Heritage Claims and Civic Change: Re-Stitching Urban Appalachian Advocacy in Cincinnati, OH

“Who is Appalachian?” is an integral question to the field of Appalachian Studies. As important as that discussion is to our work within the region, researchers have indicated that many Appalachia migrants outside the region actively maintain an “Appalachian” identity (Wagner & Obermiller, 1999; Wagner, Obermiller, & Tucker, 2000; Alexander & Berry, 2010). This presentation draws on participatory research with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a case study for examining the civic potential of Appalachian “heritage claims.”

In the late 1970s, the “urban Appalachian” movement in Cincinnati created the Urban Appalachian Council: a network of advocates for the needs of Appalachian migrants in the city. After 45 years of advocacy, arts programming, and services-based work, that group closed in 2014 due to financial reasons. Immediately, community advocates reformed as the new UACC. This presentation draws on interviews with urban Appalachian leaders at the moment they were re-stitching together an advocacy organization after closure. The presenter will show how heritage claims offer Cincinnati’s urban Appalachian community a rhetoric for remaining Appalachian outside the bounds of the official region by enabling them to root deeply and root differently in the city. In this case, heritage claims offered cultural resources for productively engaging displacement and institutional loss.

In addition to interview material drawn directly from key figures in the formation of the UACC, this presentation also shows how heritage claims can be used by other civic organizations—within or outside of the region—to meaningfully engage and mobilize communities.