The Harlan Renaissance is an intimate remembrance of kinship and community in eastern Kentucky’s coal towns written by one of the luminaries of Appalachian studies, William Turner. Turner reconstructs Black life in the company towns in and around Harlan County during coal’s final postwar boom years, which built toward an enduring bust as the children of Black miners, like the author, left the region in search of better opportunities. The Harlan Renaissance invites readers into what might be an unfamiliar Appalachia: one studded by large and vibrant Black communities, where families took the pulse of the nation through magazines like Jet and Ebony and through the news that traveled within Black churches, schools, and restaurants. Difficult choices for the future were made as parents considered the unpredictable nature of Appalachia’s economic realities alongside the unpredictable nature of a national movement toward civil rights. Unfolding through layers of sociological insight and oral history, The Harlan Renaissance centers the sympathetic perspectives and critical eye of a master narrator of Black life.
Meet the Author
Bill Turner was born in 1946 and raised in a coal mining family in Lynch—Harlan County, Kentucky. The University of Kentucky awarded Bill a BS in sociology in 1968. Notre Dame University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology awarded Turner the MA in 1970 and PhD in 1975, both for studies focused on racial and ethnic relations and African American Studies. Bill has dedicated his career to demographic and ethnographic studies and programmatic interventions in the Southern Appalachian Region. He co-edited Blacks in Appalachia (1985) and was research associate to Roots author Alex Haley, who said in 1990, “Bill knows more about black people in the mountains of the South than anyone in the world.” Turner retired as Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador from Berea College. Before that, he served as Vice President for Diversity at Kentucky; Interim President at Kentucky State University. He taught at Fisk University and Howard University. He has received: the Christian Appalachian Project “Person of the Year” Award; was recognized as Notre Dame University “Distinguished Alumni Exemplar;” inducted in 2006 into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, and was recognized by the Kentucky Governor as the Dr. Martin Luther King Kentucky Citizen of the Year in 2008. The Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) honored Bill for a lifetime of service to the Appalachian region. In 2020, the University of North Carolina Asheville awarded him an Honorary Doctorate for “…distinction and prominence, expertise and dedication to work for racial justice in the Appalachian Region.” The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns, Turner’s memoir, will be released by the West Virginia University Press in September 2021.