By Mike Templeton

The social justice work and stories of urban Appalachians have always been linked to those of other groups and peoples all over the United States. Witness, for example, the emergence of the Rainbow Coalition as an alliance of Black Americans, urban Appalachians, and Hispanic Americans. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalitions grew out of social justice movements as our own pioneers advocated on behalf of urban Appalachians and other groups in the greater Cincinnati area. The stories of the people who were at the forefront of these struggles are of tremendous interest to all of us, and it seems a great time to shine a light on a new film from the folks at Appalshop: Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, which is the story of one of the most fearless people to ever enter into the long struggle for social and racial justice in America.

Appalshop is a multimedia education and research organization located in southeastern Kentucky focused on all things Appalachia. Appalshop provides and sponsors workshops and educational programs that introduce young people and others to photography, film and video, radio production, and a host of other things all of which are meant to promote involvement in these art forms, and to promote research and advocacy for issues and ideas that are of importance to Appalachia and Appalachian people. One of the recent productions from Appalshop is a film on the life and work of the Appalachian Civil Rights activist Anne Braden. The film is called Anne Braden: Southern Patriot, and it tells us the story of Anne Braden and the civil rights work that came to define her life. In the course of looking at Braden’s life and work, we can also see how things like urban Appalachian advocacy and the civil rights movement were and remain so inextricably bound.

Anne Braden was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1924 and raised in Alabama. As a white, middle-class woman of that particular time and place, she was ensconced in the racial and segregationist attitudes of the age. Braden went through what she described as a nearly religious conversion with respect to race and racial issues in 1946 when she witnessed a march of black veterans to the courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama to demand the right to vote. This moment set her in a direction to fight for civil rights issues that would define her entire life. The film produced by Appalshop tells the story of Braden and her life’s work as a white woman in Kentucky during some of the most explosive years of the civil rights movement.

It is important to understand how closely linked the struggles of Black Americans and urban Appalachians were during these years of the 1950s and 1960s. For one thing, a great many urban Appalachians were Black people who were part of what we now call the Great Migration during and after World War II, and they were also a part of the other migration story of Appalachians from the mountains to the cities. The earliest work of urban Appalachians in greater Cincinnati became bound up with the civil rights movement almost by immediate necessity. As far back as the 1950s, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission was working with Appalachian migrants in the greater Cincinnati area to define the very notion of the urban Appalachian, and to place emphasis on civil rights for Black people and for urban Appalachians, who were, at the time, referred to as “Cincinnati’s other minority.” Some of the pioneers in this work included Virginia Coffey, a migrant from West Virginia, and of course Ernie Mynatt of what would come to be known as the Urban Appalachian Council. Core members Michael Maloney and Maureen Sullivan were part of this collection of pioneers on behalf of urban Appalachians. There is a tremendous amount of history here, and much of it can be found in UACC’s Frank Foster Memorial Library and on the Research and Resources page of our website.

 Anne Braden was one of those champions of civil rights who took it all on with a fearlessness that could not be defeated even by the violent and dirty methods of extremely powerful white supremacists in powerful positions. Appalshop’s documentary reveals much of these things in powerful visual language. Braden’s life work spanned six decades. She was among the most compelling forces in using the power of the written word for social change. Braden placed a particular emphasis on the responsibility of white people to speak out and act on issues of racial injustice, something that carries just as much force in today’s cultural climate as it did in 1963 as we now speak of allyship in the fight for racial and social justice.  

One of the most important moments in Anne Braden’s life of campaigning for social justice came with what came to be known as the Wade Case. Anne and her husband Carl intervened on behalf of a Black couple, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, to help them buy a house in suburban Louisville. Jim Crow Laws and the racists machinations of white people in the area prevented the Wades from buying the house, and the Bradens purchased the home for them. The ensuing battle became a landmark case for the civil rights movement. This case included a bombing and the sentencing of Anne’s husband, Carl Braden, to forty years in prison for sedition, charges that were later dismissed after the sedition laws were repealed. Again, these details are given in far greater detail in the Appalshop production of Anne Braden: Southern Patriot

The Appalshop film about Anne Braden stands out for us for several important reasons. So much of the story of the civil rights movement focuses on things like the deep south and the racist violence of the rural south. We now know and recognize that the story of social and racial justice in the United States includes urban areas such as our own, and these stories include urban Appalachian pioneers on the forefront of social justice for Appalachian people and others. While this history is indeed complicated—complications Appalshop does not hide or shy away from—Appalachian people have experienced the hatreds of bigotry, and many of us have almost instinctually gravitated toward the fights of justice. This impulse, one might argue, is at the heart of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition to this day.  

You can watch the Appalshop production of Anne Braden: Southern Patriot on their YouTube channel at this link:

More information on Appalshop can found on their website:

Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of The Chief of Birds: A Memoir, available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur above, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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