By DeBraun Thomas, Take Back Cheapside
I have long been a student of history. I’ve always been fascinated by the way others have overcome obstacles I’ve never had to face. Learning how things came to be and what can come from experiences of the past has inspired me to continue researching and exploring history. Sometimes, the past can seem much farther away than it actually is and in a way, we can become desensitized to atrocities of the past. When it comes to the continued fight against oppression, our understanding of the present should be placed within the context of historical perspective. I was born on March 3rd 1989. George HW Bush was President of the United States and the country was entering yet another phase in history. I was born 126 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 35 years after the murder of Emmett Till and the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, 24 years after the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 21 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 20 years after the assassination of Fred Hampton and 20 years after Apollo 11. Yes, you read that correctly, I was born only 20 years after the moon landing. I am the great grandson of a slave and I’m only 28 years old.
I moved from Menlo Park, California to Lexington in 2008 to attend the University of Kentucky. As I met more people from the city and my social circles bubbled outside of the university, I started learning about Lexington’s history. While much of Lexington’s landscape has changed, many things considered “tradition” have stayed the same. One of the many places in Lexington that has not changed very much is the space downtown known as Cheapside. Since the inception of the city in 1782, the space has been used as a marketplace. To clear up any misconceptions, the name Cheapside comes from Old English. Ceap in Old English means “to buy” and side means “place,” therefore the name literally means marketplace. Between 1830 and 1865, Cheapside was home to the second largest slave auction site in the country. In 1887, 22 years after the Civil War ended, a statue was erected of John C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War for the Confederacy. In 1911, 46 years after the Civil War ended, there was a statue erected of John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate General. Both of these men defected to the Confederacy and both of them were slave owners who fought to uphold the institution of slavery. Their statues stood at Cheapside with no telling of history of the space as a slave market until 2003, when Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity placed a historical marker to memorialize the marketplace’s past.
After George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin in 2013, a conversation about racial justice began sweeping across the nation. In 2015, this conversation descended to Lexington, causing many to look within their own community. Part of this conversation was around the statues still standing at Cheapside. That year, someone spray painted “Black Lives Matter” on the statue of John Hunt Morgan and the historical marker was knocked down and broken. This prompted Mayor Gray to request to the Urban County Arts Review Board (UCARB), a group of appointed individuals who discuss the placement and/or removal of art in public spaces, to give a recommendation on what to do with Cheapside. I attended two public discussions on the issue. The first was a town hall meeting at the Carnegie Center. In the room were members of the Klan and supporters of the Confederacy. The tension was high, but in that moment, I felt that the voices of the oppressed were actually being heard. The second meeting was held at City Hall in front the UCARB. I was the youngest person in the room except for the two little girls of a man who was adamant about keeping the statues for fear of the “erasure of history.”
In July of 2016, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were both killed by police officers. Both murders were captured on video and in both cases each of these men were doing nothing to warrant losing their lives. I was angry and frustrated that, in 2016, these issues were still happening and that I found myself continuing to have to explain and justify the phrase “black lives matter” to individuals lacking in melanin. In death, Castile and Sterling inspired me to channel my anger and frustration into constructive action; the result was Take Back Cheapside, a movement to remove the two confederate statues from Cheapside Park and commemorate Lexington’s black history. I believe that we as people can have the most success fighting oppression by understanding each other’s individual struggles and by standing together. These values are at the heart of Take Back Cheapside.
This blog post was originally scheduled to go online on Monday, August 14th. All of those plans changed after the events in Charlottesville on August 12th. It is a day I will never forget and a day that changed my life. Many different people across the country came out to make statements about what had happened. I was struck with so much grief and I will never forget the name Heather Hyer the same way I will never forget Emmett Till. I was still trying to process all that happened when I got a phone call from someone in City Government who told me they had heard that the mayor of Lexington, Jim Gray, was going to announce plans to move the Confederate statues at Cheapside at the city council meeting that Tuesday. It was a bittersweet moment because it came on the heels of Charlottesville, but I found solace in the fact that we could move forward with this work in a way that had the support of city officials.
Once the mayor’s plan was made public, I immediately started planning for what was to come, well, and then I went and got a burrito (because eating is important). Later that evening Mayor Gray released a video statement on Facebook. All of the conversation up to this point had highlighted the statues and not the space itself. That’s why, after watching the video statement, I was relieved and confident that the mayor was moving forward with his efforts to relocate the statues for the right reason. Towards the end of the video, Mayor Gray said “the statues that stand on our old courthouse lawn today also stand on sacred ground, the Cheapside auction block” he then goes on to say “So let’s think about it, it’s just not right we would continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground as men, women, and even children were once sold into a life of slavery. Relocating these statues and explaining them is the right thing to do.”
So, what do these recent events mean for the campaign? Well, we are very close to where we want to be, but still have a long way to go. The conversation about moving confederate monuments was thrust even more into the spotlight and in the same way people used their voices to try to silence us, many others in this city used theirs to join us. On August 17th, after hearing from members of the community for 3 hours, the city council voted unanimously to give the city 30 days to find a new location for the statues. Once they find a new location and confirm it, then the city can send their petition to the Kentucky Military & Heritage Commission. That commission meets in November and if they vote in our favor, the statues will be relocated.
My life has been extremely stressful since August 13th. I have received threats to my life, have needed to stay at other people’s homes, and everywhere I go, I am looking over my shoulder. While it puts a strain on every aspect of my life, it is a burden I’m willing to bear because others, like the 19th century abolitionists and 20th century civil rights leaders, did the same for me. So, that being said, I’d like for you to read the last few paragraphs of what I originally had written for this blog post (before Charlottesville) because the solidarity I wanted for this city was exemplified at the city council work session on August 15th and at the city council meeting on August 17th and has continued to be exhibited by all of the other organizing groups that have come to aide Take Back Cheapside. The room was overflowing with people, so much so that on Thursday, people were lined up outside the government building and were also watching the meeting at other businesses downtown. The police Chief the other day told me that it was the most people he’s seen at a city council meeting in his 30 years on the force. That is not just what democracy looks like, but what solidarity is.
Fred Hampton, a leader of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, embodied solidarity and once said, “you don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water. We’re gonna fight racism not with racism, but we’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines solidarity as “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community interests, objectives and standards.” Many of the people who pushed the Civil Rights Movement forward were young people, college students, friends and peers who stood together for something greater than themselves. In the annals of history, they are viewed as larger than life, but in reality, they were just everyday people. Fred Hampton was an ordinary college student who brought a much-needed spark the to the movement for his generation and now is the time we provide the spark for ours.
I am writing about the oppression of people of color on an environmental blog for the very definition of solidarity. The movements for racial justice and environmental protection are deeply connected. Every movement that struggles for justice, from the labor movement to the feminist movement and everything in between, is connected in their resistance of the same oppressive systems and power structures. Only when these movements stand together in solidarity will any of them truly win. I think that a quote from 1971 by Funkadelic speaks to this very ideal: “Freedom is being free of the need to be free.”
Take Back Cheapside is co-hosting a Panel On Solidarity with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition to further explore how our respective movements for racial justice and environmental protection are connected and can stand together. I hope you’ll join us at the Carnegie Center on September 27 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. to learn more about Take Back Cheapside and Lexington’s forgotten history of people of color, the work KSEC is doing to build a just and environmentally sustainable Kentucky, the systems of oppression that connect our movements, and why it’s important that our two organizations support one another.
We hope to inspire others to work together in solidarity. Step up and be the change you wish to see in the world so that one day others can have a chance to be successful because you fought for them. We can work towards that day by standing together and by fighting every single day to give All Power To The People.
By Cameron Baller, UK Greenthumb
I attended the Kentucky Manufacturer's Conference and Trade Show as a member of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition. I support bringing manufacturing jobs to Kentucky and I was curious to learn more about the industry. But instead of hearing about ways government and industry officials are working to bring safe, well-paying jobs to one of our nation’s poorest states, I got an earful of jubilation for cutting safeguards and regulations that protect our workers, communities, and environment.
Going into the conference, I was expecting explanations of why the economy should be prioritized over the environment. What I was not expecting was a near total disregard for environmental issues like climate change and water protection. It wasn’t just that the environment was less important, it was entirely unimportant. And if Kentucky’s manufacturing industry finds the environment worthless, it follows that the industry also finds the people in the environment worthless.
At one point, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles Snavely, former Arch Coal executive, listed off all of the environmental policies that President Trump has rolled back, grinning the whole way through as if it was so grand that many more people will now suffer the health impacts of having to drink polluted water and breathe toxic air. The person charged with protecting Kentucky’s land, water, and air applauded the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, the removal of critical stream protections, and the scrapping of the Clean Power Plan.
Later in the conference, there was a panel on pipelines and a Marathon Petroleum representative basically said that all of the protests of pipelines were not about water contamination, explosions, or land rights, but were some kind of liberal façade to block the fossil fuel industry. He went on to say the dangers of leaks were miniscule. But when I asked him how much could leak from a pipeline before being detected, he said hundreds of barrels. Let me restate that, if there is a leak that is smaller than “hundreds of barrels,” let’s say 100 or 200 barrels, they would not even know that the leak had occurred. Our water would be contaminated and we wouldn’t even know. The fact that a fossil fuel representative can totally dismiss environmental activists in one breath and then state that there could be hundreds of barrels of oil leaking into our groundwater and no one would know about it is absolutely absurd.
The tone of the Kentucky Manufacturer’s Conference should remind us of two important responsibilities. First, we must never let politicians like Trump or Bevin get into office, especially because they won’t be alone, they will bring the Pruitts and Snavelys of the world who will only multiply the destruction they bring onto our people and planet. Second, we must hold corporations accountable. Marathon should not be allowed to operate a pipeline if they can’t detect a hundred barrel leak.
Corporations in Kentucky and across the country are getting away with murder because they have politicians in their pockets. It is time to vote with our ballots, vote with our wallets and make ourselves heard.
By Cara Cooper, KSEC State Organizer
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me that renewable energy is great, but it just doesn’t work in Kentucky. What a joke. We know it does work and is already putting people to work all across the Commonwealth (just check out some of the awesome solar installations through this interactive map).
Caption: Renewable Energy is already working in all regions of the state. From left to right: KSEC members educating Senator Reggie Thomas about renewables in Murray, KY, Solar panels at the KY National Guard in Frankfort during a KSEC Energy Future Tour, Solar panels recently installed at the KY Coal Mining Museum in Benham, KY (see these at our Solution Spotlight event on June 10th)
For me, investing in growing the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors seems like plain ol’ good sense. Kentucky has a rich history of being an energy leader and providing electricity to power our country. As the coal industry dies we can continue to be energy leaders by making the transition to cleaner sources like solar, wind and micro-scale hydroelectric.
Not only can this emerging industry help to protect our natural resources, communities’ health and lessen the impacts of climate change but it can also create thousands of good jobs that our state needs. (According to a study done several years ago, with a number as low as 12.5% of our electricity coming from renewables we could create 28,000 net new jobs!).
If you are a young person, wondering how you will stay in Kentucky after graduation and find meaningful employment, or someone who’s family has been a part of the energy industry here for generations, renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs could be a good place for you and something you could feel good about doing.
Join us for our 2nd Solution Spotlight event (as a part of our ongoing Solutions Tour) to meet folks who are already hard at work building this emerging industry in Eastern Kentucky and learn more about what it’s like to work in the new energy sector and what it takes to get a job doing this work.
By Ivy Brashear, Appalachian Transition and Communications Associate at MACED
Della Combs Brashear had had enough.
She backed her Cadillac long-ways across the road in front of her house, lit the Virginia Slim in her mouth, pulled her .38 pistol from her purse, and waited, stone-faced and determined, for the next coal truck to come along.
The trucks had been running day and night up and down the road in front of her house every day for weeks, coating every bit of furniture in and outside her home with a thick layer of grey coal dust. There’s only so many times a woman bound to the code of Clorox can clean up after someone else’s mess before the time comes to act.
She wasn’t afraid of jail – “They’ll give me three hot meals a day and a place to sleep!” – she was more interested in defending her home from unwanted intrusions. Fierce is a good word for Della Combs: Fiercely loyal to her children and grandchildren. Fierce advocate for doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Fierce mountain woman who had big dreams of city life, playing piano and singing in Chicago or New York City, but who instead married a man her mother wanted her to before graduating high school, and stayed with him until the end of her life because of a fierce sense of duty.
To me, though, she was Granny Della – fierce storyteller who had the most enormous zest for life and love, with the heart to match. Her laugh seemed to always echo off of the walls and reverberate off of the hills that held the holler. It could fill you up, that laugh, and shake off your troubles for you. She always wore lipstick and powder, and had arthritis in her toes from a youth spent in high heels. She maintained a standing hair appointment every Friday at Dascum’s in Vicco, and earned her GED when she was in her 40s. Her door was always open to me, and since I lived just up the hill from her, I was often in her kitchen as she put up peaches in Ziploc bags for winter, or watered her beloved hanging ferns that encased her porch. She played piano every Sunday at Lone Pine Baptist Church – the family church founded by my great-grandfather, less than a mile from my home. When she told me I had “piano fingers,” I felt so special, like she had chosen me to carry on her music.
She was gregarious and out-spoken, once telling a man to “get a life and get a job,” another time telling Lone Pine’s preacher that he was wrong about God not giving people talent they didn’t have to learn. But I would never – in my wildest dreams or imaginings – disrespect her by calling her a lunatic, as J.D. Vance so often refers to his Mamaw in “Hillbilly Elegy.”
The fact that people will read his book, and assume that all Appalachian people are trying to actively run away from their culture, and that if they are smart, they will understand it to be less than and the people they came from to be crazy lunatics is, to me, one of the more personal attacks that Vance hurls at Appalachian people in his 261-page simultaneous fetishization and admonishment of my culture.
"Elegy" has no class, no heart, and no warmth. It's a poorly written appropriation of Appalachian stereotypes that presents us as a people who aren't worthy of anything but derision and pity, and who cannot be helped because we refuse to help ourselves. It ignores the systemic capitalist oppression that encourages persistent poverty. It assumes there is some special sect of the working class that is especially dedicated to white people. It is rife with fragile masculinity that actively diminishes the critical role that Appalachian women play in the culture, the resistance, in the workforce, and in the new economy.
I come from dignity and grace and laughter and joy, and while I do not discount the difficult childhood that Vance lived through and his own lived experience, "Hillbilly Elegy" erases and erodes any Appalachian experience outside his own non-Appalachian experience by reinforcing repeatedly that Appalachian “hillbilly” culture is somehow deficient and morally decrepit, and that it is something to be overcome.
Misrepresentation of Appalachia matters for several reasons. It obscures and intentionally eclipses the pride and dignity of being Appalachian. It has told us we should be ashamed of who we are, where we come from, and the people in our blood. It says to us that we aren't worthy or deserving of anything more than being the butt of a joke. It hits us hard in our guts because the truth is way more complicated and way more real, and nobody likes tales to be carried about them.
But I think the thing that bothers me most is this: Appalachian misrepresentation actively and intentionally ignores and excludes the real life, lived experiences of all but a minority of Appalachian people. It ignores my fierce Granny Della. It ignores my Granny Hazel, who smelled of starch and taught me how to feed the chickens and always had breakfast waiting on me when I had to stay with her on a sick day. Misrepresentation certainly doesn't tell the stories of my Grandpa Earl, who liberated concentration camps, who referred to me exclusively by my middle name, Jude, and who always had a Werther's candy ready for me. My Mom and Dad are left out. They owned a gas station that hired local high school kids. They hung Modigliani and Van Gogh and Paolo Solari prints on the walls of our home. They played NPR every Sunday morning. They fought the dam at Red River Gorge, the racists in Hazard, the strip mining companies for which Dad used to work, and they both went back to school later in life and got degrees.
It ignores me: a young, queer Appalachian with roots ten-generations deep in eastern Kentucky, who holds within me the fierce loyalty and determination of my Granny Della, the unconditional compassion of my Granny Hazel, the individuality of my parents, and the mountain heart and soul of all my ancestors combined. My family is totally, completely, utterly left out and ignored, and so are the families of so many other Appalachians that are just like mine. We are Appalachian, too, but in “Hillbilly Elegy,” and so many other representations and think-pieces like it, we are cast aside for the lies we tell ourselves about the mythical other and perceived, inherent difference.
“Hillbilly Elegy’s” danger is that it continues the long tradition of understanding and presenting Appalachia as a monolithic region and group of people. For those of us who are trying to shift the narrative of our place to be more honest and complex as a way to support just economic transition, facing mass-market, much devoured and incomplete narratives like “Hillbilly Elegy” is akin to mining coal with a pick ax.
Ivy originally presented this essay on a panel discussion about "Hillbilly Elegy" at the 2017 Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Ivy Brashear is the Appalachian Transition and Communications Associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky. Before joining MACED, she was a reporter at the Hazard Herald in Hazard, Ky. She currently sits on the New Economy Coalition board of directors, is on the steering committee of the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, and is a member of the Young Climate Leaders Network. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in Journalism and Appalachian Studies, and a Master’s degree from the University of Kentucky in Community and Leadership Development. She is a tenth-generation Appalachian, and a fifth-generation eastern Kentuckian, where her family still lives on land settled by her great-great grandfather in the 1830s.
by Cara Cooper, KSEC State Organizer
Join KSEC for our first Solutions Spotlight on the Emerging Tech Industry as a part of our just economic Solutions Tour. You'll hear from folks at Mountain Tech Media + Appalshop's new Mines to Minds program. Find out more about these two awesome initiatives below!
Mines to Minds
Appalshop's Mines to Minds program was started to be a part of Eastern Kentucky's economic shift away from the previously dominated extractive industry. We are working with several area employers and the local community college, Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College (SKCTC), to train local people for local technical jobs that are growing. Through conversations with our partnering employers, three areas have been identified as high growth in our area:
In addition, we are creating opportunities for the public to learn new technology skills through a series of workshops. These include workshops including Adobe Premiere, Drones, Excel, and Networking Cabling.
Mountain Tech Media
Mountain Tech Media is a tech and design coop based in Whitesburg, KY. Founded in 2016, MTM specializes in digital video content, web design, social media management, and more, while also working to expand and develop Eastern Kentucky's tech economy. Our mission is to help organizations reach new peaks, while creating new opportunities for young professionals in EKY & Central Appalachia.
Izzy Broomfield grew up in Eastern Kentucky, and was raised to believe they had to leave the area to find meaningful tech or creative work. With the help of AmeriCorps NCCC and VISTA, and countless YouTube tutorials, they have built a skillset that allows them to live in the mountains and do the work they love. Izzy is passionate about mentoring the next generation of Eastern Kentuckian creative tech professionals.dit.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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