Catherine Venable Moore — Writer & Producer

Archive for the ‘Black History’ Category

Cedar Grove Spring Update!

In Announcements, Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, West Virginia History, Women's History on May 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

IMG_3756By way of a refresher, “Cedar Grove” is the working title of BMS’s hour-long radio documentary that tells the story of an Upper Kanawha Valley town through the voices of generations of women who have called it home. The piece, funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council, also brings focus to writer Mary Lee Settle’s memoir, “Addie,” which unfolds over generations in Cedar Grove, W. Va.

This spring we’re in full production mode, and you can read about what we’re up to below. Come summer, we’ll be scripting and cutting audio, getting ready for a two week marathon editing session at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in August.

* May Weekends at the Tompkins Mansion — Thanks to the generosity and graciousness of Patty & Elbie Thurmon, I’ve been spending my May weekends at Addie’s house, in The Pink Room. These days the Thurmons–both Cedar Grove natives–run a rest home called The Haven out of the 1840s-era mansion. I can personally attest to the incredible level of care they give to their guests. Elbie makes homemade dinners every night–fried squash, beans, cornbread, the works. Patty plays the piano in the evenings as guests drift off to sleep.

These weekend stays have made it possible for me to really dig into the project and get some great recordings–including a recent Gospel Sing in Ward and interviews with local children who Elbie mentors (featured recently in a Daily Mail article). Patty has also allowed me to scan rare photos and documents related to the mansion’s history from her collection, which I plan to include on the website. My recorder hasn’t detected any ghosts in the mansion so far, only the crackle of monitors in the rooms of The Haven’s elderly guests…but I’ll keep listening!

* 11 Women Interviewed — Patty (Ellis) Thurmon, Shirley (Ellis) Stennett, Peggy Coleman, Katherine Atwater, Carol Saunders, Paula Clendenin, Sharon Hemmings, Jean Lamb, Jean Cary, Linda Saunders, Lynnette Hudnall. Thank you for your stories.

* Website & Music Are Cookin’ — I’m really lucky to be working with Drew Tanner on a project website, and Bob Webb on scoring & technical aspects of audio. It has been fun to brainstorm and dream with both of them about how to make the project come alive on the web and in listeners’ ears. Stay tuned…

* Cedar Grove Town Council & Other Partnerships — Recently, the mayor and council of Cedar Grove were informed of the project and invited to nominate a woman to be interviewed. They were extremely supportive and encouraging, and many good leads came out of the discussion. Some had not read “Addie,” and so I shared copies with them. I will continue to work with the town during the outreach and distribution phase as we host listening parties in the community.

Other organizations that have expressed their support for the project and volunteered to help in various ways include: Goldenseal Magazine, WV Public Broadcasting, West Virginia Archives and History, Daughters of the American Revolution (William Morris Chapter), Midland Trails Scenic Byway, Virginia’s Chapel Board of Directors, Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society, Appalachian Heritage magazine, and of course our number one supporter and project partner, Allegheny Mountain Radio/Pocahontas Communications Cooperative, without whom this project would not be possible.

* Slavery & Salt, Rare Archive Finds — Thanks to a brilliant friend and Charleston native, Cyrus Forman, who is researching slavery and salt production in the Kanawha Valley for an academic thesis, we’ve got our hands on two fascinating documents related to slavery in the Cedar Grove area. One is a riveting account of the escape of a couple of dozen enslaved people on the Underground Railroad via boats built at the Cedar Grove Bote Yards. The other is a story of a slave “conjurer” in Malden who converts to Christianity. Cyrus and I plan to collaborate on a short radio piece that tells these stories.

HOW YOU CAN HELP — Send me names and email addresses of more folks who should know about this project, so I can keep them in the loop. And share news of this project with other radio- and history-lovers you know…

Thanks to the women of Cedar Grove, thanks to spring mornings on the Kanawha, and thanks to all you wonderful folks for your support!

–Catherine

As Black As We Wish To Be

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History on December 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

Wizard radio producer Lu Olkowski has created a fascinating piece about the blurry lines of race in an Appalachian Ohio town for the show State of the Re:Union. Highly recommended!

In this episode Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.

Listen here.

Cedar Grove Update!

In Announcements, Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, West Virginia History, Women's History on November 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Awesome news came in the mail today! The West Virginia Humanities Council has awarded the documentary “Cedar Grove” a $15,000 matching grant for production and promotion.

“Cedar Grove” is an hour-long radio documentary that explores acclaimed WV writer Mary Lee Settle’s ancestral homeland as it is presented in her 1998 memoir, “Addie,” and as it is today. With the support of top scholars and community advisers, “Cedar Grove” will re-center marginalized narratives of women and African Americans in Appalachia; explore the history of the Kanawha Valley; and create a greater awareness of Mary Lee Settle’s literary work.

Allegheny Mountain Radio is my partner on the project, along with a whole bunch of amazing scholars, local historians, and community members.

Here’s a rundown of the project, from our grant application:

First, we will deepen our audience’s understanding and appreciation of Mary Lee Settle’s historical nonfiction by exploring its imaginative source in the Upper Kanawha Valley. Cedar Grove will create a greater awareness of Mary Lee Settle’s literary work among a captive audience of West Virginians and Appalachians, growing the author’s readership. We hope that it will also prompt renewed study of that work among the general public and a new generation of scholars.

In addition, we will present an evocative, responsive, and intimate portrait of a real, concrete place—Cedar Grove—that stands on its own terms. By reaching into the past for context, as well as listening to those living there today, Cedar Grove will explore in a nuanced way the personal, social, political, economic, geographic, and gendered dynamics at play in an early 21st century Upper Kanawha Valley town, reaching for a better understanding of the present.

By connecting past with present, and by connecting our audience with one of West Virginia’s most powerful and accomplished writers, Mary Lee Settle, we will deepen their connection with and understanding of home. In the process, we seek to reinforce pride in a local community and in the literary heritage of our state.

With a special focus on the narratives of women and African Americans in the Upper Kanawha Valley, this project will re-center these groups’ historically marginalized stories. By framing women’s work as part of a historical narrative, for example, we expand the audience’s notions of what history is and does. And by including the voices of African Americans from Appalachia—who have so often been written out of history—we promote and dignify their rich contributions to the region’s heritage.

In the process of producing this documentary, we will capture and preserve the oral histories of several generations of West Virginian women as a resource for future audiences and researchers. The stories of these women, who range in age from 55 to 100, will add to the richness of the WV State Archives audio collection. 

Finally, this radio documentary will lay the groundwork for a future series of audio works based on Mary Lee Settle’s Beulah Quintet, providing biographical and place-based context for her historical fiction.

In addition to the radio documentary, producers will create shorter cuts for placement on national public radio programs; build an interactive web site; and donate all recorded material to the WV State Archives.

 

“River Road of Sand” Radio Documentary

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on October 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Here are links to a 3-part series I just wrapped up for West Virginia Public Radio about the history of batteaux in the New River Gorge area, about 20 minutes of listening in all. Transcripts are available at wvpubcast.org. So far I’ve received some really generous, positive feedback on the pieces, but would love to hear some critiques as well!

Part 1: A Survey of the New

Today we hear a story about the man who put the Marshall in Marshall University. Chief Justice John Marshall, that is. Two hundred years ago this September, he, along with a group of elite commissioners and a crew of hard-working boatmen, set off on a river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny Mountains. Their month-long journey took them from Lynchburg, VA, all the way to Kanawha Falls in present day Fayette County, WV. This year, a crew from Virginia retraced that route on a boat they built themselves, called a batteau. Their long, flat-bottomed wooden boat, The Mary Marshall, is similar to those poled by boatmen up and down the waterways of western Virginia during Marshall’s era, and all the way into the 1920s. Before the interstate,  before the railroad, there was the batteau. Producer Catherine Moore has this first installment in a three-part series, called “The River Road of Sand,” about the history of batteaux in West Virginia.

Part 2: Hard Work

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Chief Justice John Marshall’s river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny mountains. The boat that took he and his crew through the wilds of western Virginia was called a batteau—a flat-bottomed wooden boat like a long, skinny barge that could carry lots of cargo. We know that the men who labored to pole Marshall’s batteau up river were black, as were most batteaumen. Yesterday, we heard about a group of Virginians who built a batteau of their own to retrace Marshall’s 1812 journey. In this installment of a 3-part series, “The River Road of Sand,” producer Catherine Moore talks to one Hinton native with a deep and personal interest in the history of batteaux, and in the process learns more about the labor realities that made these boats run.

Part 3: Yee Haw

Sometimes all it takes is an anniversary to remind us of a long-forgotten piece of our history. Sometimes it takes an anniversary, and a crazy idea. In September of 1812, a 57-year-old Chief Justice John Marshall headed into the wilderness of western Virginia to survey a canal over the mountains to the Ohio River. This year, a group of young Virginians under Captain Andrew Shaw retraced Marshall’s journey in a long flatbottomed wooden boat, called a batteau, that they built themselves. In part 3 of our series on the history of batteaux in West Virginia, The River Road of Sand, producer Catherine Moore learns more about what happened after Marshall’s survey but before the New River Gorge became a center for whitewater recreation. Special thanks to Squirrel, a raft guide among raft guides, who saved this piece by having double-AA batteries lowered into the New River in a bucket.

Many thanks to Beth Vorhees, Robin Crawford, Jon Averill, Andrew Shaw, Jay Young, Dave Arnold, Norman Jordan, and the National Parks Service.

Batteaumen on The New

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm

A batteau on the New

Thanks to some historians and hobbyists over in the Regular Virginia, we now have a pretty good picture of how the batteau system worked on rivers in and around the Richmond-Lynchburg area. But over here in the BEST VIRGINIA, we’re still learning more about the economies and cultures surrounding this tradition. (The National Parks Service has a nice summary here.)

I’m currently mad at work on a series of short pieces for WV Public Radio detailing some of this history, with the news peg being a recent project retracing the route of John Marshall’s survey expedition to find a viable waterway over the Alleghenies in 1812, as well as the 200th anniversary of that event this fall. It’s set to air in September.

Recently, I caught up with Robin Crawford, a Hinton native who traces his family genealogy to black batteaumen–both enslaved people and free–who plied the waters of the New in the mid- and late-19th century. In fact, he’s the first known descendent of batteaumen in the U.S.

Here’s a snippet from our interview, in which he talks about discovering his ancestors in census records:

R.C.: The first person I notice on there is James Jonston. James Johnston married my great grandfather’s sister, who was Amanda. Then it listed three other people, John Henry Pack, Amanda’s son. Allen Pack, my great grandfather’s brother. And Homer Smithers married Laura Pack.

Well I didn’t know what a batteuman, or a batteau was at the time. One came for the WV Water Festival and that particular year the water was too high for the boat to be on the river so it was in the park downtown all day. I knew it was going to be there and I went and hung out with the guy all day. I wanted to learn everything I could about it. At the end of the day he said, ‘What is your interest?’ I told him I had discovered that I had relatives that did that work on this river. He was amazed that he had actually met someone who knew these people.

I knew Amanda’s daughter, she was one of my teachers. She told me, ‘Son, your people worked The Rivahhhhh.’ That’s how she put it. I had no clue. She was an elderly woman when I started the segregated schools she was still one of the teachers there.

The batteaumen, I believe, were actually the boat captains. There were many other men who worked the boat with them.

Allen Pack actually settled near where I was born and my mother knew lots of stories about him. He was the only Pack slave that was ever whipped. And it was because he was sort of drafted by the Confederacy during the Civil War. He refused to maneuver one of the bateaux the way the Confederates wanted him to, so…

He also read a poem written by a white woman about the way the river looked before the Bluestone Dam, which mentions some of his ancestors. Here’s part of it:

Ah yes it’s covered over now with water cold and deep
But our memories are strong and warm
As o’er the years they keep

The old log house with the fireplace
And the river road of sand
Where we walked along 50 years ago just above Blue Stone Dam

The old log church called Blue Stone View
At the top of John Pence Hill
Folks for miles around in wagons came
Seems I can see them still

There was Blind Joe and Old Tom Pack
Aunt Sussy and Ground Hog Sam
They worshipped every Sunday there
Just above Blue Stone Dam

C.M.: What’s that like?

R.C.: Well, it just gave me chills. This is a white lady writing about her childhood and old Tom still came here and came to church.

C.M.: Can you see them still?

R.C.: No, no. But I can just imagine. I can just imagine the scene.