Portraits and Dreams revisits photographs created by Kentucky schoolchildren in the 1970s and the place where the photos were made. The film is about the students, their work as visionary photographers and the lives they have led since then, as well as the linkage of personal memory to the passage of time.
Portraits and Dreams revisits photographs created by Kentucky schoolchildren in the 1970s and the place where the photos were made. The film is about the students, their work as visionary photographers and the lives they have led since then, as well as the linkage of personal memory to the passage of time.
This guide is an invitation to dialogue. It is based on a belief in the power of human connection and designed for people who want to use Portraits and Dreams to engage family, friends, classmates, colleagues, and communities. In contrast to initiatives that foster debates in which participants try to convince others that they are right, this document envisions conversations undertaken in a spirit of openness in which people try to understand one another and expand their thinking by sharing viewpoints and listening actively.
The discussion prompts are intentionally crafted to help a wide range of audiences think more deeply about the issues in the film. Rather than attempting to address them all, choose one or two that best meet your needs and interests. And be sure to leave time to consider taking action. Planning next steps can help people leave the room feeling energized and optimistic, even in instances when conversations have been difficult.
For more detailed event planning and facilitation tips, visit https://communitynetwork.amdoc.org/.
I left Kentucky in 1982 after teaching photography to middle school students for five years at the Campbells Branch School in Kentucky. When my star pupils, Denise Dixon and Russell Akemon, approached puberty, they stopped taking pictures. I told myself they’d probably grow up to be men and women of the mountains, with the security and limitations of their culture. But in 2008, I received an email that nearly stopped my heart.
I have thought about you often throughout the years. I am now Denise Benge. You would remember me as Denise Dixon from Whitesburg, Ky. I recently came across your name on the Internet, and thought I would send you an email. I am 40 years old. I am married with two boys.
I still have a passion and a love for photography. People often ask me to do pictures for weddings and other special occasions…so I have recently become active again in photography. I realized that it will always be a part of who I am.
For almost forty years I lived with the photographs my students made in the 70s without knowing what had become of my students. My friend Elizabeth Barret, a filmmaker from Hazard, Kentucky suggested we look for the students and make a film. We made arrangements for a reunion that was held at the County Extension Building overlooking Whitesburg, Kentucky.
Most of the students hadn’t seen each other since the 70s. Many of them brought photographs they’d made when they were in my class. Denise Dixon Benge brought a picture she’d made thirty years earlier of herself as “the girl with the snake around her neck” wearing a wig and a gauzy nightgown. She also brought a contemporary remake of the same picture.
Gary Crase brought a photograph of himself raising a pickaxe over the head of a cat that his father was holding. Gary described it, shockingly but accurately, as the classic image of an abused child trying to appease his abuser.
Our conversations at the reunion turned out to be the beginning of a nine-year project to make Portraits and Dreams, a documentary about being young and freely imaginative back then, about memories of pain and joy, and about the discovery of love that spanned the years.
The connections between all of us, we discovered, were still there, but the stories of the students’ lives were more complicated than any of us had imagined. For one thing, my Kentucky students stayed home, or so I thought – while I left Kentucky and went on to collaborate with children and women on photography projects all over the world.
But my Kentucky students didn’t stay home. They charted extraordinary new paths for themselves in and out of Appalachia: Sue Dixon Brashear was a teacher and school principal, Johnny Wilder was a machine operator, Gary Crase was a lab technician and teacher, Denise Dixon Benge was a photographer and videographer, and Delbert Shepherd was a contractor and a musician. The lessons they’d learned as image makers, storytellers and masters of their own creativity had guided them. And they’d taught us a lesson I’ll always remember: that it was often more interesting to frame the world according to others’ visions as well as my own.
Wendy Ewald, Director/Producer
Dear POV Community,
We are so glad you are facilitating a discussion inspired by the film Portraits and Dreams! Before you begin, we’d like to encourage you to prepare yourself for the conversation as this film invites you and your community to discuss the experiences of people and their families who generously share stories about their lives and offer personal revelations about childhood abuse, hunger, experiences with substance use, incarceration, and generational poverty. Additionally, people living in Appalachia have – in recent history – been subject to popular representations that would have us believe that an entire class of rural people can be classified by harmful, flattened, and unimaginative stereotypes that fail to account for historic and systemic issues that impact communities across the nation. This guide, and our additional resources, offer educational materials that reflect and celebrate the remarkable diversity of the mountains and rural America. We encourage you educate yourself as much as possible. Our Delve Deeper Reading List is a great place to start! Additionally, in the Resources section of this guide, we provide a wealth of documentary films, historical and contemporary texts, and links to organizations actively shaping Appalachia and the Southeast. As a facilitator we hope you will take the necessary steps to ensure that you are prepared to guide a conversation that minimizes harm, while maximizing critical curiosity, growth, and connection. We invite you to share some insights with us about how your conversations foster connection and transformation in your own community!
- Wendy Ewald - Photographer, Teacher, and Collaborator of Portraits and Dreams
- Russell Akemon - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Father& Employee of the Local Power Company, Kim’s Brother
- Kim Akemon - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Russel’s sister
- Delbert Shepherd - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Musician
- Denise Dixon Benge - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Artist
- Johnny Wilder - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Miner, Father,
- Robert Dean Smith - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Miner, Forager and Naturalist
- Sue Dixon Brashear - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Educator
- Gary Crase - Photographer, Co-creator of Portraits and Dreams, Scientist at Alice Lloyd College and Sign Language Teacher
- Arts Education & Photography
- Cultural Archiving & Memory Work
- Educational Attainment & Structural Barriers
- Intergenerational Family Support
- Impacts of Extractive Economies on the Working Poor
- Imagination, Dreams, & Notions of Success
- Power of Framing & Ethics of Representation
- Role of Reflection & Connection
- Rural Life & Opportunity
- Youth Vision and Wisdom
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: FRAMING APPALACHIA
In 1975 the young photographer, Wendy Ewald, moved to the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky to live and work. She began teaching photography to young middle school students in the community and quickly recognized their creativity and passion for taking pictures. She and her students began to create a series of photographs that later became a critically acclaimed art book, Portraits and Dreams.
Approximately a decade earlier, in April 1964, former President Lyndon B. Johnson had begun his “poverty tours” and declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America” from a porch in Martin County, Kentucky – not far from where Wendy’s classroom would be. As the War on Poverty was being waged, the region was thrust into the national spotlight, in part, due to photographs compiled ina photo essay featured in LIFE magazine – then, the most widely circulated weekly periodical. While LIFE planned for this essay to be an indictment on “a wealthy nation’s indifference” (Catte, 2018), the extreme images of poverty in the region offered little critical context or reflection on the systemic policies and economic practices that created the conditions within which many rural Appalachians were living. Rather, these images reflected what has come to be popular in collective imagination: images of white Appalachian people in poverty. These older representations reflected an absence of Black communities living in the region, and in doing so, failed to situate poverty as a systemic problem impacting racially and ethnically diverse communities in Appalachia(1). Broadly, this wave of media coverage led to a distrust of the media in Appalachia; not wanting to become a national stereotype for poverty, many people in the region wouldn’t allow their pictures to be taken.
It is interesting, then, to consider the work in Portraits and Dreams within the genre of photography, but as rooted in a more intimate educational and relational setting. In the film, Wendy revisits her former students decades later to reflect on their time together and the photographs they compiled. Her young pupils are now adults working in various fields, facing hardships from divorce to incarceration, and their singular experiences offer insight into historic regional concerns as they reflect on their passion for photography as young people.
This film takes the viewer on a reflective, multi-generational journey in a region that has long faced economic challenges, been impacted by the opioid epidemic, and been subjected to extractive industrial practices. With the community’s economy built around high impact labor, little space is left for young people to explore other fields of interest like the arts, as they navigate the narrow path for what is seen as a successful life in their hometown. While Portraits and Dreams connects former students’ lived experiences to the historic, and sometimes difficult, realities people in the region face, it does so without simplifying narratives of Appalachian life as singularly defined by hardship or constant struggle. In this way, it offers all viewers an opportunity to reflect on how they come to frame and understand the lives of others.
ARTS, CULTURAL ORGANIZING, AND ACTIVISM IN APPALACHIA: A BRIEF HISTORY
With the wave of Appalachian images gaining national press, people in the region began organizing to combat the stereotypes and raise awareness of the systemic oppression and barriers they had experienced for decades. They relied on political and community organizing and creative modes of resistance.
As Wendy worked with her students, another group of young mediamakers were making a name for themselves in Letcher County, Kentucky by documenting the region to tell the more complex narrative of their home. What began in 1969 as a War on Poverty job training initiative to teach filmmaking to disadvantaged youth quickly grew into an independent, nationally-recognized production company known as Appalshop. Appalshop is now a 50-year-old organization, working in arts, film, education, radio, theater, and community archiving. In the 70’s however, Appalshop was in it’s formative years with a team of young people who had a mission to document the region the way they experienced it, first-hand. The work of Portraits and Dreams aligned with their vision of place-based media by putting the power of documentation in the hands of local people.
A few hours south of Letcher County, Kentucky in East Tennessee sits the Highlander Education and Research Center (formerly known as the Highlander Folk School). Highlander’s reputation as a civil rights stronghold has grown over time, and is rooted in Highlander’s central role as a training center for activists involved in labor rights and racial justice movements. As a training ground for Civil Rights activists in the 1960’s it brought leaders like Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and many others together to be trained in strategies for community organizing and non-violent resistance strategies, where skills training supported preparation for engaging in actions like the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and sit-ins. Highlander describes its work as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. Highlander continues working with people fighting for justice, equality, and sustainability, and supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destinies.
EXTRACTIVE ECONOMIES & IMPACTS ON FAMILY LIFE
Central Appalachia has long been known for its coal industry. Many of the towns throughout east Kentucky, where Wendy and her students created their photographs, are named for the companies, CEO’s and Wall Street brokers(2) who created towns which were historically built for the sole purpose of mining coal. Famously, coal companies didn’t pay their employees with actual U.S. currency, but instead gave them what was called “scrip.” Scrip was a company created currency and was only useful in the company stores. As scrip became the unofficial currency of company-owned towns, the possibility for workers to achieve economic stability, to save money, or pay off debts to the company-store were determined by the coal companies themselves. This early example of the systemic parameters that impeded financial stability and economic success for the Appalachian workforce also illuminates the power and impact that coal companies had in shaping individuals’ and communities' lives and futures.
Central Appalachians spent much of the 1900’s struggling with coal companies on various fronts. Deep mining was dangerous and companies were often accused of cutting corners for financial gains, leading to threatening working conditions for the miners. Eventually, mechanization replaced human labor, creating a high rate of unemployment as well as a massive outmigration to more industrialized cities to find jobs. Mechanization also introduced new environmental threats to the region. Strip mining and mountaintop removal mining did away with the need for underground miners, but the practice meant literally removing a mountain and pushing debris down into the valleys and rivers where people lived, in order to access coal. Boulders have crashed through homes, redirected water and manmade coal dams have flooded towns. Through this practice, water sources have been heavily polluted with metal and toxins from the coal(3) and natural environments, as well as wildlife, have been destroyed.
These are some, but certainly not all, of the examples of what Appalachian Americans have been struggling to combat for over a century to secure safe and healthy lives in their own communities. The history of extraction dates back to the first coal barons and industrialists living in the Northeast who held rights to the minerals extracted from the region, and who kept the wealth at the expense of local communities. Many of the mine owners and corporations did not live in the region, though they profited from extractive practices. This reality contributed to an even starker lines of inequality and a persistent distrust of “outsiders” in Appalachia. Due to industry dominance and the intersecting impacts of extractive practices, community resistance emerged in health, environmental, labor, and racial justice movements.
RURAL RESISTANCE: SOLIDARITY AS LEGACY AND INHERITANCE
For a century, people in Appalachia have been resisting and organizing against harmful labor conditions, unfair wages, environmental impacts of extraction, and working in solidarity to refuse stereotypes that minimize the dynamic realities of lives and communities in the region. Legendary labor uprisings - from the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain to the 1973-74 Brookside Strikes (featured in the 1976 Oscar-winning documentary Harlan County U.S.A.), to the more recent Black Jewel Protests and the 2018 West Virginia teacher strikes, have garnered national attention. The long history of resistance plays out through the songs of the region with the 1932 call to action anthem like “Which Side Are You On?” written by Florence Reece, the songwriter and wife of a United Mine Workers of America organizer. In 1987 filmmaker John Sayles wrote the song, “Fire In The Hole” for the film “Matewan” that is reflective of the songwriting tradition of a rallying cry for laborers. Hazel Dickens recorded the original version of the song, with the lyrics
“Stand up boys, let the bosses know
Turn your buckets over, turn your lanterns low
There's fire in our hearts and fire in our soul
But there ain't gonna be no fire in the hole”
This legacy of resistance is still strong in the region. In the spring of 2017, 150 neo-nazis descended on the small Appalachian community of Pikeville, Kentucky(4). Seeing the hardships and believing in the stereotype that the region is all white and fearful of anyone different, they saw the town as an easy target to organize(5). However, they were met with shuttered doors and local resistance. Whitesburg artist, Lacy Hale, created a block print to express how she and many in her community felt about this rally. The hand carved print showcases rolling hills, trees, and a small cabin with the words “No Hate In My Holler”. The print resonated with so many that she later converted it to a screen print as well. This art piece has now become a new symbol for tolerance and love and has been used in movements to support LGBTQ+ and the Black Lives Matter movements. When asked what inspired this work, Hale said:
“I made this design because I was furious that white supremacists were coming to eastern Kentucky to recruit. Since that protest, it has evolved to represent anti-homophobia, anti-domestic violence, etc. It's so encouraging to see so many people identify with this phrase. I've shipped No Hate items all over the US and the world to holler transplants.”
Hale has distributed this work as prints, tshirts, stickers, and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as face masks. She uses at least 25% proceeds from this design to donate to central Appalachian non profits working towards equality like the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project, The Louisville Bail Fund, and Black in Appalachia. To date Hale says she has donated over $5,000.
POPULAR REPRESENTATIONS OF APPALACHIA
“The kids taught me that it’s less interesting to frame the world only according to my own
perceptions. I had to recognize what they were seeing, and what their vision asked of the
world. What I hoped was that these pictures would have an effect on the lives of the
people who are looking at them. But sometimes one culture or class of people is looking
at another, which can have serious consequences. Because of the viewers’ assumptions,
they can be blind to what they’re looking at. We need to be open to see what’s there.”
- Wendy Ewald, Portraits and Dreams
Appalachia is a complex story, full of contradictions and challenges. However, it’s also full of color, joy, and culture. Representation matters when showcasing any community, and considering the history of representation, this is especially true for Appalachia. Allowing locals, and young children, to quite literally frame their own daily lives through photography meant giving them the power to document their home region on a personal level. Taking a critical approach to framing and representation as a practice continues in the region today, with organizations like Appalshop and their Appalachian Media Institute (AMI). Since 1988, AMI has prepared generations of young people to work in their communities and to confront persistent problems. In learning how to examine and represent local community issues, youth in AMI develop a range of verbal, artistic, and technological skills that connect them civically to their home communities. Each summer AMI pays up to 12 young Appalachians to participate in its Summer Documentary Institute, where they spend 8 weeks learning the history of documentation in the region, discussing their own experiences, and being trained in how to create a short documentary. At the end of each summer the students produce three short documentaries highlighting the culture and issues that are important to them. As an archive, these student-made documentaries have created a 30+ year catalog of what Appalachia looks like through young peoples’ eyes; ranging in topics from LGBTQ+ experiences, environmental justice, and reproductive health rights.
An important part of resistance in Appalachia is continuing to challenge notions of a homogeneous, white culture and community landscapes that were instituted in national imagination with the late 20th century photographic representations of the region. While everyone in the film Portraits and Dreams is white, it is important to complexify whitewashed, popular representations of people living in the region. As is true for the entire nation, Indigenous people lived in the region long before the first European Settlers arrived, and Appalachian life and culture has been shaped, at its roots, by Black and Brown communities who continue to live, work, and grow community in the region today. A prominent example of this is in Harlan County, adjacent to Letcher County - where Portraits and Dreams was filmed - a group that calls itself the East Kentucky Social Club, has organized and maintained relationships with Black coal miners from their community, and with those who have migrated out. Some estimate it to have a membership of 1,500. The club has held large scale reunions all over the country to help preserve their history and relationships to each other and their community.
Brown, Karida. Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia. University of North Carolina Press, 2018
Catte, Elizabeth. What you are Getting Wrong about Appalachia. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing, 2018.
Cosgrove, B. “War on Poverty: Portraits from an Appalachian Battleground, 1964.” LIFE Magazine. Photoessay by John Dominis.
Davis, Merlene. 2011, August 28. “Ties that bind Social Club grew out of Eastern Kentucky coal country.” Lexington Herald Leader.
Fisher, Stephen, editor. Fighting Back in Appalachia: Traditions of Resistance and Change. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1993
Rennick, R. M. (1984). Kentucky Place Names. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.
Wagner, Thomas. E. (2004). African Americans Miners & Migrants: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: STARTING THE CONVERSATION
Immediately after the film, you may want to give people a few quiet moments to reflect on what they have seen or pose a general question (examples below) and give people some time to jot down or think about their answers before opening the discussion:
- If you were going to tell a friend about this film, what would you say?
- Describe a moment or scene in the film that you found particularly striking or moving. What was it about that scene that was especially compelling for you?
- If you could ask anyone in the film a single question, whom would you ask and what would you want to know more about?
- Did anything in the film surprise you?
- What aspects of the film (landscape, language, family dynamics, etc.) were relatable? If so, what felt familiar? If not, what felt new and unfamiliar?
RURAL ECONOMIES: WHO AND WHAT DETERMINES “SUCCESS?”
One topic of conversation Wendy and her former students engaged in was “success” and their journeys towards achieving their own ideas of success. Meeting with them, their families, and visiting them at home, work, and in community spaces, they reflect on how their collaborative work impacted their lives. While many of the students expressed their love for photography, not all of them continued practicing photography in their adult lives.
- What were some reasons the students offered for why they no longer take photos?
- What are some common trends in their explanations for not pursuing photography into adulthood?
- In what ways were the students’ ideas of success shaped by their lived experiences? What are some examples of being successful that the people in the film offered?
- In what ways might the social, cultural, and economic aspects of someone's life influence their notions of what being successful means?
- In what ways can educational experiences impact these ideas of success?
- What were some of the professions, or characteristics, that the former students seemed to link with success? What are some examples that provide insights into how students seemed to think about the possibility of pursuing creative endeavors?
- What might this suggest about what is required to pursue a creative profession?
- In what ways can the possibility of pursuing careers of passion or artististic professional lives be considered a class issue?
- In what ways can we think creatively and critically about traditional ideas of what it means to lead a successful life?
- What are some “natural resources” your community offers (think creatively, consider cultural knowledge, practices, and wisdom)? Are there ways that these resources are extracted from your community?
- Who benefits from extractive practices? Who is most impacted? Who gains wealth, recognition, and reaps the benefits? What are the ethical concerns with such practices, specifically in communities that are under-resourced?
When asked about growing up and being an artist, Denise responded, “Well, I was...I guess I wanted to grow up and do other things, and you know. Leaving a little bit of the childhood behind and going on to be an adult.”
- What does this suggest about the role of creativity in adulthood?
- In what ways might our notions of adulthood, or the demands of “growing up,” inhibit us from pursuing creativity and making art?
FAMILY STRUCTURES: UNDERSTANDING STUDENT LIVES BEYOND THE NUCLEAR FAMILY
When telling the stories of individual students, Wendy discusses the structures of family and community. She says, “I learned so much from my neighbors about making things, growing things, and about the role women, men, and children played in their families.”
- What was the role of the traditional nuclear family in this film? How was it similar, or different, from how you know family structures to work in your own life and community?
- How were your ideas of the traditional, nuclear family challenged in this film?
- What did the former students’ household structures look like? What are some reasons the film presented that explain why these family structures exist the way they do?
- Are there connections between the impacts of coal mining and opportunity that shaped family structures in the film?
- What are the strengths of intergenerational family support structures (i.e. grandparents helping to raise grandchildren or living with families at home)?
- What are some ways that family structure can impact young people’s world views as they grow up?
ART EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY: ASPIRATIONS, ACCESS, AND BARRIERS
Wendy shares the story of how she created arts education for students in rural Kentucky. When she reflects on her time as a photographer in the area, she begins to talk about why sharing this experience with young people is important, she says “Having a camera can give anyone power, but particularly children.”
- In what ways did access to the arts impact these students? In what ways were the students given power? What are some ways that the power they were granted was limited?
- In what ways did art impact your adolescence, learning, and development?
- In what ways did your educational experience meaningfully integrate the arts? Were there nearby schools that focused more (or less) on the arts than your school? Were there any factors that determined which schools would place heavier emphasis on the arts than others?
- In what ways is art-making an opportunity that is limited by class, wealth, and opportunity? Does it have to be?
As an adult, Sue says to Wendy: “When I look at the book, and I’ll try not to get emotional, but we were poor, but we didn’t feel that way. No. And now that I’m an educator and knowing what I know about poverty, and, we didn’t see it as that way. You know, we wasn’t poor. We didn’t… We were important because we were taking those pictures, and now when I look back--of course, you know, I got emotional a while ago because I do get emotional about...because I was one of the children that I have now. And I want to make a difference in their life and inspire them the way that you inspired us."
- What does Sue’s statement suggest about the impact of an outsiders’ relationship on her understanding of her own experience? What are the benefits in having someone come into a community and introduce new ways of seeing, and reflecting? What are some potential dangers of having an outsider come in and provide new ways of seeing?
- In what ways is it important for photographs to be contextualized for viewers? What types of assumptions can be made in relation to a photograph out of context?
- In your life, who were the teachers that made you feel important and valued? Did you have a teacher who inspired you to see the world in a new way or to trust your experience? What character traits, or teaching styles, set that teacher apart from others?
- What does this suggest about the impact education can have on students’ lives for the long-term? In what ways can education open transformative opportunities? What boundaries exist that can keep students from accessing “equal” opportunities?
- Are there ways that communities can be rich in some ways even if they aren’t wealthy? What are some some of those ways and why does it matter?
If you are interested in learning more about themes introduced in Portraits and Dreams, or about Appalachia, please visit our Delve Deeper Reading List where you will find an extensive list of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry resources for all ages.
A Culture of Resistance: The 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike in Historical Perspective
An article written by Charles Keeney connecting contemporary labor struggles led by teachers in West Virginia in 2018 to a long history of organizing and resistance in the region. Explaining the historical roots of the term “redneck,” which was originally donned in 1921 as a symbol of solidarity and resistance amongst striking miners who were resisting abusive corporate power and corrupt politics.
Appalshop is a non-profit media, arts, and education center located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, in the heart of the central Appalachian region of the United States. Now in its 50th year, Appalshop's mission is to challenge stereotypes with Appalachian voices and visions; document the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of rural America; support communities’ efforts to achieve justice and equity; and celebrate cultural diversity as a positive social value.
Beyond Measure (documentary)
A 1994 film by Herb E. Smith, that documents the efforts of coal communities to find stability in an ever-changing coal economy. People describe the importance of mutual aid and support in places where attachments to the land are more important than the things economists usually measure, prompting questions about the true costs of economic and technological change.
Black in Appalachia
Black in Appalachia is working to highlight the history of African-Americans in the development of our region and its culture. Through research, local narratives, public engagement and exhibition, this project aims to raise the visibility and contributions of the Black communities of the Mountain South. This project is a community service for Appalachian residents and families with roots in the region.
Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (documentary)
A 1975 film by Mimi Pickering that chronicles the 1972 disaster which killed 125 people and displaced 4,000 others when a coal-waste dam collapsed at the head of a hollow in Logan County, WV.
Charron, Katherine Mellen. Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark. Chapel Hill,NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. To learn more about Septima Clark’s formative influence on grassroots education and activism that laid the foundation for Freedom Schools (you can also learn more here).
Harlan County, USA (documentary)
A 1976 film by Barbara Kopple that documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Duke Power-owned, Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. The miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America and started a strike which lasted more than a year and Eastover hired scabs to fill the jobs of regular mine employees. The tensions between the workers and the coal company often became violent, and resulted in the death of one of the miners.
Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (documentary)
Mimi Pickering profiles the pioneering bluegrass artist and labor activist whose life as a working class woman found powerful expression through her music. Released in 2000, the film features interviews with Dickens and fellow musicians Alison Krauss, Naomi Judd, and Dudley Connell, as well as live performances of songs including Mama’s Hand, Working Girl Blues, and Black Lung.
Highlander Folk School Audio Collection (archived at the American Folk Life Center)
Horton, Myles; Kohl, Judith; & Kohl, Herbert. The Long Haul: An Autobiography. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 1997.
In his own direct, modest, plain-spoken style, Myles Horton tells the story of the Highlander Folk School. A major catalyst for social change in the United States for more than sixty years, this school has touched the lives of so many people, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Pete Seeger. Filled with disarmingly honest insight and gentle humor, this is an inspiring hymn to the possibility of social change.
Justice in the Coalfields (documentary)
This 1995 film by Anne Lewis documents the 1988 United Mine Workers strike against the Pittston Coal Company and the community-wide outrage ignited by Pittston's termination of the medical benefits of 1,500 pensioners, widows, and disabled miners. The film captures the mass civil disobedience that resulted in over 4,000 arrests and features interviews with rank-and-file union members, a federal judge, a public interest lawyer, the coal company president, and the public affairs director of the National Right to Work Committee. Through the lens of the strike, Lewis explores how weakened labor laws cripple the collective bargaining power of unions and weigh the scales of justice against working people.
Razing Appalachia (documentary)
A film by Sasha Waters that explores the controversial issue of mountaintop removal mining by following a grassroots fight to stop the process in West Virginia. Set in Pigeonroost Hollow, a valley in the town of Blair in the misty folds of the Appalachian Mountains, the film follows the journey of several families as they struggle to protect their land. Pigeonroost, with its narrow creek and crawdads, its wild ginseng and raccoons, looks as it might have a century ago — a woody haven tucked away from the march of time and technology. But for how long? And at what price?
A 2005 film by Robert Salyer chronicling the Martin County Sludge spill that happened on October 11, 2000 when a coal sludge pond broke through an underground mine propelling 306 million gallons of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. The Martin County sludge spill killed all aquatic life along 30 miles of river, damaged municipal water systems, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. This movie follows government agencies and community members through their clean up efforts and their attempts to understand the causes of a disaster 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Filmed over four years, the documentary chronicles the aftermath of the disaster, the Mine Safety and Health Administration whistleblower case of Jack Spadaro, and the looming threat of coal sludge ponds throughout the Appalchian mountains.
Southerners On New Ground (SONG)
SONG is a national, chapter-based organization that envisions a sustainable South that embodies the best of its freedom traditions and works towards the transformation of our economic, social, spiritual, and political relationships. We envision a multi-issue southern justice movement that unites us across class, age, race, ability, gender, immigration status, and sexuality; a movement in which LGBTQ people – poor and working class, immigrant, people of color, rural – take our rightful place as leaders shaping our region’s legacy and future. We are committed to restoring a way of being that recognizes our collective humanity and dependence on the Earth.
Stranger With a Camera (documentary)
"A camera is like a gun," says filmmaker Colin Low of the National Film Board of Canada in the upcoming P.O.V documentary Stranger With a Camera. The program investigates the 1967 killing of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Connor, who was shot while documenting poverty in the Kentucky coalfields. Director Elizabeth Barret looks at the death of O'Connor and the motivations of Hobart Ison, the irate property owner who shot him. Through her exploration of the tragic incident and its aftermath, Barret reflects on the power of media representations.
Strip Mining in Appalachia (documentary)
A 1973 film by Gene DuBey, and an early Appalshop examination of the desecration of land and communities through surface mining of coal. A mine operator’s opinion that environmental impact is minimal is contrasted with statements from people whose homes have been ruined by bad mining practices. Aerial footage is used to show strip mines, while a biologist provides a scientific explanation of what this mining method does to the land.
Strip Mining: Energy, Environment, and Economics (documentary)
A 1979 film by Frances Morton and Gene DuBey that looks at the history of the controversial method of strip mining which accounts for over half of the coal produced in Appalachia and is the region’s most conspicuous environmental problem. The process of strip mining forces local people to choose between jobs and the beauty, ecology, and in some ways, the very existence of the mountains upon which they live. This film examines strip mining as a method, the citizens’ movement organized to stop it, and the battle to regulate strip mining that culminated in the passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Digital Gateway to learn more about the role and evolution of the Highlander Folk School in the Civil Rights Movement
The Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project
A network of young people, aged 14-30, who are committed to supporting one another to make Appalachia a place we can and want to STAY.
United Mine Workers of America (History)
The United Mine Workers of America is a diverse union with membership that includes coal miners, manufacturing workers, clean coal technicians, health care workers, corrections officers, and public employees that has been organizing for over 125 years.
You Got to Move (1985, documentary)
A film by Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver that follows people from communities in the Southern United States in their various processes of becoming involved in social change. The film’s centerpiece is the Highlander Folk School, an 80-year-old center for education and social action where each person featured in the film learned to organize and work on the frontlines of social change.
For educators interested in learning more about Ewald’s approach to participatory arts education, you can visit her website and see her full bibliography that includes educational publications.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Willa Johnson, Director of Appalachian Media Institute
Willa Johnson joined Appalshop in 2017 as the Lead Educator of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, which she now directs. Willa first began her journey with AMI in 2007 as a youth media intern, and has served as an Appalachian Transition Fellow with the Highlander Education and Research Center. She is a co-founder of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project (STAY) and worked for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) Community Engagement team, where she created FIREshare, a program designed in collaboration with The Holler (a regionally create online learning platform) to train teachers and students to use multimedia tools to tell their own stories about their schools and communities. A daughter of a retired middle school teacher and coal truck driver, Willa Johnson was raised in Letcher County and is a foster care advocate and adoptive parent to a curious and kind toddler.
Wendy Ewald has collaborated in art projects with children, families, women, and teachers for over fifty years. Starting as documentary investigations of places and communities, Ewald’s projects probe questions of identity and cultural differences. In her work with children she encourages them to use cameras to record themselves, their families, and their communities, and to articulate their fantasies and dreams. Ewald herself often makes photographs within the communities she works with and has the children mark or write on her negatives, thereby challenging the concept of who actually makes an image, who is the photographer, who the subject, who is the observer and who the observed. In blurring the distinction of individual authorship and throwing into doubt the artist’s intentions, power, and identity, Ewald creates opportunities to look at the meaning and use of photographic images in our lives with fresh perceptions.
Archivist at Appalshop
Discussion Guide Producers, POV
Courtney B. Cook
The creation of this POV Engage educational resource is made possible by the generous support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (along with other confirmed partners).