“Black in Appalachia” team hosts discussion at Roanoke College

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 10:38 PM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke College students and staff joined members of Black in Appalachia Tuesday night to hear and see the work they do in uncovering and highlighting Black history in the Appalachian Mountains region.

“The main goal is to really, in this work, to overcome and kind of like dismantle the stereotypes that when you hear Appalachia, you think of whiteness, because there’s a deep, rich Black culture in Appalachia. And so we really just want to uplift and celebrate that,” said Alona Norwood, Black in Appalachia’s community archivist.

Norwood and the organization’s director William Isom shared how the team works together to learn and share this history.

“One of the things that we really want to impress on students and the general public, is the importance of the narratives that we have in our own homes, the what I call the vernacular history, or the oral history. So raising these oral histories up in the family photographs, up to the level of researchable materials, it’s just as valuable as the things that are in the official record,” said Isom.

Over the years, Norwood and William Isom have researched and learned about their family history as well.

“I think the most obvious way that people can engage with history is to look at their own family’s history. And I think that for me to understand my own family’s history and have some information about my family, in and out of enslavement and through the Jim Crow era, I think it really kind can inform you about where you are and your position right now in history,” said Isom.

The Black in Appalachia team wants sharing its work to encourage students and the public to dive deeper into what’s out there.

“Just research your history; you never know what you’re going to find. A lot of times it’s not that great, but I think you need to know the bad stuff too. So then you can understand where you came from, to have a better understanding and picture of where you want to go in the future,” said Norwood.

For more information on Black in Appalachia, you can find its website here.