In Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, a 12-volume study of the rise and fall of human civilizations, the British historian compares a segment of the modern Scots-Irish with their Scottish émigré cousins in the mountains of the eastern United States. Drawing from hearsay Toynbee asserts,
“The modern Appalachian has not only not improved on the Ulsterman; he has failed to hold his ground and has gone downhill in a most disconcerting fashion. In fact, the Appalachian “mountain people” to-day are no better than barbarians. They have relapsed into illiteracy and witchcraft. They suffer from poverty, squalor, and ill-health. 
Writing in the first half of the twentieth century, Toynbee’s account reified narrow, uncritical depictions of Appalachia that had been propagated for decades by journalists and travel writers.  Though he, and the methodological framework he championed, have since faded from historical discourse, his characterization of Appalachian people and culture has endured. Media continues to describe the region as backwards and inhabited largely by a white, heterogenous population. Such framing not only negatively stereotypes the region’s white residents but elides its rich diversity and history. Much of the region’s recent population growth can be attributed to racial and ethnic minorities. For example, more than four percent of the population identify as Latino. And today, as it was at the start of the American Civil War, nearly 10 percent of the region’s residents are African American. 
For several decades, a cadre of historians and various organizations have centered Black history in Appalachia countering the persistent narratives of the region’s arrested development and whiteness. Chari Bostick exemplifies this tradition. A few years ago, she founded Saving Grace Community Development to fight Black erasure in Gadsden, Alabama, a small city nestled in the Appalachian foothills. Her work began with the restoration and preservation of a Black cemetery in the community that predates the Civil War. African American cemeteries hold particular spiritual, social, cultural, and political importance and are considered among the first Black institutions in America. In mourning and memorializing the dead, diverse African-descended peoples fashioned a common identity. Further, the African American burial tradition afforded the dead dignity and honor they could did not attain under slavery, Jim Crow, and the post-apartheid state.
In addition to maintaining the cemetery, Bostick has since expanded the organization’s mission to document and share the area’s African American political, social, and cultural history. Once operating out of her home, she now manages a small museum and is developing an archive with a number of collections. Her efforts in the north Alabama town have not been without its challenges and her recovery work has illuminated the myriad challenges that face African American historical sites.
The reasons for neglect in the preservation of Black history in Alabama’s upcountry are mirrored across the country. The afterlife of slavery, that is, the pernicious, enduring power of white supremacist ideas, has shaped American historical memory, economic power, and public policy, key factors in historic preservation. Because of this, across the nation civic groups erected monuments to enslavers and whitewashed the history of slavery, the Civil War, and preceding decades; violence and repression drove African Americans from their communities; public projects paved over Black cemeteries and demolished cultural institutions; and a host of biased factors deny African Americans adequate representation at historical institutions and in the academy. In Appalachia’s southern foothills, one of many historians and preservationists is challenging the region’s harmful discourses and rectifying the historical record. As Bostick attests, “we have some local black history that they need to know about as well.”
 James S. Brown, “An Appalachian Footnote to Toynbee’s ‘A Study of History,’” Appalachian Journal Vol. 6, No. 1 (1978): 29.
 James C. Klotter, “The Black South and White Appalachia,” The Journal of American History Vol. 66, No. 4 (1980).
 Sarah Baird, “Stereotypes of Appalachia Obscure a Diverse Picture,” Code Switch. NPR, April 6, 2014, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/04/03/298892382/stereotypes-of-appalachia-obscure-a-diverse-picture
Amanik, Allan and Kami Fletcher (Eds.) Till Death Do Us Part: American Ethnic Cemeteries and Borders Uncrossed. Jackson, MS: The University Press of Mississippi, 2020.
Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
Cep, Casey. “The Fight to Preserve African-American History: Activists and preservationists are changing the kinds of places that are protected—and what it means to preserve them.” The New Yorker. January 27, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/03/the-fight-to-preserve-african-american-history
Holloway, Karla FC. Passed On: African American Mourning Stories, A Memorial. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
Inscoe, John C. (Ed.). Appalachian and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
Mortice, Zach. “Perpetual Neglect: The Preservation Crisis of African-American Cemeteries.” Places Journal. May 2017. https://placesjournal.org/article/perpetual-neglect-the-preservation-crisis-of-african-american-cemeteries/?cn-reloaded=1
Turner, William H. and Edward J. Cabbell (Eds.). Blacks in Appalachia. Lexington, KY: The University of Press of Kentucky, 1985.
Learn about forthcoming podcast episodes, newly published projects, research opportunities, public events, and more.Potential Students