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Expand students’ understanding of NC’s cultural history through this “African Americans in Appalachia” lesson, Grade 8

When deciding on the topic of for her lesson plan, 2017 Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellow Jesse Wharton sought to fill in some major gaps she saw in how her students understood their own community. Wharton teaches 7th and 8th grade at Evergreen Community Charter School in the Appalachian city of Asheville, North Carolina. Many—even most North Carolinians—picture the region’s inhabitants as impoverished, “folk,” and, most specifically, white. However, Wharton believes that students should learn about all of those who make up the rich culture and history of Appalachia, including the oft-forgotten African-American community. Her lesson on “Affrilachia,” a term created by black Appalachian poet Frank X. Walter, explores the Appalachian African-American community’s cultural influences and day to day lives.

Wharton filled her lesson with rich primary source material for students to learn from and analyze. She dug deep into the SOHP’s archives to find voices from African Americans living in the North Carolina mountains who could tell their own stories about their communities. Among these voices are Appalachian homemaker and caretaker Geraldine Ray, civil rights activist and pastor Dr. Thomas Kilgore, and Federal Judge Richard Erwin.

But these are not the only auditory components of this lesson. Students also hear from the all-black bluegrass band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a performance of a poem by Frank X Walker, Poet Laureate of Kentucky, and other Affrilachian artists. Through these myriad voices, Wharton gets students to consider the value of oral history and music as historical documents, to learn about how those in Affrilachia contributed to the broader civil rights movement in the South, and, ultimately, to reflect on the culminating question of the lesson: “In what ways are African Americans crucial to the history and culture of Appalachia?”

Download the lesson plan and PowerPoint for this lesson to use in your classroom.