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Evelyn Williams, a great role model for us all

February 11, 2017 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history

Appalshop In 1995 the great Appalshop filmmaker Anne Lewis featured Mrs. Evelyn Williams (October 31, 1915 – December 13, 2002), a Kentucky woman whose wisdom and heroism continues to teach us great lessons in patriotism, love of land and community, and for equal rights. The film (available for viewing free online at the Appalshop website) is worth watching again if you’ve seen it before – and certainly worth sharing with others if you are seeing it for the first time.

Evelyn Williams

Evelyn Williams on her farm near Redfox, in Knott County KY

Born in the mountains of Tennessee, Mrs. Williams remembers her family moving back to eastern Kentucky to coalmining camps near where her ancestors had lived and extended family owned land together in Perry County. She tells of how the actions of white supremacists in the 1920s affected her even later in life, and she warns us to pay attention how racist violence today touch and change our youth today. You will be fascinated by her stories of motherhood in the mountains, working as a domestic servant in West Virginia, going for a college degree at age 50 and what it meant to her as she learned what it takes to create a positive community spirit in the midst of despair and powerlessness. The death of her son and the inhumane way the military establishment treated his remains led her to a new appreciation for those around her who were struggling. Unlike so many other histories, the narrative kept its focus on this woman’s life — keeping true to Mrs. Williams’ own assertion that the long history of Blacks in Appalachia is mostly the story of women and children who far outnumbered the men. We need to remember this as so much more is learned and understood when we see our work in the world from the eyes of women and children.

This short film (about 25 minutes long) is powerful in drawing in its audience. I appreciated the loving and respectful way that Lewis shows us how Mrs. Williams holds herself, her home furnishings while she is being interviewed about her family, and her interactions with old friends in New York or with KFTC activists on her land as they negotiate with the mining company.

Thank you, Anne Lewis. Thank you, Appalshop. And even heartier thanks to Mrs. Evelyn Williams for sharing her powerful and important story.

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