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The Swannanoa Tunnel

The Swannanoa Tunnel

Photo: African American workers on the Swannanoa Tunnel (Round Knob, 1878)

There’s an old song called “Swannanoa Tunnel,” recorded by Bascom Lunsford and Roscoe Holcomb among others, that looks back to the building of the Swannanoa Tunnel, near Asheville, NC, in the 1870’s.There’s a hidden history in the song:  the tunnel cost the lives of at least 300 African American workers, prisoners leased out by the state to do difficult, dangerous work. It’s a story that has largely been forgotten. Kentucky natives Kevin Kehrberg and Jeff Keith, both now teaching at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC, have dug deeply into the story of the Swannanoa Tunnel and recently had their work published by the online magazine, The Bitter Southerner. In this audio piece, which first aired on WMMT’s Deep in Tradition, host Rich Kirby explores this history of the Swannanoa Tunnel and the convict leasing system through traditional folk songs and the ongoing work of Kehrberg and Keith. The Bitter Southerner article, well worth a read, is here [ https://bittersoutherner.com/2020/somebody-died-babe-a-musical-coverup-of-racism-violence-and-greed ]

 

Tags:
appalachian history,
Black History,
Black in Appalachia,
Labor History,
traditional music,