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Emily Jones Hudson. Photo: Provided.
Hello everyone,

For my first newsletter, I want to use an excerpt from my book “Soul Miner: A Collection of Poetry and Prose.” Originally entitled “Coming Full Circle,” I feel there is no better way to summarize my journey to discovering my identity – a key theme throughout my life.

Like so many Appalachians, I had to leave the shelter of my mountains in order to grow into the person I am today. Yet in the end, it was important to come back to the place it all began.

I hope you’ll enjoy this essay and learning about my own journey, which ended right where it began: home.

Sincerely,

Emily Jones Hudson

They say these mountains separate. They say these mountains isolate. When I was young and growing up in these mountains, they kept the world out. I grew up to embrace these mountains, their history and story; they became etched in my soul.

I was raised up listening to my father’s stories of coal-camp life and to his version of Jack Tales; to grandpa’s stories of hunting in the woods, burying sweet potatoes in the ground, of working his farm upon the hill and a mine below the hill. These mountains’ hold grew strong on me.

It was not until I began my journey beyond the boundary of these mountains that I was able to meet you, my beautiful African sister. You told me stories from the Motherland, the cradle of civilization. I told you Mother Earth stories. You draped your body in a beautiful rainbow of colors. I dressed in blue jeans and hiking boots. And then we shared the woman-secrets passed down from mothers and grandmothers, from generation to generation.

These woman-secrets kept them strong. They had to be strong to survive. We found a common bond. You taught me of the Motherland, and I began to understand why you walked so proud with head held high. We discovered that Motherland and Mother Earth were one in the same.

But soon the mystique of my mountains awakened from deep within and began to call me. I knew my journey was homebound. I wanted to bring my beautiful African sister home with me to meet my mountain sisters. You came. I now embrace a triad of cultures: African, African-American and Appalachian.

Home. These mountains are home to me. Mother Earth. It was here in these mountains that I grew into womanhood. I say “grew” into womanhood because early childhood years were tomboy years. I played rough and tough with my brothers. I thought I was no different. I climbed the apple trees in grandpa’s yard on Town Mountain. I climbed the coal cars that straddled the tracks across from my uncle’s house in Kodak. We built forts above our house and named them Fort Boonesboro and Fort Harrodsburg. I thought I was no different.

As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the mountains, their quietness and stillness. They became my friend as I would spend countless hours living beneath the treetops lost in my dreams. What did it mean to be a young woman growing up in these Southeastern Kentucky hills? What did it mean to be a young Black woman growing up in these mountains? You see, I felt there was no difference.

I loved the life of tradition. I grew up watching my mother quilt, can tomatoes and put-up beans. My father grew corn upon the hill behind the house. I remember the Sunday trips to the coal camp to visit my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Frankie. It was always dusk when we would catch a glimpse of my uncle coming up the holler wearing coal dust on his face and carrying an old dinner bucket.

I dreamed of writing music, playing my guitar and becoming a country music singer. It seemed such a simple life. My mountains kept out anything that threatened to upset that simplicity. 

And then I left the shelter of my mountains as daddy sent me off to college to follow my brother. Berea College welcomed me with open arms, and I found that I could still maintain some of that simplicity and Appalachian flavor.

It was there during my college years that I was exposed to true cultural diversity. Coming from a small mountain town where everyone was related one way or another, I had never before seen so many people of color all together at once! I was introduced to my African brothers and sisters. I became enchanted and obsessed with finding my roots and discovering how they linked together.

I was enticed to look into my mirror. I saw two women I did not know. The first woman carried a peace and freedom sign and invited me to march to Selma with her. The second woman walked so graceful with a basket balanced atop her head and beckoned me to join her at the Congo. I was intrigued and mystified and wanted to know more about the women who extended their hands in greeting to me from my mirror.

I began to learn about the rich African culture and how early civilization was there in the ancient cradle. I discovered a whole new world, and I began to think, “I have missed so much life while being rocked and sheltered in the arms of my mountains.”

Then an incident occurred that turned my mirror inside out. I was one of the founding team members that started the campus radio station, one of three African-American students – and the only female. My program included contemporary rhythm and blues and many times I worked the night-owl shift.

During my senior year as I began to think about graduation and job hunting, a friend convinced me to make a demo tape and send to radio stations. I mulled it over in my mind. Three years’ experience working for the campus radio station. First female disc jockey. Surely, I would not have any problems finding a job with a radio station.

I sent my resume and cover letter to a Black radio station in Indianapolis. I had visited relatives there often and this was the choice radio station to listen to. Before long I received a reply! They were so impressed with my resume and requested a demo tape. I put the demo tape together, rushed it to them and then played the anticipation game.

I just knew they had a job for me based on their reply to my resume. Their second response, however, was not what I expected to hear: “There must be some kind of mistake. This can’t possibly be the same person on the demo tape that sent the resume.”

And then there it was: “You don’t SOUND Black! You sound like a hillbilly!” That is what they essentially said. I still have the demo tape buried in a trunk, but I did not try to bury my accent, that part of my cultural background. But that incident caused me to look harder and longer into my mirror.

After graduation I did make it to Indianapolis to work for a Black-owned weekly newspaper. I was the women’s editor and the only female reporter in the male-dominated newsroom. I still listened to that choice radio station.

Eventually I landed in Cleveland where I spent 12 years getting to know the other women in the mirror. I worked for an organization that was female-led and culturally oriented. I was exposed to so much more of my African-American culture as well as African heritage.

The founder and owner of the organization later admitted that she did not know how to take me at first. She said I was too light to be Black. I was living on the west side of Cleveland, in Parma – where Black folks just did not live.

And then I opened my mouth. There was that accent. She was not aware that African-Americans lived in Southeastern Kentucky.

As our local history has written, I found that many African-Americans living in Cleveland were born and raised in the hills of Southeastern Kentucky, but they did everything they could to shed that suit and put on another, including dispensing of their accent. They blended in. They had been there too long and had no intentions of ever returning to the mountains to live.

But I could not change suits; if anything, I wanted to add different apparel to my wardrobe. The mountains kept calling me home. As people told me, “You’re not Black enough for the city”, the mountains reminded me of my true home. I brought my new-found friends from the looking glass with me; they were now part of me. I returned to the mountains like so many prodigal sons and daughters before me. I had come full circle.

These mountains no longer separate. These mountains no longer isolate. And yes, you can come home again.

A version of this essay first appeared in Emily Jones Hudson’s book “Soul Miner: A Collection of Poetry and Prose.”

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