Following the Civil War, African-American families established an informal community of settlers in the Blue Ridge Mountains along upper Gowen’s Creek of the Oolenoy River in Pickens County, South Carolina, near the North Carolina line. Descendants of one of the original families still reside here, and they shared their impressive knowledge of their heritage through the community’s five generations with John M. Coggeshall, an anthropology professor at Clemson University about thirty miles away. Oral history and ethnography are present here, but paramount are the stories of strong Black women, persevering and upholding a devotion to ancestral land, while resisting ever-present racist terror and paternalism. One of the chapters delves in depth into the 1967 bombing of the community’s only church and a nearby residence, and one of the features of this book is its acknowledgement of the contrast between the perceptions of Black and White residents of the Oolenoy River Valley. This book is a beacon for those of us who struggle to uplift the study and celebration of African-American Appalachian communities and people.
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. 269 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, appendices, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.95.