By SERINA MARSHALL
As the sun rises over the mountains of West Virginia, a hard-working African American husband and father makes his way to the mines to provide for his family. Picking and loading coal was a dangerous task, but one that he took on bravely and proudly. Though it was unskilled labor, he didn’t mind; he had a job, and that was what mattered.
Appalachia is covered with stories of African Americans and their contribution to the land and the people. Unfortunately, not many of these stories are told as the stereotype of Appalachia often causes people to believe it is only white, poor, and uneducated. Two local filmmakers are looking to change that view of the region.
Josh Mancuso, an actor and filmmaker in the area, is the director for “The Black Appalachian,” a film that has been in the works for a few years.
“As a filmmaker, we have stories to tell,” Mancuso said. “In August of 2019, I met with Ketch Secor, founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show, to pick his brain for film ideas. The idea for ‘The Black Appalachian’ came up and it intrigued me. It needs to be told. I came back to the area and began reaching out to the African American community. My first call was to Adam for more input.”
Adam Dickson, vice mayor of the Town of Jonesborough, took on the role of producer for the film, with Secor providing music.
Both Mancuso and Dickson are rooted in this area, but their film production takes them all over Appalachia finding African Americans to tell their stories. They have discovered representation for the African American community in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.
“There is a population of African Americans in Appalachia; it is diverse. It isn’t one group. It is not the stereotype,” Dickson said. “We want people to know the trials and tragedies, but be hopeful and uplifting. It needs to be revealed.”
Mancuso also feels this part of history needs to be told.
“Appalachia is diverse, but African Americans are still minorities,” Mancuso said. “There is history here. African Americans built lives here and brought culture to all areas. We need to recognize that history is being left out and bring it to life. Black experiences told by those who lived it. Good and bad and celebrate what they have done.”
These stories told by African American voices is good for recognition and to put to rest pre-conceived notions of Appalachia.
“Appalachia is inclusive. We want to be intentional and proactive when it comes to African Americans” Dickson said. “There have been stereotypes for a hundred years in media, such as ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ ‘Deliverance’ and ‘The Hatfield’s and McCoys.’ There is so much more to Appalachia.”
In order to present Appalachia in a light outside of media, Mancuso and Dickson had research to do and storytellers to find.
Both director and producer began searching for what they needed to do history justice. “We found a lot of those involved through relationships. Adam and I began talking and he found it very positive and found potential in it,” Mancuso said.
“We want a reach, on Netflix and Amazon. Top quality products,” Dickson added. “Using personal networks until we found people to meet and talk to became our relationship management.”
The entire production team for “The Black Appalachian” is diverse in itself, made up of Blacks and whites to make the perfect mix.
“We are ready for unity and not polar opposite. There is no agenda. We are just telling a story that needs to be heard,” Mancuso said.
“It is not an effort to exploit, but highlight regional Black people,” Dickson said.
The team does have ways the community and public can help with this project.
“Through organizations that can contribute. We can attach a sponsorship” Mancuso explained. “You can also send us stories, anything at all. We haven’t had many roadblocks; everyone has been very receptive and excited. As a filmmaker we are always worried about funding. We have to decide the time on our own, find a team to pay and make it right.”
The team received a generous donation from the 400 Years of African American History Commission which was very much appreciated.
But in the end, it is the story that they want to take center stage.
Dickson concluded with, “I believe these events are important to building community. We must respect diversity and not be in denial. Appreciate and acknowledge the activities. Help understand diversity. Understand the stories. That is what makes us one step closer to building a community.”
Questions about donations to help “The Black Appalachian” film project can be emailed to
[email protected], along with any story ideas.