A historic archive that provides a lens into Black history and culture in Appalachia has been digitized by East Tennessee State University, the institution reported.
Although the narratives and contributions of African Americans in Appalachia are often obscured and omitted from history books, they are critical parts of the region’s landscape. African Americans accounted for nearly 10 percent of the population by 1860. Black coal miners played an instrumental role in transforming and elevating the industry during the Great Migration. Spaces like the Highlander Folk School nestled in New Market, Tennessee nurtured trailblazing social justice activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Those elements are just a fraction of the deeply-rooted, rich Black history in Appalachia.
The archive was donated by the Langston Heritage Group Collection to East Tennessee State University in 2000. It encompasses interview footage with the 1964 class of Langston High School; a now-shuttered educational space for Black students that opened in the late 1800s. It also includes a 1981 Kingsport Times-News article about a racial justice nonprofit dubbed the Pro-To Club, and a masonic newsletter from 1985. The digitization project led by ETSU is integral when it comes to the preservation of these narratives.
Two years ago, the National Endowment for the Humanities provided the Archives of Appalachia and B. Carroll Reece Museum with a $225,000 grant to ensure these historic elements were digitally accessible.
“Digitizing and making this collection available online will push it out to a global audience, providing unprecedented access to this valuable resource while helping to draw attention to an essential but underrepresented part of Johnson City’s history,” Dr. Jeremy A. Smith, who serves as director of the Archives of Appalachia, shared in a statement. “We know this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of documenting the rich and varied histories of African Americans in Johnson City and East Tennessee. Our hope is to continue partnering with the broader community to add new details and new layers to this vital history, demonstrating the rich cultural diversity that has been present within Appalachia since its earliest days.”
New about the digitization project comes less than a year after Howard University was gifted $2 million to digitize its Black Press Archives.