This article was originally created for the expatalachians newsletter and was adapted for the website.
Black Lives Matter
Following the heinous killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, protests arose in Minneapolis — then around the country and world — condemning police violence, racism, and white supremacy.
These protests are overdue. White supremacy, as Layla F Saad wrote, “is a disease as old as time, for which we’ve been waiting generations to see a cure.” Racism is embedded into the fabric of American society, Appalachia included — from the geography of Pittsburgh to disparities in healthcare outcomes in Atlanta.
expatalachians stands in solidarity with protesters. This week our newsletter is dedicated to providing historical background on racism, sharing information about the protests, and connecting white folks, who want to be allies, to vital resources.
The expatalachians team is all white, which means we cannot (and will not) speak on the Black experience. What we can do, however, is offer our platform to Black individuals. If you are Black and want your voice shared on expatalachians, drop us a line at annie@expatalachians. Like Queer Appalachia, we are “commited to being quiet & listening.”
Context on How We Got Here (aka history)
Mural of George Floyd in Berlin, Germany. Via Wikimedia.
Disclaimer: This should not be read as a complete or all-encompassing history. This abbreviated re-telling was written to provide a bare-bones education to white people whose education failed them. Another point to keep in mind is that this summary and newsletter are written by white people, which shapes the content we highlight. We highly encourage you to pursue independent research and engage with work by Black writers and scholars. A great tool to aid you in this is Google. It’s easy to use and widely accessible.
Slavery existed as early as the 1500s in the Americas. A Spanish sugar planter, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, attempted to establish a settlement and slavery, on the Carolina/Georgia coast in 1526 but was unsuccessful. When the British colonized North America, they wanted laborers for their colonial projects and instead of doing it themselves they stole individuals from Africa, enslaving them and ushering in the start of slavery in the U.S. in 1619. The 17th century, thus, saw the beginning, legalization (first in 1641 in Massachusetts), and expansion of slavery in the U.S.
Slavery was abolished with the signing of the 13th amendment in 1865. Leading up to this point was the Civil War, which was fundamentally about slavery. The South depended on slave labor for agriculture, while the North, where “manufacturing and industry were well established,” did not.
Post-civil war from 1863-1877 is the time known as Reconstruction. This era saw the re-shaping of citizenship laws, sharecropping, the Ku Klux Klan, and the implementation of Jim Crow laws. These laws–created by white merchants, planters, businessmen and politicians–effectively prevented “Black citizenship and equality promised under the 14th and 15th amendments.” It should go without saying that these laws were vicious and institutionalized racism. One landmark ruling was Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which “upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the ‘seperate but equal’ doctrine.”
Through the 20th century, fleeing violent racism (manifest in a myriad of ways including lack of economic opportunities and lynching), many Black folks fled the Southern U.S. in what is called the Great Migration.
“The Great Migration would expose the racial divisions and disparities that in many ways continue to plague the nation and dominate headlines today, from police killings of unarmed African-Americans to mass incarceration to widely documented biases in employment, housing, health care and education,” writes Isabel Wilkerson.
The civil rights movement and Black activism (including Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.) ended the enforcement of Jim Crow laws by 1965. Pivotal legal moments in the fight against Jim Crow include Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public schools and ruled “seperate but equal” unconstitutional; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination in voting.
There are so many more important events from this era that we have not summarized. However, you are strongly encouraged to pursue more learning on your own. People, organizations, and events to search include: Emmett Till, Woolworth’s Lunch Counter, Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Selma to Montgomery marches/Bloody Sunday, Malcolm X’s assassination, MLK’s assassination, the Black Power movement, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the Stonewall riots. Again, this is not an all-encompassing list, but one to get you started.
The civil rights era is defined as the time between the 1950-60s. However, Black activism continues today. Again, we cannot summarize everything that happened from the 1970s to the present, but key people, organizations, and events include: Shirley Chisholm (the first African American women in congress and the first women and African American to seek the presidential nomination), affirmative action (which is a collection of historic and ongoing policies and initiatives to end discrimination), the literature of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker (and others), Oprah Winfrey, the 1992 LA Riots, the election of former president Barak Obama, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The key takeaways from history are this: White supremacy is older than the founding of the U.S. and thus embedded in the foundation of the nation. Racism is an ongoing, white problem. Black people have been organizing, peacefully protesting, and speaking out for centuries. White America has consistently and actively suppressed Black voices and perpetuated racism.
The ongoing protest should remind us white Americans that we have been silent and complicit in white supremacy for too long. Now we need to use the momentum of the protests to act with urgency and end racism and white supremacy.
For yet more historical information check out some of expatalachians past stories.
- Dear White Appalachians
- Highlander Folk School: The Heart of Appalachian Organizing
- It’s Time to Talk about West Virginia’s Slaves
- Black Coal: The African American Miners of West Virginia’s Southern Coalfields
- Talking with Ghosts: A Multimedia Journey through the Underground Railroad
- Sweet Like Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum’s Journey to Appalachia
Protests Around the World
Placard protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Edinburgh, Scotland.
From a train in Brussels, Belgium with a tag reading “Please, I can’t breathe” to demonstrators in Auckland, New Zealand performing the Maori haka dance (associated with war), the world is protesting. Follow more global coverage here.
Protests in reaction to the death of George Floyd, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, are taking place across all 50 states. Protests in Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, LA, D.C., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Columbus made headlines after protesters were injured by excessive police force, curfews were instated, and large crowds gathered. In Washington D.C., peaceful protesters were tear gassed so that the president could pose for a photo op with a bible. Though mentioned less by major news publications, there are many small towns and cities also demonstrating across the country.
The excessive police force used on protesters has been condemned by Amnesty International. The use of rubber bullets, in particular, has been cited as extremely dangerous. Numerous injuries have been documented, including people losing eyes or becoming permanently blind as a result of rubber bullet injuries. Others have pointed out the hypocrisy that tear-gas, a chemical weapon, is banned from warfare but permitted to be used by law enforcement on civilians.
Many folks wonder if coronavirus will spike as a result of massive protests – it very well might. Police and city measures attempting to tamper down protests may also contribute to a spread of coronavirus. Police seized masks from Black Lives Matter organizers. Curfews are causing grocery stores and convenience stores to crowd before closing as some folks rush from work to home in fear of arrest.
In Charlotte, NC, police trapped protesters into a street, closed in from both sides, forcing folks to break any social distance measures, and proceeded to gas them. Police are using similar tactics in New York, most obviously when protesters were trapped on the Manhattan Bridge. The use of tear gas creates long lasting damage to lungs and causes excessive cough which leaves protesters extra vulnerable to COVID-19.
There is a controversy surrounding the looting and rioting connected to the protests and movement against police brutality. Most of these vandalism and looting actions are uncoordinated by black organizers. Some are using this as an opportunity to discredit the protest or steal for their own effort. Other more coordinated efforts have focused on inanimate objects of white supremacy like the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, VA. In some cities, like Asheville, NC, the boarding up of downtown businesses to protect their windows has become a center for community art.
Protests in Appalachia
Folks across Appalachia joined the landmark protests calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. The Daily Yonder highlighted protests in small cities like Harlan, Kentucky and Marietta, Ohio. Appalachian specific signs like “hillbillies for #blacklives” and chants were seen across the region. In Harlan, Kentucky, a group of around 100 people lined a major road with signs in support of Black Lives Matter. West Virginia had vibrant protests throughout the state. Morgantown, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Charleston all saw peaceful protests. Thousands are expected to turn out in West Virginia’s state capital of Charleston this weekend.
In Columbus, OH, police have repeatedly escalated encounters with protestors since large demonstrations started a week ago, deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and other tactics to disperse largely peaceful protests. Last weekend, CPD pepper sprayed Ohio Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and two other local public officials while they attended a protest. Despite a media exemption for a 10 p.m. curfew, Columbus police threatened both public radio and student reporters with arrest and pepper spray. For live and continuous updates on the protests in Columbus, follow @matternews_ (a non-profit journalism start-up co-founded by a fellow OU grad) on instagram.
Protests in Pittsburgh, PA are ongoing. On the first day of protests, May 31, an initially peaceful demonstration took a turn. A police car was set on fire, buildings were damaged, individuals were injured, and 45 were arrested. In response, the mayor, Bill Peduto, instated a citywide curfew from 8:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. There is controversy about why the peaceful protest erupted. The police chief blamed looting and rioting on white males, dressed as anarchists. There are also questions, and condemnation, about the use of police force in breaking up the protest.
Following the explosive events, protests continue to be peaceful with activists calling for police reform and policy change.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta, GA, gave an emotional press conference after a police car was set on fire and parts of the city were vandalized. Bottoms, who is a black woman, sympathized with protesters outraged over the killing of George Floyd but condemned their approach.
“If you love this city—this city that has had a legacy of black mayors and black police chiefs, where more than fifty per cent of business owners in metro Atlanta are minority business owners—if you care about this city, then go home,” Bottoms stated.
The protests and the mayor’s reaction also highlights the city’s connection to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, raising questions about what protest approaches are appropriate and most effective.
There is an ongoing curfew in place for metro Atlanta.
In Asheville, NC protests have been a mix of turbulence and peace. After a few days of protests, the city ordered an 8 p.m. curfew and called in the national guard. Folks are protesting for Black Lives Matter and others against the curfew. Police attacked a protester aid station with water after first attempting to arrest a Black woman organizer. Medics, involved in keeping the protesters safe, moved to protect her from arrest and the police quickly moved to destroy water and supplies donated by residents for protesters. However, protesters are not deterred.
The next day saw a massive turn out in downtown Asheville’s Pack Square for a vigil in honor of George Floyd. The protesters intend to return every day and have asked for specific demands on ending the curfew, more police oversight, and a reduction in police budget from Asheville City Council which meets next week.
In many of these protests, cities large and small, small groups of armed white men showed up to defend their cities from any “antifa,” shorthand for anit-facism, threats. In Parkersburg, West Virginia some are calling them the “market street militia.” Rumors of antifa groups and violent intentions startled folks across the country. No violence or clashes occurred at smaller protests in more Appalachia. In fact, many of these rumors seem to be maliciously started by white supremacist groups in an effort to scare off supporters or enact harsher police actions. These allegations are being investigated in rural places by Rural Organizing.
Protest Demands & Policy Response
The first and foremost demand of the protests is justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery–though these are just the tip of the iceberg in the long history of unjust murders of black folks. In each of these three cases, the murderers would have been free to walk away from the crimes. Now, due to national outrage and protests, action is being taken in all three cases.
The police reform and larger systematic government changes, such as the Civil Rights Act in the 60’s, needed are lagging. But there is some hope and opportunity for real policy change. Protests across the country are asking folks to vote, complete the census, and demand change at the most local levels. In Minneapolis, the city council is reconsidering policing and public safety systems. Confederate statues are being taken down in cities like Richmond, VA and Louisville, KY. Minneapolis is looking to form a new model of community oriented policing. Libertarian and progressive congress members collaboratively introduced a bill to abolish immunity for police in these crimes and allow citizens to sue them.
As the longtime protest slogan states “no justice, no peace”, there will be no end to protests until concrete steps are taken to end systematic racism and police brutality. Al Sharpton and the Floyd family are calling for a march on Washington DC in August signaling a long march ahead. This is a reckoning of centuries of oppression, murders, and injustice – we’ve only started witnessing these injustices on social media this decade.
Understand the Hashtags
This article provides an excellent explanation of why Black Lives Matter is such an important phrase and hashtag.
This video and article break down why white silence is so damaging and harmful.
The white supremacist education system failed us, so now it’s time to educate ourselves. Luckily, there are numerous and excellent reading lists circulating the web. Make sure you are taking ownership of educating yourself and not putting this burden on black folks.
Layla F Saad, author of “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good” (a book that should be on your reading list) provides an anti-racist reading list here.
Ibram X. Kendi, scholar, professor, and author of several books, including “STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You” and “How to Be an Antiracist”, created an anti-racist reading list and another list–”A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters.”
Dirt (a platform/collective/resource for critical arts discourse) shared the White Fragility Mixtape, which provides links to a variety of resources for white people.
TED compiled a list of their talks to try to help you understand racism in America.
https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/ is an extremely comprehensive website providing information on various ways to help.
This Google Doc provides a detailed list of various resources (from ways to help to advice on seeking legal counsel) around the nation.
Before you take any action make sure you are following the direction of black activists. Review this guide on Non-Optical Allyship to make sure you are keeping yourself in check.
Show up to protests! Make posters, bring food/water, assist with first aid (if qualified)–there are many ways to participate in the protests and support protestors.
Donating is important regardless if you go to a protest or not. Right now protestors need your support to keep going.
Knowing where to donate can be tricky. Luckily, Paper Magazine compiled a list of how to donate to protestors in every city. You can find the list here.
Now is also a good time to donate to black organizations doing vital community work, content creators, and businesses. Many content creators share ways to pay them on their social media, making it easy for you to donate. Currently, lists are being compiled in cities and towns across the country of black-owned businesses. I encourage you to search for your city or town. Here is one for Pittsburgh.
Not everyone can protest in-person, however, activism comes in many forms. From the comfort of your home you can sign petitions (list of them here). Or practice online activism by following the guide @sa.liine made. Another great way is by watching this video created by a young black YouTuber, Zoe Amira. The video generates money–that supports protests efforts–through ads.
USE YOUR VOICE
Call or write your local, state, and national officials. A very easy way to call for justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor is clicking on the email templates published on Maasai Goodwin’s Instagram. It literally only takes a few seconds, so do it.
Support black-run orgs and those working for racial justice in Appalachia, such as:
- Black Appalachia
- Appalachian Community Fund
- The STAY Project
- Black Appalachian Young and Rising
- The POISE Foundation
- The Highlander Research and Education Center
- Holler Health Justice
- Showing Up For Racial Justice
- Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
- The Sunup Initiative
- Southerners On New Ground
- Community Movement Builders
- Metro Atlanta Mutual Aid Fund
- The Movement for BlackLives
Let’s grow this list–email firstname.lastname@example.org with information about orgs we didn’t include.
Note from the Authors
If you have made it through the whole newsletter and are reading this note, thank you! We know this is lengthier than our normal content and you might be overloaded with content right now. But what is going on right now is extremely important and Appalachians can play a role. If you have any feedback or comments you’d like to discuss in a respectful way feel free to email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and we will follow up with you.