Dr. Enkeshi El-Amin and Angela Dennis know that Appalachia has a reputation for being “rural, rugged and white,” but they’re challenging those stereotypes in their new “Black in Appalachia” podcast.
The hillbilly trope can get in the way, but East Tennessee is a historically significant region for Black movements. Appalachia is the home of the Clinton 12, who braved desegregation; the Highlander Research and Education Center for civil rights; iconic Black artists; and more. Now, those stories and others will be shared with a wider audience.
The “Black in Appalachia” podcast is the most recent addition to the project’s extensive multimedia collection of stories. Co-hosts El-Amin, a lecturer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Dennis, a Knoxville-based journalist and literary activist, take on topics like sundown towns, “Nazi hunters,” local politics and more.
“The podcast creates a safe space for Black people to come together and share stories of our people within the region,” Dennis told Knox News. “It’s a place where we can be ourselves in our identity — no censorship.”
Episode one of the podcast debuted Aug. 8, on Emancipation Day. El-Amin and Dennis have 10 episodes planned for the podcast’s first season. New episodes are released every two weeks on Saturdays.
Part of something bigger
The “Black in Appalachia” podcast is a product of an eight-year partnership with East Tennessee PBS. The education initiative aims to preserve and pass on Black history within the Appalachian community.
In 2019, the Public Radio Exchange offered publicly funded media groups to apply for an intensive podcast training program. El-Amin saw the opportunity as a way to reach a younger audience and share Black experiences nationally, so she applied.
The hosts are fully committed. “Black in Appalachia” was the only TV station project out of 40 applicants to make it to the final six in October 2019. El-Amin and “Black in Appalachia” podcast producer Lee Smith have attended monthly training sessions in Boston since.
Finding the right fit for the podcast
El-Amin knew that she would need another voice to balance out her academic background, so she reached out to Dennis to add a modern angle to the historical context of “Black in Appalachia.”
“The dialogue that we have adds a conversational aspect to the podcast that I think appeals to our target audience,” El-Amin said. “Being younger Black women who can just vibe and have a good time, I think that definitely helps us with the tone that we’re trying to set with the podcast.”
The co-hosts complement each other’s knowledge and experience. El-Amin is not originally from the area but has studied “the link between race and place.” Dennis, on the other hand, is an East Knoxville native but didn’t learn about the region’s rich Black history growing up. Together, their commentary sheds light on the past to inspire conversations about the present.
Connecting young people to Appalachia
El-Amin and Dennis strive to get out of the studio and share real stories of Appalachian people to help young Black people discover their place.
“One of the things that grounds us is young Black folks in the region and making sure that they are comfortable and feel empowered to claim this space and to take up space in Appalachia,” El-Amin said.
“Especially in Knoxville, we lose a lot of good Black talent to other areas, so this is a way for us to, hopefully, connect people to the region and retain Black people here,” Dennis added.
‘Something for everyone’
El-Amin and Dennis have recorded five unreleased episodes of the “Black in Appalachia” podcast that include a variety of voices — from the poetics of Nikki Giovanni to the Appalachian accent of a coal miner.
The stories are unique yet relatable to all listeners.
“There are lessons in the podcast for some of our listeners who aren’t Black, especially within the movement that’s going on right now,” Dennis said. “There’s something for everyone, which is what’s I think really a good thing about this project.”
The co-hosts hope that the podcast will help further the mission of “Black in Appalachia” and open doors for them in the future to continue telling Black stories.
Information about the “Black in Appalachia” podcast and where you can listen is available at blackinappalachia.org/podcast.
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