By Mike Templeton

On Saturday, April 20, from 10:00 am to noon at 1556 Chase Avenue in Northside, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, in partnership with A Picture’s Worth, will be holding the first of several training sessions for the newest version of our Urban Appalachian Story Gathering Project. This project is now under the heading of a program area entitled Kith and Kin: Appalachians and the Making of Cincinnati. Kith and Kin is intended to shine a light on the myriad ways that Appalachians have shaped and come to define the social, cultural, and economic life of greater Cincinnati by sharing first-hand accounts of the Appalachian people and families who made Cincinnati. Kith and Kin also include “Perceptions of Home: The Urban Appalachian Spirit,” an exhibit using photography by Malcolm J. Wilson and interviews by Don Corathers documenting Appalachian migration during the mid- to late-twentieth century.  This is a traveling exhibit and soon will be a digital exhibit

Kith and Kin uses oral history to document the ways Appalachian migration has impacted greater Cincinnati for the better part of 100 years. While Cincinnati is not within the defined borders of Appalachia, researchers estimate that there are more persons of Appalachian descent living in greater Cincinnati than within the eastern Kentucky counties from which many of their families hailed. The presence of Appalachians in the city and surrounding area exists in a reciprocal relationship with the city. Everything from the cultural life of the city to the very structures within which we live and work have been touched and often directly made by the hands of urban Appalachians. It is impossible to ignore or underestimate the impact of Appalachia on this region. It is with these basic facts in mind that the Kith and Kin project was conceived.

Core member Pauletta Hansel is one of the driving forces behind Kith and Kin, and she explained, “In many ways Kith and Kin is continuation of the work the we—first as the Urban Appalachian Council and now as UACC—have been doing for more than 50 years, telling the story of urban Appalachians in Cincinnati. In fact, Perceptions of Home is nearly thirty years old, and the Story Gathering Project began in 2020. But by bundling the two projects under one umbrella, and with the help of some amazing individual and organizational partners, including the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library and A Picture’s Worth, we see the opportunity to reach deeper into the community to find new stories and new listening ears.”

It is worth noting that the project, Kith and Kin, has grown out of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition’s recent planning process, and could not have come into being without the help of many volunteers. The Kith and Kin Committee includes Jim Talkington, the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library’s Chris Smith, Ashley Hopkins of the Miami University Regionals Upward Bound Program, UACC’s Communications Specialist Erinn Sweet, and Core Members Elissa Yancey, Maureen Sullivan and Pauletta Hansel. We will share more information about the outcome of our planning process and how you can get involved in various aspects of UACC in the months to come.

To be clear about what we mean by kith and kin, we can go back to the dictionary meaning of these words. “Kith” refers to close friends and neighbors, and “kin,” of course, to family. Together, “kith and kin” is widely inclusive: folks with direct ties to Appalachia, those whose families migrated generations back, and the neighborhoods, organizations and people affected by greater Cincinnati’s urban Appalachian community.  Using archival material from Perceptions of Home and the past Story Gathering Project interviews along with new audio interviews, we will be able to both look back and look forward, providing a larger and more comprehensive portrait of urban Appalachian life and history. Kith and Kin may well provide some of the most important documentation of urban Appalachian history and culture in the area.

The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library is a key partner in helping to archive and digitally exhibit Kith and Kin, both Perceptions of Home and our Story Gathering video and audio interviews. Another important partner is Jim Talkington of Talkington Media; not coincidentally, Jim was one of the young, recent migrants interviewed as part of the Perceptions of Home exhibit in the 1990s. All grownup now, Jim is helping to prepare various aspects of the project for exhibit. We hope to have Perceptions of Home available as a CHPL digital exhibit in the summer, and the Story Gathering Project by the end of the year. These exhibits will include photographs, interview summaries and audio/video material. (Currently the video interviews from Story Gathering Project remain available on UACC’s website here; we will be upgrading our webpages to include all of Kith and Kin in the near future.) By linking current narratives and images with the archival images in Perceptions of Home, we will be able to convey the story of Appalachian migration and the emergence and development of urban Appalachians over the course of the history of greater Cincinnati for much of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century.

The new interviews will be collected using audio, rather than video, as UACC begins to use A Picture’s Worth’s methods which involve the collection of personal narratives along with still photographs. The first round of story collection will be focused on the question of “what represents family to you.” Participants will be invited to bring an object or photograph as a prompt to talk about their lives. Both the interview and a picture of the object or photograph will be shared with the public.

APW’s philosophy is to “honor [participants’] expertise and strengths as well as their challenges,” thus “deepening media coverage beyond headlines and stereotypes.” The April 20th. training session is a two-hour session designed to acquaint people with best practices for personal audio interviews—effective ways to go about these interviews and to make sure people understand how to handle what can be delicate and difficult memories of people—as well as with the Kith and Kin Story Gathering protocol. The training is free, and we do want to emphasize that trained interviewers will be paid, so this is a fantastic opportunity for people interested in urban Appalachian culture and oral history. Further training sessions are in the works for later in 2024. The first opportunity for collecting interviews will be on May 3rd during Living Stream: A Creekside Journey; the Lower Price Hill Appalachian Festival on May 4th; and at the Appalachian Festival at Coney Island on May 11-12.

The history of urban Appalachians in greater Cincinnati is a complex set of experiences and stories. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition seeks to understand and recount this history in all its complexity and importance. You have the chance to join a genuinely meaningful and powerful project with Kith and Kin: Appalachians and the Making of Cincinnati. Getting involved begins with the first training session on Saturday April 20, from 10:00 am to noon at 1556 Chase Avenue in Northside.

The informational flyer about our Kith and Kin Story Gathering Training is part of this blog post. For more information and to RSVP, contact UACC Story Project at: [email protected].

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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