William Turner gives us a closer look at the Central Appalachian community he grew up in.
Appalachian coal mining towns aren’t what they used to be. As sociologist William Turner recalls in his book, Harlan Renaissance, the industry was booming during the mid-20th century in places like Harlan County, Kentucky—Turner’s home and inspiration for his book’s title. But this golden age has passed, leaving behind only a shell of what these bustling towns used to be.
Folks might be familiar with this historical narrative, but Harlan Renaissance is a story much less told. Celebrating the diversity within the close-knit Black communities of postwar Appalachia, Turner’s stories are as lively and engaging as these communities themselves.
Despite the many hardships this disproportionately marginalized group endured, Turner’s collection of “Black Appalachian mountain stories,” as he calls them, are characterized by hope, perseverance, and extraordinary authenticity. For this, Harlan Renaissance is much more than a historical account—it’s a vibrant reanimation of Black life in Appalachia and an important piece of our region’s cultural history.