By C.E. Huffman
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 21, 2023) — Appalachia has a rich history and culture. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the region spans north from New York, down the expansive mountain range as far south and west to Mississippi with Kentucky in the middle. Many times, lost in the overall conversation of Appalachia are Black Americans contributions to the region.
Frank X Walker, University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences English professor, wanted to make sure the region’s Black history was acknowledged and documented. His journey began by coining the phrase "Affrilachia."
“Affrilachia is an idea grounded in inclusion that seeks to build bridges with everyone left out of a definition of Appalachia that requires whiteness for participation,” said Walker, who is also an affiliated faculty member at the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies at UK.
According to the latest Census data, the Appalachian region consists of just over 26 million people. Of that, 10%, or just over 2.6 million Black people, are scattered throughout the area, this group the largest minority population in Appalachia.
Walker wanted to ensure Black Appalachians were recognized. And for the first time in his writing career, he did so in a children’s book. Published by the University Press of Kentucky, “A Is for Affrilachia” is now available.
“This book is for everyone who doesn’t know how rich the region really is," Walker said. "And especially for anyone who ever heard and repeated the shallow caricatures and stereotypes that rendered non-white people invisible."
“A Is for Affrilachia”offers a rich display of regional, racial and cultural heritage through word and image. Walker said he wrote this children’s book not only to bring awareness of notable Black Americans from Appalachia, but to celebrate the people, physical spaces and historical events that may not be as well known in mainstream educational structures.
“I hope all readers experience a level of joy,' he said. "I know they will learn many things about our shared histories that they didn’t already know. I hope all readers discover that it’s a multi-generational opportunity to learn, grow and to be led to a deeper exploration of the places, events, and people mentioned in the book."
Illustrated by acclaimed artist upfromsumdirt (Ronald W. Davis), the book features musicians, artists and activists as well as mountain ranges, literary works and coal mining implements. Famous names, such as playwright August Wilson, writer Nikki Giovanni, actor Chadwick Boseman and singer Nina Simone, are spotlighted, as well as such lesser-known individuals as artist Romare Bearden and musician Amethyst Kiah.
To help spread the message of “A Is for Affrilachia”, the Steele-Reese Foundation has awarded the University Press of Kentucky with a grant to promote the diversity of the Appalachian region to children, students and educators. The grant will provide 2,000 free copies of Walker’s book to schools and public libraries in the Appalachian Regional Commission service area.
“A Is for Affrilachia” is now available for purchase.
As the campus community continues to celebrate Black History Month, readers are also invited to check out the new release “Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State: Revisiting My Old Kentucky Home”, edited by UK professor Gerald L. Smith.
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