Year of Entry: 2011
Bachelor of Business Administration, Temple University, 2000
Master of Public Administration, University of Pennsylvania, 2009
Areas of Interest:
Cultural Sociology, Race & Ethnicity, Historical Sociology, Social Theory, Migration, Archival Science, Oral History, Sociology of Education, African American Studies, Appalachian Studies
Affiliations at Brown:
Cogut Center for the Humanities Graduate Fellow
Before they were Diamonds: The Intergenerational Migration of Kentucky’s Coal Camp Blacks
My dissertation project is an empirical examination of the ways in which social transformations of the 20th century—read along the grain of the Great Migration—impacted the collective identity of African Americans over space and time. In this work, the researcher will analyze the racialized subjectivity and identity (trans)formation of a diaspora of African Americans who partook in an intergenerational migration from the plantations of central Alabama to the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky in the first half of the 20th century, and then moved on to urban cities throughout the United States throughout the Civil Rights-era. The latter generation of migrants’ collectively experienced major shifts in the social structures of their community of origin, such as transitioning from a “colored schools” to a State mandated integrated school system, retrenchment in the labor economy of a single-industry community, and the subsequent mass out-migration from their community of origin. These jolts to the social structures of their society not only altered their horizon of opportunity, but also resulted in major dislocations in the cultural systems that informed their collective identity. Particular to the case, the researcher is concerned with the ways in which these cultural traumas—memories of events that collectivities believe rendered the social fabric of their society—impacted the collective identity of this diaspora. In spite of their geographic dispersion, this generation of migrants has managed to stay connected through a set of “invented traditions” that they constituted at the tail end of their out-migration. For example, the Eastern Kentucky Social Club—an organization established by this group of migrants in 1970—has hosted a reunion in different cities across the country every year for the last forty-four years. At its height, this event drew over 3,000 African American migrants from across the country. The broader aim of the project is to reconstruct the rich history and culture of this special population of Black Appalachians to put forth a re-examination of W.E.B. Du Bois’s phenomenological analysis of racialized subjectivity and African American identity formation in 20th century America.
The overarching research questions that guide this study are (1) How do we explain the emergence of their post-migration diasporic identity? (2) How has their collective identity been negotiated, transformed and reinscribed through their changing, and sometimes contested, subjectivity as racialized American citizens through the continuum of the pre and post civil rights era? I will specifically focus on three events that have been the site of transformation for the individuals in my case, (1) the school desegregation process—an event that occurred almost a decade after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in this region, (2) the mass out-migration from southeastern Kentucky—a community level event that was a precursor to the emergence of their diasporic identity, and (3) the construction of the EKAAMP archive—an event that marks the institutional transference from memory to history. These eventful temporalities provide three categories of analysis that will allow me to make important linkages to my research questions in the context of the past, present, and future. These three events will serve as “scenes of subjectivity”—different perspectives from which to make theoretical observations related to the stated research questions.