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"The couple, with help from the community who donated items and completed oral histories, opened the cultural center in Lee County’s only school for blacks during segregation. Ron Carson’s great-great grandmother, a barber who grew wealthy and amassed 50 acres in Pennington Gap, built the one-room brick schoolhouse. One teacher taught all grades. The cultural center lost most of its historic items in a fire, but it quickly recovered." 

UVA WISE  A Minority In A Minority, Feb 2019

"It is important that future generations have the opportunity to learn who they are and where they come from."

-Jill Carson


UVA WISE, February 25, 2019

“We’re trying to heal the world, to get people to talk about [racism]. Because if you don’t reveal, you can’t heal.”

-Ron Carson

“I think [the center] helps the community because it provides a broader picture of who and what Pennington Gap is. The fact that the center exists is a powerful symbol. I think it makes it impossible for the community to ignore the presence of people of color in this region.”

-Sue Ella Kobak



Ron Carson, Founder 

Ron Carson is a native of Pennington Gap, VA and owner and CEO of Carson Black Lung Education and Research Centers in Virginia and Kentucky. Mr. Carson has dedicated his life and work to the collection and preservation of the narratives, experiences, and artifacts of historical import to the Black people of Appalachia. Along with his wife Jill, Carson prevented the demolition of an old one-room schoolhouse he'd attended as a child, and in 1987 created the Appalachian African-American Cultural Center within its walls.


Jill Carson, Founder 

Jill Carson, a native Bostonian, moved to Pennington Gap, VA three decades ago. Along with her husband, Mrs. Carson worked to build the AAACC out of a recognition that the experiences of Black people in Lee County were being lost.   She has dedicated her life to raising the voices of the unheard and is now in her second term as a Pennington Gap councilwoman -- the first African-American woman to hold the office.


Hannah Rexrode, Curator & Program Manager

Hannah began working with the AAACC in 2020, shortly before relocating to Southwest Virginia from East Tennessee. Along with an educational background in African American history and a passion for education, Hannah has had extensive experience in both historical interpretation and museum programming.  Before joining the AAACC team, Hannah worked in the education departments of several historic sites and museums, where she often focused on highlighting the stories of marginalized populations through education and exhibits. A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she is a proud Vol for Life!

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Dr. William Turner, Scholar-In-Residence

William H. Turner, PhD was born the fifth of ten children in 1946 in the coal town of Lynch in Harlan County, Kentucky. His grandfathers, father, four uncles and older brother were coal miners. Bill, formerly Interim President at Kentucky State University and VP for Diversity at the University of Kentucky, retired as Distinguished Professor of Black and Appalachian Studies at Berea College. He has spent his professional career studying and working on behalf of marginalized communities, helping them create opportunities in the larger world while maintaining their important cultural ties. He is best-known for his ground-breaking research on and advocacy for African American communities in Appalachia, but Bill’s work is universal.

Kathy Rowles, Community Outreach Coordinator

Bio to come



CO-CHAIR & East Tennessee native, William Isom II is the Director of Community Outreach at East Tennessee PBS & the Director of the Black in Appalachia project. In that role he coordinates the research, community data base development, documentary film & photography production, oral history collection and educational events with residents, public media & universities in the region. More importantly, he's the proud father of two sons, Devin & Isa.

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Elizabeth Catte is the author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia and the forthcoming Pure America (Belt, October 2020). She writes about history, politics, and culture and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post, Guernica, The Nation, McSweeney’s, In These Times, the Boston Review, Gravy, and has been reviewed in the New York Times, Bookforum, New York Review of Books, and the Lost Angeles Times. Currently she is an editor-at-large for West Virginia University Press and the co-founder of Passel, an applied history firm. She has a PhD in public history and uses her master’s degree in museum studies to curate a website dedicated to food eaten on King of the Hill called Pork Chop Night.

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SECRETARY/TREASURER Alexis Carson is 2010 graduate from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she double majored and received her B.A. in Psychology and Africana Studies. She then attended Graduate school at James Madison University where she received her Master of Arts and Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology. In

2013, Alexis was recognized at the National Association of School Psychologists annual conference in Seattle, WA as one of three recipients of he National Association of School Psychologists Minority Scholarship awards. Upon completion of graduate school, Alexis obtained her national certification becoming a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). After working in her hometown of Lee County VA for 6 years, Alexis is now currently working for Russell County Public Schools in Lebanon, VA. In addition to being a School Psychologist, Alexis is also the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Southwest Virginia Community College located in Richlands VA.


Sue Ella E. Kobak, Esq., a Director, was very much involved in the founding of the Appalachian African American Cultural Center. She has acted as the attorney for the Center and has contributed to the overall development of this project. She was born and raised in Poor Bottom (Pike County) Kentucky. Her father, uncles and grandfather were all coal miners. Ms. Kobak has been a social justice activist her whole life and comes from a mountain family that has always fought for social justice issues. Her experiences include serving on the Board of Directors of the Highlander Research and Educational Center.


CO-CHAIR Kevin Carson, an experienced counsel and advisor with a demonstrated history of bipartisan and bicameral work in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, Kevin is currently the Chief Counsel for a member of the U.S. Senate. Kevin works on a wide range of issues including financial services, tax, international trade, immigration and judiciary issues. Prior to coming to the Hill, Kevin spent three years as a litigation and government contracts associate at a large Northern Virginia law firm and was active in the Northern Virginia Black Attorneys association. At the firm, he litigated and advised businesses on a wide range of civil and criminal matters. Before returning to private practice, Kevin was a law clerk to former Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser of the Virginia Supreme Court. Kevin is a proud alumni of Rutgers School of Law and was a student-athlete at the University of Virginia. 

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The Executive Director of the Appalachian Community Fund, Margo Miller is a daughter of Appalachia, born & raised in East Tennessee, grew up in Knoxville, & graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in broadcast communications.  She has worked as a community organizer, facilitator, project director and administrator for a number of key social justice organizations, including the Highlander Research and Education Center, the Southern Partnership Fund, Project Change, the Southern Rural Development Initiative, Amnesty International and the Kellogg Foundation.

In addition to these affiliations, Miller has worked extensively with cultural activism and artistic expression of Appalachia. Through her work with the Carpetbag Theatre, a professional, multi-generational ensemble group committed to keeping the black experience alive in American theater, and her involvement with national groups like Alternative Roots and the National Performance Network, Miller has developed a deep commitment to art as a powerful tool for organizing and uniting communities.

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Dr. Terence Michael Gilley, a native of Wise County, currently works as Director of Library Services, Archives, and Cultural Heritage Programs at Mountain Empire Community College.  He has worked in academic and public libraries for over thirty-eight years. Mike has a BA degree from Clinch Valley College in Appalachian Studies, a MA degree from Indiana University in Folklore / Ethnomusicology, a Masters degree in Library and Information Science from University of Kentucky, and a PhD from Old Dominion University in Community College Leadership.  His special interests are in Appalachian folklife, mixed race studies, genealogy, local history, and 18th and 19th Century spinning and weaving.

"Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history."

-Carter G. Woodson, American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. 

“My mother was in the first group in this building in 1940, and I was the last group before integration in 1965,” says Ron Carson. “My great-great-grandmother, Rachel Scott, built this building in 1939 with $16,500.”

The Appalachian Voice, June 7, 2019

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