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Dr. William Turner to speak at ETSU on ‘Blacks in Appalachia’

Contributed • Updated Feb 8, 2019 at 4:00 PM

“Blacks in Appalachia: Southern Appalachia and the Modern Civil Rights Movement” will be addressed by William H. Turner in a free public lecture at East Tennessee State University on Monday, Feb. 11, at 4:30 p.m. in the Reece Museum.

The lecture is sponsored by the ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies and the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services in conjunction with Black History Month.

Turner, a Prairie View A&M University research scientist and former Kentucky State University interim president, was one of the first scholars to study the important role of African Americans in Appalachia.

Turner has focused his career on demographic and ethnographic studies and programmatic interventions among people of color in the Appalachian Region. Among the first to combine interests in the fields of African American and Appalachian studies, he has published extensively in national newspapers, refereed academic journals and books on the black experience in Appalachia.

He co-edited with the late Edward J. Cabbell the textbook, “Blacks in Appalachia,” along with thematic essays on Black Appalachians in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, the latter of which which was produced by CASS. He also worked for a decade as research associate to “Roots” author Alex Haley.

As a freelance writer, Turner has published in the Huffington Post and dozens of newspapers. His essay, “Black hillbillies have no time for elegies,” was included in the 2019 book “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy.”

Turner, the fifth of 10 children, was born in 1946 in the town of Lynch in Harlan County, Kentucky. Both grandfathers, his father, four uncles and his older brother were coal miners. His mother was born in Harlan County in 1924, his father William Earl, in Coeburn, Virginia, in 1917. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1968 and a doctorate from Notre Dame University in 1975.

Among the honors Turner has received are the Christian Appalachian Project’s 1994 Person of the Year award and Notre Dame’s 2006 Distinguished Alumni Exemplar award.

In 2007, he was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, and, in 2008, he was recognized as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Citizen of the Year for “advocating for the rights and expanded educational opportunities for people in Appalachian Kentucky.”

In 2009, the Appalachian Studies Association honored him for a lifetime of service to the Appalachian region, and that same year, he was recommended by members of the Kentucky delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives to President Obama to serve as federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Bill and his wife of 49 years, Vivian, who retired as president of the R.J. Reynolds Foundation, live near their three adult children and four grandchildren in Houston.

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