‘We Do This To Free Us’ — An Interview With The Creators Of The ‘Black In Appalachia’ Podcast On Inside Appalachia


This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re talking with the creators of the “Black in Appalachia” podcast about their recent mountain road trip through the coalfields.

“What we saw on our trip mirrors very well the things that we have been thinking about, and talking about,” said the show’s co-host Enkeshi El-Amin. “In some ways it’s affirming, but also it’s sad, that these are the struggles that Black folks are having across the board.”

Also in this episode, we learn about how debates over LGBTQ issues are playing out on the Qualla Boundary, in Western North Carolina. The Eastern Band of Cherokee doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. But some LGBTQ members have spent the last several months trying to change that. We’ll also hear how some renters in Pittsburgh don’t feel safe in their homes, due to rodents, roaches and leaky roofs. And a nurse in Appalachian, Tennessee shares her memories of growing up in the 1930s, and how she found her profession.

In This Episode: 

Black In Appalachia

This past summer, a popular podcast called “Black in Appalachia” celebrated its first anniversary with a live show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The team set out on a road trip across the central Appalachian coalfields. They wanted to hear stories from more Black people throughout the region. So they thought what better way to do it than to get in the car and see it up close.

Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams recently sat down with the team to find out more about their trip. The team covered a lot of miles — they drove through cities, towns and rural areas meeting people along the way. They visited with Black Appalachians in Charleston, Clarksburg and Matewan, West Virginia, and wrapped up their trip with a live show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I think for me, especially traveling to Pittsburgh, and going to this much larger city than what we’re used to here in Knoxville, you get to these new, bigger cities, everything looks great,” said co-host Angela Dennis. “But then when you actually get there, you kind of see that the people there are still dealing with the same struggles that we have, and are going through here in Knoxville. It might look good on the exterior, you know, and it’s great to be able to travel outside of your home, city or region. But at the end of the day, the state of Black people everywhere is pretty much the same across the board.”

Listen to this week’s episode to hear the full interview. “Black in Appalachia” is produced by East Tennessee PBS.


Despite Moratorium, Renters Struggle To Remain In Homes

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of economic hardship. For renters, the situation got worse this fall when a moratorium was lifted that allowed landlords to evict tenants. The moratorium went into effect during the pandemic’s early phase, keeping many people from being pushed from their homes.

This week on the show, we’ll hear a story from our colleagues at WESA and Public Source reported back in March, before the moratorium was lifted. Even then, many renters were struggling to stay in their homes, including Happiness Nyirenda, a renter in Pittsburgh. WESA reporter Kate Giammarise went to meet Nyirenda to hear her story.

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Credit Jay Manning / PublicSource
Happiness Nyirenda sits at a picnic bench near The Alden South Hills for an interview with reporters from WESA and PublicSource.

The story is part of an ongoing series about housing issues in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In a follow-up, Giammarise and Rich Lord, of Public Source, discovered that in some places, tenants have been living with leaks, infestations, and failed heating systems, even after multiple inspections. And some residents are demanding change.

Since this story aired, PNC Bank has pledged “immediate action” to address the conditions and has met with the Hi View Gardens Tenant Council.

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June Leffler / WVPB
The Clarksburg Water Board is creating an interactive map that will display where lead service lines are in its water system.

Lead Pipes Burden Clarksburg, West Virginia

Communities across Appalachia face issues with lead in their water. That’s because the pipes that carry drinking water to millions of homes are still made of lead. In the past year, five children in Clarksburg, West Virginia, have tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood. As West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s June Leffler reports, this prompted a total reevaluation of the city’s water system.

Conservationists Protect Lake Pleasants From Invasive Species

Lake Pleasants in Erie County, Pennsylvania was created by glaciers 13,000 years ago and is considered the most pristine lake in the county. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant visited Erie County to learn how decades of work have helped protect the lake from invasive species.

Same-Sex Marriage In The Cherokee Tribe

Same-sex marriage is not recognized by the Cherokee Tribal Council in the Qualla Boundary. Last month, an ordinance to try to change that law failed. Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Lilly Knoepp has been following the story and spoke with our producer, Roxy Todd, about what she’s heard from some members of the Cherokee tribe who are pushing tribal leaders to recognize same-sex marriage.

Rural Nurse Discusses Her Life

Ruth Owens worked as a nurse in rural Tennessee for over four decades until she retired at 85. Owens passed away this summer at the age of 94. Last year, when the StoryCorps project was in Cookeville, Tennessee, Owens sat down with her grandson James Taylor to talk about growing up in the late 1930s and how she became a nurse.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, Jake Schepps, and Dinosaur Burps.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Jade Artherhults is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can also send us an email to