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International Storytelling Center to host virtual stories event


The International Storytelling Center, home to the world-renowned National Storytelling Festival and Storytelling Live! Teller-in-Residence series, will host a free virtual event titled “What You Don’t Know (But Should) About Appalachian Slavery” on Saturday, Sept. 5, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. as part of the Freedom Stories project. 

Freedom Stories is an ongoing series that illuminates the underappreciated and neglected stories of African Americans in Appalachian history and highlights the role that face-to-face storytelling has played in both African and Appalachian cultures. 

Through Freedom Stories virtual events, the project marries performance and discussion, connecting prominent African American storytellers, artists, humanities scholars, and community experts to trace the rich history of African Americans in Appalachia — from the first African arrivals in Appalachia, to the shaping of a distinct culture, to the struggles for freedom and equality. 

The project will also produce multi-media resources that will be made accessible to a national audience.

Saturday’s Freedom Stories panel will include Frank X. Walker, a self-identified “Affrilachian” poet. (Photos contributed)

As the nation learns to grapple with difficult truths, this free public event will serve as a model for how to engage in productive discussions around complex topics. The distinguished panel will feature Frank X. Walker, a self-identified “Affrilachian” poet and author; author and historian, Anne Mason, executive director of the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee & Southwest Virginia; West Virginia storyteller and humanities scholar, Ilene Evans of Voices from the Earth; and Dr. Dinah Mayo-Bobee from East Tennessee State University Department of History. 

The panel will be moderated by ISC Freedom Stories Project Director, Dr. Alicestyne Turley. 

The live panel discussion will take place on the International Storytelling Center’s Facebook timeline and will be followed by a public Q & A. 

G’Fellers-Mason, executive director of the Heritage Alliance, will be on the Freedom Stories panel

The event will be recorded and made available to watch with closed-captioning post-event. 

Turley, director of the Freedom Stories Project, said of the September Freedom Story, “Today’s audiences have very limited, generalized knowledge of American slavery, a knowledge informed primarily by American entertainment media — which of course means many audiences have even less information about Appalachia or its history of slavery. Slavery in Appalachia was like the region itself, unique in its form and application. The September public discussion will be a brief look at this overlooked aspect of American and regional history.”

Kiran Singh Sirah, president of ISC, said these Freedom Stories discussions are important to the region in the context of the national movement of storytelling. 

“The project is not meant to neglect or subdue the stories we do know, but rather to bring forward, in public conversation, the untold stories that contribute to the uniqueness and rich traditions of Appalachia,” Sirah said. “These stories are integral to the history of the region, and Appalachia is integral to the story of our entire nation.” 

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Discussions Grant, an award based on projects that bring the ideas and insights of the humanities to life for general audiences. ISC would like to thank the following organizations for their support of the Freedom Stories Project: National Association of Black Storytellers, Appalachian African American Cultural Center, Black in Appalachia, Black/White Dialogue, Green McAdoo Cultural Center, Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee & Southwest Virginia, Langston Centre, Leadership and Civic Engagement at East Tennessee State University, McKinney Center, Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, and the Town of Jonesborough. 

To learn more about the International Storytelling Center and upcoming Freedom Stories programming, please visit