Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michelle Christian

Committee Members

Victor Ray, Paul K. Gellert, Michelle Brown, Jessica Grieser


Popular perceptions of Appalachia depict a rural region populated by poor, "backward," uneducated whites. Despite a more than two-hundred-year black presence in Appalachia, the perceived racial homogeneity of the region and the scholarly discourse that downplay racial difference (c.f., Coleman 2001) create a story of Appalachia focused on poor (white) problems that ignore race. Through an ethnographic case study of Knoxville, this dissertation seeks to disrupt popular and scholarly conceptions of Appalachia by considering how scholars might research, recognize and think about race in the region not simply through the experiences of whites, but through an examination of the lives of the sizable but almost invisible population of blacks. Using qualitative data, mainly in-depth interviews with 36 native and long-term residents of Knoxville and participant observation examine Black Appalachian experiences at the intersection of race and place—both at a contextual level as well as experiential level. Three primary questions drive this research: 1) What are the historical, structural, racial, and cultural practices that have shaped the relationship between Blackness and place? 2) How might understanding Black experiences facilitate a reimagining of place? and 3) How does Black place-making occur? /What are the major sites of Black place-making? To answer these questions and otherwise conceive the Black Appalachian experience in Knoxville, I draw and expand on literature in the theoretical tradition of Black geography and urban Black sociology –specifically Chocolate City Sociology. I argue that in the context of invisibility, erasure, and exclusion from narratives of Knoxville (Appalachia), Black Knoxvillians develop a sense of place characterized by a sense of being out of place. Due to a history of racial violence against Black neighborhoods, i.e. urban renewal and urban disinvestment, Blacks also develop a strong sense of loss of place in Knoxville. Still, it is neighborhoods, not the region or the city, that are linked to Black Knoxvillians’ collective identity. While vehicles of racial violence, Black neighborhoods simultaneously function as sites of Black safety and collective place-making.

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