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William Turner

William Turner

William H. Turner
“The Harlan Renaissance
Thursday, February 9, 7:30 PM
O’Donnell Hall, Whitlock Building

Keynote Address for National Black History Month

William H. Turner is a sociologist and anthropologist and the author of the acclaimed book, The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns, winner of the Weatherford Award for Nonfiction. Turner, the fifth of ten children, was born in 1946 in the coal town of Lynch, Kentucky, in Harlan County. His grandfathers, his father, four uncles and an older brother were coal miners.

After completing a sociology degree at the University of Kentucky, Bill Turner went on to earn a Masters in Sociology and the PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from Notre Dame University, before pursuing post-doctoral studies at both the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University.

Turner has spent his professional career studying and working on behalf of marginalized communities, helping them create opportunities in the larger world while not abandoning their important cultural ties. He is best-known for his ground-breaking research on African-American communities in Appalachia, but Bill’s work is universal. As an academic and a consultant, he has studied economic systems and social structures in the urban South and burgeoning Latino communities in the Southwest. What he strives for on behalf of his clients and their communities is what we all want: prosperity, understanding and respect.

In addition to co-editing the groundbreaking textbook, Blacks in Appalachia, Turner has contributed essays on Black Appalachians to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.

Among his many academic position, Dr. Turner served as Chair of Social Sciences at Winston-Salem University, Dean of Arts and Sciences and Interim President at Kentucky State, Vice President for Multicultural Affairs at UK, and Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador at Berea College. From 1979-91, he was a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley, who said, “Bill knows more about black people in the mountains of the South than anyone in the world.”

Turner’s many awards and recognitions include induction into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, the University of Kentucky Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, a lifetime service award from the Appalachian Studies Association and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Citizen of the Year Award.

Today, Bill and his wife, Vivian – the retired President of the R.J. Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, N.C. – live near their children and grandchildren in Houston.

About The Harlan Renaissance

The Harlan Renaissance is an intimate remembrance of kinship and community in eastern Kentucky’s coal towns written by one of the luminaries of Appalachian studies, William Turner. Turner reconstructs Black life in the company towns in and around Harlan County during coal’s final postwar boom years, which built toward an enduring bust as the children of Black miners, like the author, left the region in search of better opportunities.

The Harlan Renaissance invites readers into what might be an unfamiliar Appalachia: one studded by large and vibrant Black communities, where families took the pulse of the nation through magazines like Jet and Ebony and through the news that traveled within Black churches, schools, and restaurants. Difficult choices for the future were made as parents considered the unpredictable nature of Appalachia’s economic realities alongside the unpredictable nature of a national movement toward civil rights.

Unfolding through layers of sociological insight and oral history, The Harlan Renaissance centers the sympathetic perspectives and critical eye of a master narrator of Black life.

Sponsored by the Office of Student Life, Diversity and Inclusion, the African/African American Studies Program, the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the Department of Languages & Cultural Studies, Anthropology & Sociology and the Honors Program.


Published on February 10, 2023

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