Gone Home: Race and Roots Through Appalachia

Karida L. Brown. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-4696-4703-6
In this analytical history, Brown digs into a lesser-known portion of the Great Migration (during which approximately six million African-Americans left the rural South for better—usually urban—opportunities elsewhere): migration from Alabama to Harlan County, Ky. As the descendant of some of these migrants to Appalachia, Brown includes her personal experiences along with those of former residents of the county. These remembrances gain power when quoted at greater length, such as in the surprisingly heartbreaking chapters on integration and the decline (and in some cases, partial destruction, including bulldozing) of coal towns. While moving to a rural coal community may seem an unlikely choice for migrants seeking equality and economic opportunity, Brown argues that black men “transformed from peasants to proletariats” in the coal mines. This assertion isn’t fully supported, however, because, Brown points out, the coal companies still owned everything, from homes to schools, and neighborhoods remained segregated. Her discussion of the sudden, difficult transition to school integration in the early 1960s is mesmerizing. In this tale of the collective African-American search for a place to call home, Brown provides an insightful look at 20th-century American culture. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/23/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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