JOHNSON CITY – There’s a 47-minute VHS recording that features an interview with the 1964 class of Langston High School, a now closed institution that served Johnson City’s Black students beginning in the 1890s. A 1985 masonic newsletter, as well as a 1981 Kingsport Times-News article about the Pro-To Club, a non-profit corporation aimed at promoting the welfare of the region’s Black population, is there, too.
Given to the university more than 20 years ago, the Langston Heritage Group Collection includes a wealth of historical information about Black churches, schools, civic clubs and organizations throughout Washington County from the end of the Civil War to the present.
Thanks to archivists at East Tennessee State University, the collection has been digitized and made available online to anyone interested in this history.
“The physical collection was first donated to ETSU in 2000, and it has since been accessed in the Archives’ reading room by dozens of researchers who have utilized the materials for scholarly and creative projects,” said Dr. Jeremy A. Smith, director of the Archives of Appalachia. “But digitizing and making this collection available online will push it out to a global audience, providing unprecedented access to this valuable resource while helping to draw attention to an essential but underrepresented part of Johnson City’s history.”
In late 2021, the Archives of Appalachia and B. Carroll Reece Museum received $225,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a prestigious grant given to support a project to enhance online access to collections and artifacts that highlight diverse voices in southern Appalachia.
Digitizing this collection is critical, Smith said, but “we know this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of documenting the rich and varied histories of African Americans in Johnson City and East Tennessee.
“Our hope is to continue partnering with the broader community to add new details and new layers to this vital history, demonstrating the rich cultural diversity that has been present within Appalachia since its earliest days,” he added.
To view the online Langston collection, visit this page.
The Archives of Appalachia is a unit of the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services in ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies.