BLAC counters whitewashed narrative of Appalachia
Bishop Marcia Dinkins leads the charge with first-ever BLAC paper
For most of the last century, the people of Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley powered the prosperity of this nation. What you might not know — because of broad stereotypes about Appalachia — is that many of those people were Black workers.
Working remotely from her home in Dayton, Bishop Marcia Dinkins launched the Black Appalachian Coalition (BLAC) to counter whitewashed narratives of Appalachia by removing the cloak of Black Appalachian invisibility in the first ever BLAC paper, “Black Storytelling and Policy Making in Appalachia.” An event celebrating the report’s release can be seen on BLAC’s Facebook page, and you will want to see it for yourself.
The BLAC paper uses historic and current data to paint a more complete a picture of Appalachia. For example: In 1930, one in 11 coal miners in the Ohio Valley and nearly one quarter of coal miners in West Virginia were Black. (The Ohio Valley spans Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.) Today, while Appalachia is the nation's poorest region, Black Appalachians are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to live below the federal poverty line.
The data is paired with insights from five listening sessions that BLAC held across the Ohio Valley. Shana Goggins, a historian who grew up in Appalachia and now works with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said her personal experience forced her to wrap her brain around being both Black and Appalachian. “There are many, many countless stories of contributions not only from Black Kentuckians, but Black Appalachians in Kentucky,” she said. “And the notion is that the victor always gets to tell the story, right? And we know many times in many communities where Black individuals have not been the victor. And they have not had control of the narrative or the telling of their story."
Melanie Meade of Pennsylvania discussed how the underfunded schools for Black students leave them unprepared to succeed in higher education opportunities, including union apprenticeship programs. Meanwhile, many Black Appalachians have been forced to live with pollution from industries which refuse to hire them. “We are in a place of lack,” she said, “We shouldn’t be written off. We’re a powerful strong people with a lot of love in us. And given the right resources, each and every one of us can succeed.”
Chrystal Good was one of just three Black reporters in West Virginia, when she created BlackbyGod.org — “an emerging news and storytelling organization centering Black voices in the Mountain State,” according to its website. “Black policy was nonexistent in the state,” she said. “We need our people and our voices [to be heard].”
Akisha Townsend Eaton demonstrates how Black history has too often been erased from our collective conscience. Her grandmother Maime Callie was one of the most well-regarded midwives of her time, who travelled the state by horseback to deliver the babies of rural Tennesseans, helping poor mothers regardless of race. However, policymakers undercut this important legacy of Black women in the region, systematically dismantling the economic and health system of Black midwives by adopting unjust policies and requirements they could not meet — something we know is not unique to midwives (think redlining and Jim Crow laws).
BLAC is uncovering the richness of Appalachia’s past and centering Black people in Appalachia’s present and future. Dinkins says Black people know what they need, and it includes health care and healthy food, help with child and elderly care, reliable public transportation, clean air and water, more and better education. To truly “build black better,” Dinkins says, Black Appalachians need to have a seat at the policymaking table.
Hear more from Dinkins, Good, Meade, Eaton and Goggins by watching the BLAC paper release event. All five powerful Black women speakers, all speaking at one event, and working together in one coalition. And you get to witness it for free! Here!