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he Harlan Renaissance, black and white photo of five Black children arranged in heigh order in front of a front porch where a Black woman stands behind the railing

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William H. Turner

Available now!
October 2021
PB 978-1-952271-21-2
CL 978-1-952271-20-5
eBook 978-1-952271-22-9


The Harlan Renaissance

Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns


Weatherford Award Winner, Nonfiction

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.


Foreword by Loyal Jones



1. Alex Haley—The Taproot

2. Between Alex Haley, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ed Cabbell, and the Affrilachian Poets

3. Black Mountain Mantrips and Woman Trips

4. What’s in a Name?

5. Black Folk Done Lost Their Stuff

6. The Common Narrative of Black Appalachian Coal-Camp Families

7. Blacks Moving between Central Alabama and Central Appalachia

8. Close-Knit Central Appalachian Coal-Camp Black Communities

9. On Trash-Talking and Signifying along Looney Creek

10. In a Coal Mine, Everybody Is Black; Outside, Not So Much

11. School Integration Was Worse than a Kick in the Head by an Alabama Mule

12. The Principal of the White School Became a Lifelong Friend

13. Not Bad for Some Colored Kids from Harlan County, Kentucky

14. King Coal Leaves the Throne

15. The Graying of the Eastern Kentucky Social Club

16. Meditating on the Future at the Mountaintop




William H. Turner is a sociologist now based near Houston, Texas. He received a lifetime of service award from the Appalachian Studies Association in 2009, which joined other career highlights that include induction into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.


“A warm and insightful memoir of Black life in Appalachia’s coal camps that offers a bounty of correctives to the persistent myth that all mountain people are white and all poverty is self-made.”
Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia and Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

“Heartfelt portraits that are original, compelling, revelatory, and deeply human.”
David Ritz, author of Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin

“One of the oldest and most enduring myths about the Appalachian Mountains is that they are now and always have been overwhelmingly populated by white Scots-Irish. Dr. William H. Turner has written a new book, The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns, that kills that myth about whiteness and, for good measure, buries several more myths as well.”
Daily Yonder


“It’s a book only Turner could write, and without it, this slice of American culture would be lost forever.”
Berea College Magazine