On June 28 the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition hosted a presentation on the Public Library Resources for Appalachian culture and advocacy and a discussion of the role of Appalachian people and organizations in greater Cincinnati. This presentation was hosted by Sondra Pressley, the Branch Manager of the Price Hill Branch of the Public Library.

Through the magic of Zoom, multiple Core members of Urban Appalachian Community Coalition and others were able to participate in this presentation on library resources and Appalachian culture and history. Sondra Pressley opened the presentation with an introduction to material available through the public library archives. Pressley showed us newspapers articles that document Appalachian life in Cincinnati from the 1950s to the present. These articles present a story of urban Appalachians through the years, from the most basic problems of employment to the complexities of defining Appalachian identity against bigotry in the city.  The library archives trace the impact and complexity of urban Appalachian life and culture.

Sondra Pressley emphasized two links available on the library webpage that connect the public library holdings to the Berea College Southern Appalachian Archive and our own Frank Foster Library. Berea College also holds the archives of the Urban Appalachian Council, UACC’s predecessor. Some of these resources are still in development, but the links are established for when they are fully online, and the library is developing links to more resources around the region to provide anyone– not just scholars and activists—with a vast wealth of resources of the study of Appalachian culture and history. After this part of the presentation, UACC offered its own insights on the mosaic of pieces that make up Appalachian culture and history in greater Cincinnati.

UACC Core member Mike Maloney told us that there have been a vast number of people who have, over the decades, migrated from the Appalachian regions and now populate Cincinnati. Appalachia provides an enormous contribution to the cultural and historical fabric of our region. According to Mike, “There have been more books on Appalachia and Appalachian culture coming out of Cincinnati than anywhere else.” It appears the Appalachian storytellers and culture keepers are in Cincinnati. He pointed out that Appalachians have left their mark on the religion, music, and industry of greater Cincinnati; “We have been leaders, doctors, lawyers; we have built bridges and roads, the Appalachian people have shaped the culture of the region.” It was the Urban Appalachian Council in partnership with African American leaders that prevented the complete destruction of many of the city’s urban neighborhoods. The tendency to engage in dialogue and engage diversity has put the urban Appalachian community at the forefront of social justice in Cincinnati.

Pauletta Hansel provided poetic transitions between segments. Offering reflections on UACC history while reading the poems of urban Appalachian community members with whom she has worked. Pauletta read the poem “We Are From Oyler,” written by students at Oyler School. This poem stood out to me because it captures the mix of impressions and ideas that partially define the urban Appalachian experience of young people today. The opening lines speak to the past and the present, the mountains and the city, and the complexities of who we are set against the world we inhabit: “I am from the city/ but I talk like I’m from the country./ I am from my old Kentucky home.” In reading this poem, Pauletta emphasized the ways urban Appalachian culture remains active and alive in the creative energies of young people.

Maureen Sullivan gave us some of her personal history with the former Urban Appalachian Council. Maureen told us of the needs for educational opportunities for many Appalachians in the area. UAC set up adult education centers in ten neighborhoods to help people finish high school and gain their GEDs. This vastly improved job opportunities and empowered urban Appalachians in greater Cincinnati. Maureen also emphasized that “whoever was there became a part of our work,” as she explained the way UAC worked within the diverse neighborhoods of Cincinnati. Again, urban Appalachian culture, history, and advocacy has always included everyone. We are acutely aware of the communities in which we live, and, as Maureen told us, “the mission of UAC was to promote a decent quality of life for urban Appalachians and their neighbors.”

We then heard from Nancy Laird who is currently centered at the Santa Maria Community Center in Lower Price Hill. Nancy described the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition as “an agency without walls because we do our work everywhere.” The inclusiveness and scope of the advocacy work of UACC spans the city and covers everyone who falls into the work at hand. Nancy has been involved with Appalachian advocacy for many years, working with UAC’s Appalachian Identity Center downtown and making the transition from UAC to UACC. Nancy Laird is one of those people who provide the living continuity that keeps Appalachian advocacy and cultural memory alive.

As if to tie the entire presentation together in one segment, core member Omope Carter Daboiku gave us a story that encapsulates the urban Appalachian experiences from the small towns to the city. Omope Carter Daboiku is, among a long list of other things, a griot—a culture keeper, and with this she embodies all that this presentation was about: preserving the rich culture of Appalachia in the greater Cincinnati area, advocating on behalf of Appalachians in the urban area, and working for and with our neighbors whoever our neighbors may be.

The presentation came back around to the Public Library resources. Sondra Pressley showed us how the public library of Cincinnati is developing materials for study which include over 900 Appalachian-specific items such as DVDs, books, periodicals, etc. The library is setting up programming for children and amped up their virtual programing in light of the pandemic. Library outreach is extended through the Price Hill Branch as they work with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, the Santa Maria Community Center, and Price Hill Will. Finally, the public library is working to strengthen and retain community partnerships through innovative outreach and advocacy. This presentation was a powerful reminder of the influence and the struggles of the Appalachian community in Cincinnati, and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has stepped up as a force for Appalachian culture and advocacy.https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=598864870749865Watch the full presentation!

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.FacebookTwitterShare

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