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  • On the Participatory ArchiveThe Formation of the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project
  • Karida L. Brown (bio)

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“Going into their homes, I felt that the interview experience became a sacred space.” Karida Brown interviews Lynch, Kentucky native Dwayne Baskin in Indianapolis, Indiana (EKAAMP interview #114).

Photographs courtesy of the author unless otherwise indicated.

[End Page 113]

january 2013 | chicago, illinois

I was sitting in Mr. William Schaffer’s apartment conducting my survey. He was eighty-six years old at the time and had lived alone for the last fifty years. His home was meticulous, yet filled with a lifetime of memories. During the interview, I asked him about his high school education. He got up and lumbered to his bedroom and brought back a copy of his high school diploma and all of his report cards from the Lynch Colored Public School. I asked him if he had ever served in the military. He reached over to his drawer and pulled out a picture of himself serving in Germany during World War II. Once I finished, he said, “ You know, once I die, all of this stuff will end up in a dumpster. I don’t have any children or living siblings. I hope you will come back and take some of this so you can get the story right.”

february 2013 | cleveland, ohio

Mr. Jim Mimes heard that I was “doing a book on blacks from Harlan County, Kentucky” so he took the liberty of organizing a lunch with a few other homefolks he knew in the area. I showed up to the restaurant and our table was ready. Mr. Melvin Duncan was already there, seated and contemplative. We embraced, introduced ourselves, and he handed me a faded green book. It was the yearbook of the class of 1964—the first graduating class to integrate from the “colored school” to the “white school.” He told me that I would need to take it with me so I could see how invisible the black students were during that first year. He also asked if there was any way my university could digitize the book so he could share it with his classmates.

march 2013 | aliso viejo, california

I showed up to Mr. John Steward’s home at three in the afternoon to conduct the survey. I was hoping to be no more than ninety minutes because I had a social event to attend back in Los Angeles that evening. When I walked in, he had five boxes neatly presented in the foyer. We spent the next three hours going through documents relating to his stepfather (a coal miner in Benham, Kentucky), the formation of the Los Angeles chapter of the Eastern Kentucky Social Club, and his military, educational, and professional experiences. As time dwindled, we raced through the survey and I got myself together to leave. He looked at me with a bit of confusion and said, “ You’re going to take the stuff, right?”

eastern kentucky roots

They warned me that I’d never get the real history the way I was going about it. They said I needed to capture the story. I listened. And I stepped on a wellspring.

These were some of my first encounters with fieldwork. I had decided to return to my roots for my dissertation by studying the intergenerational African American migration in and out of the coal camps of eastern Kentucky. I am not “from” [End Page 114] there, but my mother and father and their mothers and fathers all participated in the journey through those mountains. Although my parents left in the 1960s, they still consider Lynch, Kentucky, home. Like many other black Appalachian families from that region, my parents, who resettled in Long Island, New York, made the pilgrimage home every Memorial Day weekend to reconnect with their eastern Kentucky roots. I can remember the thrill, when I was a child, of packing up in my father’s big burgundy conversion van with at least eight other cousins, aunts, and uncles for that thirteen-hour drive up to the mountains. When we got there, Lynch would be so packed with people that...


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pp. 113-127
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