Black Archives in Southern Spaces

Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia

Intro Panel Image

On View April 28 – July 31, 2015

Chapel Hill, North Carolina- April 28, 2015- The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is honored to unveil the exhibit Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia. Using never-before-exhibited material, the exhibit tells the story of what “home” has meant to a generation of people that grew up in an African American coal mining community in the famed Harlan County, Kentucky. The exhibit is based on the SHC’s inaugural participatory archive, the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP). Being the first participatory archive at UNC, the SHC hopes to use EKAAMP as a model for future archival projects.  Building this archive has meant fostering open dialogue among all the people who created this archive. Gone Home celebrates a little-known slice of Americana and the communities of coal-mining sons and daughters, researchers, and scholars that came together to make the EKAAMP archive possible.

Gone Home starts with the fact of the land, coal, and changing landscapes of America from the end of slavery to the beginnings of the industrial revolution.  In the early 1900s, coal mining recruiters came through parts of Alabama to recruit African Americans to work in the coal mines of Appalachia.  Between 1910 and 1930, while many African Americans moved to northern urban regions in the Great Migration, tens of thousands of African moved to the coalfield areas of West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky for one generation.  After the coal industry tanked, African Americans were the first to be laid-off and forced to find jobs and homes elsewhere.  Because of this peculiar layover in the Great Migration, however, many African Americans around the United States still call Appalachia “home”.

What gives “home” its meaning? This question drives many of the displays in Gone Home. Using photography, oral history material, and many artifacts ranging from coal mining and garden tools to sports jackets and diplomas, Gone Home explores the textures of what home meant from the inside out, the memories of the Lynch Colored School, and what leaving this community felt like for the new generation.  The exhibit focuses on remembering a community forgotten in American History, but Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia also brings to light the ties people continue to hold to their hometowns and to each other today.

About the Eastern Kentucky African American Mining Project

Karida Brown is a descendent of a family that grew up in the coal town of Lynch, Kentucky.  When she began her research as a PhD student in sociology at Brown University, she turned toward her roots and began interviewing people across the country who used to live in Harlan County, Kentucky.  In addition to their stories, individuals often gave Brown manuscripts and artifacts concerning their time in Harlan County.  Having no place to store these valuable materials, Brown approached UNC’s Southern Historical Collection and, together, they founded the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) archive.

EKAAMP takes a different approach than most traditional archives. The participatory nature of the EKAAMP archive brings researchers, archivists and donors themselves into conversation with one another. EKAAMP works to bring relationships and conversations about informational exchange into open dialogue.  The archive now has over 200 oral histories and material culture artifacts.  The exhibit opening will happen in concert with a gathering of individuals whose interviews and their belongings are in the archive for continued conversations about their experiences in Harlan County and the future of the archive.

About the Southern Historical Collection

The Southern Historical Collection is home to a vast array of archival collections all relating to the history and culture of the American South.  Founded in 1930, the Southern Historical Collection holds over 5 million items which are organized in over 4,600 discrete collections.

The exhibit is free and open to the public from April 28th-July 31st, 2015, and is located in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room at the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC Chapel Hill. For more information, visit http://ekaamp.web.unc.edu/.

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