Mtn. Talk: Derek Akal’s Struggle to Stay
In honor of Black History Month – every monday in February we’re celebrating Black histories, current realities, and futures in the Appalachian region and beyond. We continue this month-long series with the story of a young African-American man struggling to stay in Lynch, Kentucky where he was raised.
WMMT’s Benny Becker followed Derek Akal, a 21 year old former athlete, in an intimate exploration of the challenges facing young Appalachians, and particularly young Black Appalachians who navigate a historical relationship to migration into and out of the coalfields of eastern Kentucky in search of work and justice.These stories originally aired in a four part series for Inside Appalachia’s Struggle to Stay series which followed 6 Appalachians navigating the challenges of staying or leaving the mountains of their home.
We begin the first three chapters of Derek Akal’s story – “Plan A, Plan B, Plan C,” “Generations,” and “Hollywood Dreams.” Then we hear an excerpt from a 2016 interview with Derek’s cousin Karida Brown, who is a professor of sociology at the University of California in Los Angeles. She conducts a public humanities project called The Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project.
Brown is a professor of Sociology at UCLA and Derek Akal’s cousin. Brown conducted an oral history project called the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project which documents the generations of African Americans migration into and out of eastern Kentucky. She joined Theresa Osborne of the Appalachian Program at SE Kentucky Community and Technical College and Phyllis Sizemore of the KY Coal Museum for an interview for their bi-weekly WMMT show History Alive which airs every other Thursday from 6-7pm EST. Brown goes into detail about the processes through which black men from Alabama were recruited to work in the coal mines of Kentucky in the early 20th century.
We end with the conclusion to Derek Akal’s story.
This episode also features two songs from Appalshop’s JuneAppal recording of Earl Gilmore from an album called “From the Depths of my Soul.” Earl Gilmore was born in North Carolina in 1924. His family moved to Clinchco, Virginia in Dickenson County so his father could work in the coal mines when Earl was 2. He was a lifelong resident of Dickenson County and passed away in 2000.