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Rewriting the Story of Race in Appalachia (yesmagazine.org)

 

Dr. Enkeshi El-Amin, a researcher, lecturer, and cultural worker at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and William Isom, director of the Black in Appalachia project at East Tennessee PBS, were searching for the project to collaborate on that would help share their passion and research on the Black Appalachian experience.

So, in 2019, when PRX—the Public Radio Exchange—began accepting applications for podcast pitches, Isom and podcast producer Chris Smith approached El-Amin about pitching a Black in Appalachia podcast.

The Black in Appalachia podcast, which El-Amin co-hosts with journalist and literary activist Angela Dennis, narrates the Black experience in Appalachia and the long history of Black communities in the region—narratives that they say are often overlooked or ignored in mainstream (read White-run) media.

El-Amin spoke with 100 Days Digital Managing Editor Ashton Marra about the podcast’s recent success, the importance of repositioning history and the impact words can have on our understanding of our history.

Marra: There’s a common language that I feel like we—and when I say we, I mean White people and White Appalachians—use to discuss our history. It is the language that is in our history books. It’s in the textbooks in our elementary schools and our high schools. You all don’t just reposition history in your podcast, you also do it explicitly through language and through the words that you are choosing to use.

I want to just talk about one example in the Cupid’s Mansion episode, which is your Halloween episode. But we get to near the end, this story about the Ramsey house—which was really the Ramsey plantation—there’s a discussion about how the White tour guide chooses to cast that word.

But that’s actually not the part of the story that I found so fascinating. It was when we get to the discussion about Ramsey and how he came to his land. That he was a surveyor for the state of North Carolina, which at that point, stretched into Tennessee. They didn’t have any money to pay him. They said, “take 500 acres wherever you want.” He wanted this piece of land that was actually being held by the Cherokee. So, this Cherokee community was using the land as hunting ground. The tour guide tells you all on the tape, “well, after the land was negotiated from the Cherokee.” One of the two of you come back in immediately with the track and say, “after the thievery was solidified.” Those are very different words.

To read more of Ashton Marra's article,  please click here.

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