African Americans in Appalachia
Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at the African American experience in Appalachia.
In this essay, Althea Webb of Berea College explores the African American experience in Appalachia as it has developed over the course of American history. Though many might think of Appalachia primarily as a rural, homogenously Caucasian region, Webb reveals that African Americans and other minority populations have maintained a strong presence in the region for hundreds of years. Indeed, Webb depicts Appalachia as a cultural melting pot, a part of the United States in which diverse groups of people have intermingled for centuries in order to produce a distinctly American culture.
With an eye toward the economic history of the region, Webb traces the migrations of people into, through, and out of Appalachia. While some African American slaves were forced to leave with their Cherokee owners when Andrew Jackson endorsed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, many other African Americans came in later years in order to farm the land and find work in the numerous coal mines carved into the Appalachian landscape. Opportunities for employment in the mines have decreased in recent decades, however, and many African Americans have moved from small mining towns to the region's urban centers. As Webb demonstrates, this sort of transition is entirely in keeping with Appalachia's history and its people's resiliency.Read full essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to understand more about the history of the African American experience in Appalachia.
Primary Source Documents