Marion Post Wolcott/Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Featured Image Credit
Black folks have a gift for complicating the stories that Americans like to tell about themselves. Our presence, for instance, makes it hard to accept the notion that the United States was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” It’s a comforting myth and a useful one as well. Abraham Lincoln put it to good use when he spoke those words at Gettysburg, rallying the Union in a time of crisis. But, as history, this foundational myth was undermined by the centrality of slavery in the economic and political life of the new nation.
Our presence complicates other American stories, like the ones that get told about Appalachia. Historian Ronald Eller has pointed out that the region has long been seen as the “other America,” defining what the nation as a whole is not. According to this myth, America is prosperous, while Appalachia is poor. America is modern and progressive, while Appalachia is mired in the past. America is racially and ethnically diverse, while Appalachia is uniformly White, a land of hillbillies and moonshine.