By Kendyl Bostic and Claire Tryon
If you have been on the Arthurdale Heritage Facebook page lately, you may have noticed that we have a lot going on here. From our children’s art classes to the Appalachia on Screen movie nights to weaving classes and the reorganization of our craft shop, we have a lot that we’re excited about. One of the biggest contributors to all of this is our partnership with the Smithsonian Museums through their travelling exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America, which examines our understanding of rural places and their history. Arthurdale Heritage is one of seven sites in West Virginia that was chosen to participate in this program, and in addition to the exhibit being set up here in a few months time, we are also doing a year of related programming (six months before the exhibit’s arrival and six months after).
To spread awareness of our projects and to give more context to those that need it, we are starting this blog, which will also cover aspects of life in Arthurdale both historically and in the present. For the first of these posts, we wanted to cover a project created by AmeriCorps member Claire Tryon, which is part of our Smithsonian programming. This project will be a series of YouTube videos titled Marginalized Voices: Loving and Leaving West Virginia. One of the key aspects of the Crossroads exhibit is that communities will examine representations of themselves in the world. West Virginia is often portrayed as a place that is stuck in the past. There is a pervasive narrative that West Virginia is an isolated place where people exclude those who are different from them, that the state is dying economically as well as culturally, and that there is no reason to stay here. Those of us who are from West Virginia certainly have opinions on this, but for many of us, it is complicated by the struggles that our communities do face. Crossroads asks us to look at ourselves and to sincerely examine both the good and the bad in our communities. Why do rural places matter? Why do people leave, and why do they stay? What can we do for the people who live in rural communities? And what do we envision for our future?
These are some of the questions that Arthurdale Heritage has been thinking about as we create events and design exhibits about Arthurdale’s history, about the present challenges that Preston County faces, and how different people imagine the future. For Claire’s project, Marginalized Voices, she first looked at the history of Arthurdale and the exclusion that was built into the community when the government chose not to accept people of color, particularly African Americans, into the community. It is hard to contend with the exclusionist part of our community’s history; it is difficult to ask questions which challenge our views of our history and our community because it means that we have to question the views that we have about other people and how we treat them based on those views. At Arthurdale, we want to carefully consider the past, present, and future, not only of our community, but of West Virginia as a whole.
To that end, we decided to interview people of different backgrounds about their experiences growing up across the state. We focused our interviews on people from marginalized groups – those voices that fall outside the mainstream of society. The technical definition of marginalized communities is “groups and communities that experience discrimination and exclusion (social, political, and economic) because of unequal power relationships across economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions.”1 Marginalization is society placing people in positions of little to no importance and limiting their agency. Discrimination results from this because people from the majority group hurt those from the marginalized one, whether physically, through insults, or through regulations that prevent equality. The most prominent examples of marginalized communities are people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people of faith traditions outside of Christianity; however, other marginalized groups may include the working class, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.
The first phase of this project focused on interviewing members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. In line with the questions proposed in Crossroads we asked our interviewees to explain to us their relationship with West Virginia and, in particular, why they stayed, why they left, or why, in some cases, they left but ultimately returned. We heard from people like Jeff Mann, an author and poet from Hinton, West Virginia who described growing up in the 1960s and 70s in Summers County and the impact that had on who he is as a person. We also talked to Aerianna, a West Virginia University student from Mingo county who opened up about her love of the state but also the struggles that her peers face when deciding to stay.
These interviews are the basis for AHI’s new Youtube series Marginalized Voices: Loving and Leaving West Virginia. In the series you’ll hear stories from Jeff, Aerianna, and others about their lives and about the challenges they face being LGBTQ+ or a person of color in a predominantly white, heterosexual world. This project is a safe space for individuals to share their stories and for others to learn about the experiences of people who are actively othered. We encourage people to listen and to learn from the stories and to ask themselves some of the questions that we have posed about the difficulties of life in rural communities as well as the joys.
Marginalized Voices: Loving and Leaving West Virginia is an ongoing project at Arthurdale Heritage. Within the next phase of the project we plan to interview people of various religions throughout the state. If you have any questions please feel free to email email@example.com. If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a person of color, or are a part of a faith community other than Christianity and are interested in being interviewed please use the email firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you all connect with and enjoy the stories shared!
You can visit our YouTube channel to watch the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPCyhML-nJcdUFDzYtGmZog