from left: Herb E. Smith, Pat Beaver, Judi Jennings, Helen Lewis, Amelia Kirby, and Sylvia Ryerson
This past Seedtime Friday, June 8, 2012, saw an extra-special event take place in the Appalshop conference room. Appalachian studies pioneer Helen Lewis, along with editors Judi Jennings and Pat Beaver joined Beth Bingman, Amelia Kirby, and Herb E. Smith in reading selections from Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia, a brand-new anthology of Lewis’s writings and memories that document her life and work.
What follows is a transcript of the reading, generously sent around by Roy Silver. For more information on the book, click here.
Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia
Seedtime on the Cumberland, June 8, 2012
Appalshop Conference Room, 5:00 – 6:00 pm
Helen intro: It is great to be back at Appalshop. My relationship with this creative organization goes back to its beginning. I was teaching at Clinch Valley College in Wise when Appalshop began, and I started sending students over to get involved. Ben Ziccafoose did the film Frank Jackson Coalminer as a term paper in my class other students came here to work: Jack Wright, Ron Short and Beth Bingman, who writes in this book about her student experiences. I later joined the Appalshop, staff to work with Herb E., Elizabeth, Mimi and other filmmakers to develop a film series on the History of Appalachia.
This book, which was developed by Judi Jennings and Pat Beaver, is a combination of a Reader made up of a lot of things I have written throughout the years and interviews giving the context for the writings, a history of social movements and changes which I have been part of from 1950 to today and pieces by others who participated in these events. Being in Whitesburg I need to admit that I have plagiarized two important Whitesburg writer-activists in my writings. Both Harry Caudill in Night Comes to the Cumberland and Tom Gish, editor of the Mountain Eagle, wrote and talked about the region as a Colony, about the outside exploitation of the wealth and the various programs for amelioration. Gish saw these regional organizations developing more and more like the Office of Indian Affairs, to control the natives. He saw this as a latter stage of colonialism in which those who are left over, the land and the people, live as wards of the government on a Paleface Reservation.
I took their writings about Appalachia, and I wrote and talked about how Appalachia was like an internal colony, and I began to look at how exploitation of resources and outside control affected other people and places. I went to the coalfields of Wales and began to write about the similarities between people there and in Appalachia and the impact of extractive industries. Wales is also where I first started learning about the power of video and film to tell stories. In our reading today, we are going to focus on two sections of the book talking about my work in Wales and Appalshop which are related and still continuing today. We want to save time for discussion of today’s problems and what happens After Coal.
Pat: While students at Oxford, England, John Gaventa, now an internationally known scholar and activist, and Richard Greatrex did some very rough videotapes in Wales of the 1974 Miners’ Strike. When John returned to Vanderbilt University, where he was completing his studies, Helen invited him over to one of her classes at Clinch Valley College to show the tapes. John recalls that, “As happens with many people Helen meets, I became a friend and colleague on a number of projects thereafter. I also think of Helen as a mentor in the sense of someone who inspires in others the ability to see their work differently and who helps them see new possibilities to which they can aspire.”
Helen: So [in 1975] I got a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation on energy-related research and went to Wales. . . . John Gaventa was over there. His friend Richard Greatrex, a Welsh filmmaker, agreed to do videotapes in the mining communities if I would provide him with room and board. So I piggybacked this whole Welsh videotape production on my fellowship. Most weekends John would come to Wales, and he and Richard and I would videotape Welsh community scenes.
We also used the grant for an exchange; we brought Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger and that group of musicians—Rich Kirby, John McCutcheon, some of the Brookside mine women, Charis Horton, and people from the River Farm. It was an invasion of the Americans in this mining community where they hadn’t seen Americans since World War II.
Judi: Helen used video and visual anthropology to understand life in Welsh mining valleys. Throughout her career, Helen has been able to build such global links, but always to do so without losing her deep local and regional roots. Her work is a conversation between regional culture and global political economy. For Helen, the sociological world has always been bigger than its academic boundaries. At Clinch Valley College, she and her students engaged in the communities, not just the classroom. In her Welsh project, she used her networking skills to build links among miners, academics, and broader publics in the two regions that last to this day.
Helen: My Old Black Mountain Home” or “Deep in the Heart of Dyfed” or “What I Learned in Wild Wild Wales,” A Poem of Sorts, read at the Rose and Crown, Wales, April 24, 1976
I rented a little cottage
In Upper Brynamman on Bryn,
With Richard and John in the household
And visits from one or two friends.
We made a lot of videotapes
At schools and pubs and clubs and mines,
Of people singing, dancing and shouting a bit,
But mostly speaking their minds.
What have I done in my travels?
What have I learned in my stay?
I’ll tell you a few of the highlights
In my work, which is better called play.
Continue reading Full Transcript of the Seedtime 2012 Helen Lewis Reading