Faith Joell Leone

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10493

Approve Date

April 6, 2023

Project Title

Leone, Faith (Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of) "Solidarities lost and found: Labor and the politics of memory in West Virginia and Alabama"

When both Black and white coal miners united in a recent strike against an Alabaman coal company, some supporters declared the contemporary labor movement the harbinger of a ‘new’ and ‘better’ South and Appalachia. Yet on the picket line, organizers draw on memories of the past to rouse their constituents. The same stories about efforts to unionize the coalfields a century ago evoke disparate reactions: for some, such stories narrate possibility to build new broad-based alliances, while for others, they affirm popular constructions of white, industrial workers as the embodiment of valorized labor. This project asks, why do people remember the past in the ways that they do, and what is at stake in this remembering? Through eighteen months of fieldwork with labor organizers and culture workers, this project investigates how memory is shaping class consciousness, racial formations, and imaginings of political solidarities in two interconnected districts of West Virginia and Alabama. Stories about the past reflect the stakes of the present. Yet in contrast to approaches that describe memory as either hegemonic or resistant, I consider how memories may simultaneously justify, explain, and critique power structures, shedding light on working people’s aspirations during a time of ‘surging’ labor activity.