Copy
View this email in your browser
This newsletter series helps financially support the work of the creators and innovators you see here. Join our community and help keep this newsletter going!
Donate Now!
Congregants of the Phillips Temple AME Church in Hazard, Kentucky, pose for a photo in 1942. Photo: Lenora Combs Collection/Southeast Kentucky African-American Museum and Cultural Center.

Hello everyone,

This week, I want to talk history and what inspired me to start the Southeast Kentucky African-American Museum and Cultural Center (SEKYAAMCC). Though we continue working to secure a physical home for our history, we currently have a virtual presence on Facebook and a website, www.sekyaamcc.org. Check it out!

I have always loved history. When I was growing up in Hazard, there wasn’t much history taught about the lives of African Americans – and especially local Black history – in school. Roots are so important, though, stretching back through the generations.

I often think about the challenges my ancestors here in Perry County faced in the times they lived. I draw strength from their stories. What would it be like if I did not know anything about them?

I think our children deserve to know their history. You cannot gag it. Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone’s story is heard. The cries from the past should not be stifled nor silenced. We must allow history to speak.

History is the footsteps leading from our past. There are some movements taking place today to not allow certain aspects of Black history to be taught to our current generation. This is like taking a tree branch to wipe away the footprints of our ancestors – footprints that heralded where they came from and who they were.

That’s why I became a Story Catcher. In the late 1980s, I received a fellowship to engage the African American community in an oral history project. I made many trips from Cleveland down I-75 back home to my beloved mountains to catch stories of all those who were ready to share a slice of their history.

I remember visiting my Grandpa Will who lived on Town Mountain. I would go through the front door with a tape recorder, pen and paper in hand. But, he would escape through the backdoor.

He wasn’t ready. My aunt would say, “You better be careful turning over rocks, you might not like what you find there.” Of course, that day did come when my grandpa decided to stop running and sit down with me to tell his story. I captured his words and the words of many others.

When I was a child, my brothers and I would catch all specimens of bugs – crawling and flying – and put them in mason jars. We’d punch holes in the lids so they could breathe and then sit them on a shelf in our makeshift lab underneath the house. Unlike those bugs that sat on a shelf in a dark room under the house that were eventually released back to their abodes, the stories that I had caught ended up sitting on a shelf for 30 some years. Left untold. Most of them have passed away with stories waiting to be heard.

What happened? My life took a detour. Eventually, I reached my destination and decided it was finally time to release the stories from their jars, but I took a scenic route – a mountain backroad – rather than taking the expressway.

The year was 1993. I was inspired to start a museum to highlight the history of the African American in Appalachia. Yet, it wasn’t until the fall of 2020 that I heard the voice of inspiration speak, “Now is the time.”

Indeed, there is a heightened interest in the role that African Americans play in writing the pages of history. It is a story often overlooked – ignored or forgotten. So, I started laying the foundation for the SEKYAAMCC, with the purpose of exploring, recovering and preserving the rich history of African Americans in Southeast Kentucky. 

An L&N Railroad crew in an undated photo. Photo: Breathitt County Museum Collection/Southeast Kentucky African-American Museum and Cultural Center.

I want to share three projects that we are currently working on. The first is the Cemetery Project. We intend to visit every cemetery in our target areas to locate and identify the ground where Black people are buried.

We began with Englewood Cemetery, located in the Christopher community of Perry County. Englewood Cemetery was once a segregated burial site. There was a section for whites in the upper level and a section for Blacks in the lower level.

But death makes no divide. Each person laying under that ground carried their stories and history with them. But history can speak even from the grave. The name engraved on the headstone, the year born and the year died, separated by a hyphen.

That hyphen invites us, challenges us to discover the in-between story and history of the person lying beneath the headstone. The names on some stone markers have faded, leaving an identity and story a mystery. But I love to read a good mystery. Stories waiting to be told, history ready to speak from the grave.

The second project we’re working on is the Church History Project. Specifically, we are documenting churches of African American tradition – so many of their names are now only a whisper – long begone. These include Jerusalem Baptist Church, Church of God of America, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church – all in Perry County – and Pleasant Run Missionary Baptist Church and Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Letcher County. Many have no physical structure left to testify of their existence. The congregations have gone on to become a cloud of witnesses. They prayed, praised and worshiped. Now they lay silent, waiting for their past to be preached.

Finally, the Stories Behind the Quilt Project. There are stories behind quilts. History hanging on a wall or thrown across a bed. Like my Mama’s bear quilt that she made for my brother, or her Moonbeam quilt made to commemorate the year man walked on the moon.

The hands that stitched together these quilts sewed their story into every block, history waiting to unfold. Quilts are cross-cultural creations, once upon a time made for convenience and comfort, but now becoming story-bearers.

Students and teachers from the Browns Fork School outside Hazard, Kentucky, pose in this undated photograph. Photo: Lenora Combs Collection/Southeast Kentucky African-American Museum and Cultural Center.

History includes the life stories of Black icons like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. Du Bois and Harriet Tubman – to name a few – and that list is seemingly set in stone. But what about those local heroes that made a difference, made contributions where we live? These are the stories we hope to share.

Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. I have respect for the past, but I’m a person of the moment. I’m here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I’m at, then I go forward to the next place.”

There is a story in the Old Testament where God held back the waters of the Jordan River so that Joshua and the Israelites could cross over on dry land to the other side. God then directed Joshua to return to the riverbed and bring out 12 stones to build a memorial. When Joshua asked God what the purpose of the stone memorial was, God informed him that when their children and grandchildren came upon this stone memorial their parents and grandparents can tell them the miraculous story of how God opened the waters of the Jordan River so they could walk on dry land to the other side.

Knowing our history helps keep us centered in the present and lends direction into our future. The memorial stones pointed to this story in their history. We need to raise up more memorial stones that point to stories in our history. I will continue this focus in the final newsletter next week!

Sincerely,

Emily Jones Hudson

Visit us at 100daysinappalachia.com.
Enjoying this newsletter? Share it with your friends. 
Got this as a forward? Sign up to receive our future emails

Our mailing address is:
364 Patteson Drive #218 Morgantown, WV 26505

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Copyright © 2021 100 Days in Appalachia, All rights reserved.