earlier part of the concert. It was a disappointing feature of an otherwise beautiful performance.

All in all, the Saturday CTM concert revealed the tributary nature of the region and its music. It reasserted that any monolithic conceptions of what Appalachia sounds like will prove to be thoroughly inadequate in the face of the ongoing conversation that the musicians of this region animatedly have with one another. It showed that, like any living tradition, Appalachian music is continuously growing new buds and flowering with unexpected life.

Article Written by Ali Hassan