The Kentucky State University Center for Research on the Eradication of Academic Disparities (CREED) scholar-in-residence recently discussed growing up in black in Appalachia during the CREED lecture series.
Dr. William Turner, scholar-in-residence and former interim president of Kentucky State University, discussed the history and exploitation of the region.
Turner grew up in Lynch, Kentucky. Turner’s grandfather, father, four uncles and older brother were coal miners.
Turner said black people in the region were consistently ignored. Turner said African Americans came to the region in the 1880s because of coal mines.
Harlan County used to more populated than Jefferson County, Turner said, due to the coal mines.
Black Appalachian values included hard work, putting family first and patriotism, Turner said.
“Ninety percent of everyone who taught in Eastern Kentucky black schools graduated from Kentucky State,” Turner said.
Over time, mining methods and demand changed. The population dispersed, with the African American in Pike County dropping by 90 percent, Turner said. The largest employer in the region now is Walmart, Turner said.
The people left in Appalachia are faced with the ravage of meth, opioids, heroin, crack and other drugs, Turner said.
“Deaths due to overdoses are staggering,” Turner said.
Turner also debunked stereotypes about the region, showing photos of well-dressed men and women and nice neighborhoods during the presentation.
Turner noted that Kentucky has always been a net exporter of its people, but people in the Appalachian region are trying to rekindle the economy after coal’s downturn.
Eco-tourism is an avenue being explored, Turner said, but said he didn’t know what it would take to restore the economy to previous heights. For example, his brother used to make $85,000 a year in the mines.
“Those jobs are gone because the machines do the work,” Turner said.