Hunger, Religion, and Public Anthropology

Cover jacket for 2019 book, edited by Devon Mihesuah and Elizabeth Hoover, Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health.

Article originally featured on FoodAnthropology

article by Betsy Taylor

Is feeding the hungry, a key moral value in religious teachings across cultures? I was recently asked this by a pediatrician concerned about child hunger in low income communities in the U.S.  This piece weaves together contributions from our anthropological hive mind, after I posted her query on two anthropological digital platforms.


It is impossible to overstate the importance of reciprocal food exchange to the maintenance of group cohesion and egalitarianism in horticultural and foraging societies–through daily and seasonal practices grounded in and by myth and ritual (Rapaport 1979, 1984, 1999). To give just one example among many, a Yanomami hunter cannot eat the animals he kills, but must share the meat with his family and others and “…the reciprocal exchange of meat and other foods between individuals becomes a critical factor for the maintenance of village cohesion” (Good 1989, 131). (Also, for a broad look at the intertwining of food and social life in all societies, see Mintz and DuBois 2002.)

Ceremonial food distribution

Akissi Britton says, “In Orisa traditions of the Yoruba (of Nigeria) and Yoruba diaspora–Afro-Cuban Lucumi and Brazilian Candomble–while there is not the same “mandate” as in the Abrahamic faiths, there is absolutely a concept of food sharing that is an important part of ritual.  After many large (and small) rituals in which animal sacrifice takes place, for the ritual to “take” or be completed it is essential for the food to be prepared and shared with the community.  There is also the practice of feeding those who come to do the long and hard labor of ceremony, which is a sign of reciprocity and giving thanks to the workers of ceremony” (personal communication, Akissi Britton, December 2020, for more, see Perez 2016).

In Sikhism, equitable sharing of food is particularly central to Sikh identity and practice — in the tradition of the langar (or free kitchen). In Gurudwaras (Sikh temples), this volunteer run, community kitchen is very important. According to tradition, it was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, who possibly drew from a 4th century reform food practice in Hinduism. Guru Nanak specifically designed langar to inculcate equality that breaks down barriers of religion, caste, race, creed, age, gender, or social status. The value of equality is embodied in the great care taken to create seating arrangements that put everyone on an equal level, and volunteers are carefully trained in the values and traditional protocols for equal and courteous service for all regardless of their status. This practice has globalized with the Sikh diaspora, and langars around the world often attract many hundreds, including many unhoused people. (For more, see Nesbitt 2016.)

A community meal in progress at a Sikh langar. Photo by Harisingh at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pervasive practices of food sharing throughout the many varieties of Hinduism give moral value to the giving of food and the renunciation of greed for food (even while food taboos are key mechanisms in maintaining caste and other hierarchies and inequalities).  Food is distributed to the poor from temples as part of AnnaDaan – ritual food donation, and in the giving of Prasad (food distributed as a blessing).  Merit is gained from alms given to mendicants who ask for food (whether because of poverty or as part of a spiritual vow).

In Buddhism, general practices of compassion include food sharing. For instance in Theravada countries, such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar,  food redistribution is often directed toward monks, and temples often redistribute the excess to any who come to their grounds, as well as in frequent holidays.

Scriptural mandates

Care for those who are on the margins of societal provisioning is a recurrent admonition in Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scriptures, with repeated stated obligations to feed widows, orphans, and even the stranger, and strong injunctions to charitable giving of food in general. 

The dynamic interplay between the needs of self and neighbor can be seen in one of the most important Muslim scriptures regarding hunger: “He is not a believer, who having filled his stomach, went and slept all the night while his neighbor remained hungry although he was aware of it (72 Hadith Al-Ausat by Rabrani).” Some interpretations of this principle include a strong class analysis: Hadith Number 8: The Reason for Zakat, A Trial for the Wealthy:

On the authority of Abi Abdullah (Imam) al-Sadiq (peace be upon him): Zakat has only been enforced as a trial for the rich and as a provision for the needy. Were people to carry out the zakat of their wealth, no Muslim would remain poverty-stricken and needy; he would manage with that which Allah has decreed. Indeed, people are only impoverished, needy, hungry and unclothed as a result of the sins of the wealthy. (Man La Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, Volume 2, page 7)

These scriptural injunctions shape daily practices in fascinatingly complex ways (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2009, Deeb 2006, Taylor 2015).

Food sovereignty: decolonizing our understanding of food equity

Indigenous movements are distilling ideas of food sovereignty that emphasize that moral questions about the distribution of food must be embedded in rights to land and production (Cote 2016; Grey and Patel 2014; Mihesuah and Hoover; Vernon 2015). Cherokee scholar Jeff Corntassel says “Without the ability of community members to continuously renew their relationships with the natural world (i.e., gathering medicines, hunting and fishing, basket-making, etc.), indigenous languages, traditional teachings, family structures, and livelihoods of that community are all jeopardized” (Corntassel 2008, 118).  These movements engage contemporary struggles with perspectives that draw on traditional wisdom and practices, while situating claims within universal human rights frameworks (for more on rights to food in international human rights frameworks, see Messer 2004). This cosmological and moral vision is grounded in dynamic, living, placed relationships among land, ecology, and humans that reconnect the production and consumption of food into local social and cultural webs of mutual responsibilities and relationships and  “…challenges the hegemony of the globalized, neoliberal, industrial, capital-intensive, corporate-led model of agriculture that created destructive economic policies that marginalized small-scale farmers, removed them from their land, and forced them into the global market economy as wage laborers…[and] requires examining the efforts being made by Indigenous communities to restore these relationships through the revitalization of their Indigenous foods and ecological knowledge systems” (Cote 2016, 2). 

What can public anthropology contribute to the multistakeholder effort to end hunger?

It is difficult to summarize anthropological knowledge on this topic–for the general public or for policy makers–because there is such a lavish variety of cultural expression in norms about feeding the hungry. But, anthropologists have a lot to contribute to public conversations about food equity and the role of religion.  Specifically, we can help to make real the poetics, power, and appeal of these forms of human generosity across diverse traditions, to support broad collaborations and inter-cultural appreciation of the diversity of gifts that different religious traditions bring to ending hunger. These thick descriptions of cultural diversity can provide evidence for a different view of human nature from that embedded in much of our hyper-competitive and increasingly unequal society. Public debates about hunger in the early 21st century are continually distorted by the undertow of several centuries of market ideologies that attribute a magical capacity of market competition to solve social problems of inequitable distribution. This magical market cosmology can make hunger seem inevitable because inequality looks natural if competitiveness is deemed the dominant trait of human nature (Reid and Taylor 2010).

Emerging Indigenous voices can make particular contributions because they bring a different grounding to these questions from religions grounded in scriptural injunctions. For instance, scriptural calls to feed the hungry in Abrahamic traditions have a universalizing force and clarity. But, Indigenous spiritual practices rooted in land- and community-based practices bring different powers and perspectives for ethical action that very directly engage issues of equity and justice around the full food chain (from production to consumption to regenerative recycling).

Acknowledgements: I thank Deborah A. Frank for posing the original question, which I posted onto the American Anthropological Association and the Environment and Anthropology Society listservs.  Many thanks to  those who responded with helpful scholarly citations or their distillations of literatures in areas of their expertise (shown in parentheses): Leslie Sponsel (Amazonia and Hinduism); Robin Hide (New Guinea); Akissi Britton (Yoruba); Murray Leaf, Jerome Krace, Shahbaz Ahma, and Devayani Tirthali (Hinduism); Devayani Tirthali and Robert Williams (Sikhism); Christopher Taylor (Islam).

Betsy Taylor is a cultural anthropologist and Executive Director of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network ( Over the past 25 years, she has worked for community-driven development in Appalachia the U.S., and in South Asia — seeking to integrate issues of health, agriculture, forestry, culture and environmental stewardship.  

References cited

Benthall, Jonathan & Bellion-Jourdan, J. 2009. The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World. London: I.B. Tauris. 2nd ed.

Corntassel, J. 2008. “Toward sustainable self determination: Rethinking the contemporary Indigenous-rights discourse”. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political.33(1): 105–132.

Cote, Charlotte. 2016. “‘Indigenizing’ Food Sovereignty: Revitalizing Indigenous Food Practices and Ecological Knowledges in Canada and the United States”. Humanities. 5:57(1-14).

Deeb, Lara. 2006. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Good, Kenneth. 1989. “Yanomami Hunting Patterns: Trekking And Garden Relocation As An Adaptation To Game Availability In Amazonia, Venezuela”. PhD Dissertation. University of Florida.

Grey, Sam and Raj Patel. 2014. “Food sovereignty as decolonization: some contributions from Indigenous movements to food system and development politics”. Agriculture and Human Values. 32: 431–444.

Messer, Ellen. 2004. “Hunger and human rights”. In Human Rights: the Scholar as Activist. Carole Nagengast and Carlos G. Velez-Ibanez (Eds.). Oklahoma City: Society for Applied Anthropology. Pp. 43-64.

Mihesuah, Devon and Elizabeth Hoover (Eds.). 2019. Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health. University of Oklahoma Press.

Mintz, Sidney W. and Christine M. DuBois. 2002. “The Anthropology of Food and Eating”. Annual Review of Anthropology. 31:99-119.

Nesbitt, Eleanor. 2016. Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pérez, Elizabeth. 2016. Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions.  New York: New York University Press.

Rappaport, R.A. 1979. Ecology, Meaning and Religion. Richmond: North Atlantic Books.

Rappaport, R.A. 1984. Pigs for the Ancestors. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press. (Reissued Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2000)

Rappaport, R.A. 1999. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reid, Herbert and Betsy Taylor. 2010. Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice. Urbana: University of Illinois.

Taylor, Christopher. 2015. Islamic Charity in India: Ethical Entrepreneurism and the Ritual, Revival, and Reform of Zakat among a Muslim Minority. PhD dissertation in Anthropology. Boston University. in OpenBU.

Vernon, Rachel. 2015. “A Native Perspective: Food Is More Than Consumption”. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 5:4(137-142).

In Knott County, Kentucky, Gingerbread Is Remembered For Its Connection to Local Politics

By Nicole Musgrave

Published December 23, 2020 at 9:04 AM EST

When you hear the word “gingerbread,” you might think Christmas. But in southeast Kentucky, when people of a certain age hear “gingerbread,” they think Election Day.

In a special report as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Nicole Musgrave, traces the surprising history of gingerbread in Knott County, Kentucky from everyday treat, to election time tradition, to fundraising champion.

Gingerbread Was A Household Staple

In her cozy kitchen in Hindman, Kentucky, LaRue Laferty watches over her teenage grandson, Jaxon Conley, as he makes a fresh batch of gingerbread. All of the ingredients are sitting on the green countertop of the kitchen island. So are the necessary tools, like metal baking sheets, measuring spoons, and a KitchenAid stand mixer.

Laferty, who is in her 80s, has a head full of short, white hair. She wears glasses and a green cotton face mask, and uses a walker to move around her kitchen. If you ask folks around Knott County who the best gingerbread bakers are, Laferty’s name usually comes up.

“I don’t really profess to be a gingerbread-making queen, but I do make a lot,” she says.

When she was growing up, gingerbread was a year-round household staple.

“Anytime we went to grandmother’s, she had it,” Laferty says. “And my mother made it all the time, she kept it made.”

Knott County gingerbread isn’t crisp, snappy cookies, and it’s not moist, fluffy cake. It’s somewhere in between. Bob Young is a local historian born and raised in Knott County. He is in his 70s and he remembers most of the women in his family made this style of gingerbread.

“Gingerbread as we knew it here was just a glorified biscuit,” Young says. “And full, absolutely full of molasses.”

Before white sugar became easily accessible in southeast Kentucky, molasses was the primary sweetener. Every fall, sugarcane farmers hosted stir-offs. Folks gathered to watch as the sugarcane juice was boiled down to a sticky syrup, and they left with full jars to stock their pantries.

Aside from powdered ginger, the other ingredients—flour, fresh eggs, buttermilk and lard—were things people already had on hand. That made gingerbread inexpensive.

“Gingerbread was something that anybody, anybody nearly could get,” Young says.

LaRue Laferty (left) watches her grandson, Jaxon Conley, portion gingerbread batter onto a metal baking sheet in the kitchen of her Knott County home. Growing up in neighboring Floyd County, Laferty’s mother used to make gingerbread for candidates during election season. (photo by Nicole Musgrave)

Just A Nice Little Way To Ask For A Vote

One place you were sure to find gingerbread in Knott County was at the polls on Election Day.

“The candidates, they would hire good gingerbread makers in the community to make gingerbread, and they would give it out at the polls,” Laferty says.

All Land is not Creating Equal:Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership

Combating Climate Change

We’ve spoken with over 100 thought leaders across all industries and sectors to understand the most impactful strategies for combating climate change. Here are our findings.

Climate change is, put simply, one of the greatest challenges our modern society has ever faced. And it needs to be addressed now. After many years of shining a light on this crisis, the urgency of tackling the climate change crisis head-on has finally gained consensus and is a recognized goal across the world. But that success doesn’t mean success is guaranteed, as now the challenge is creating agreement and momentum towards successfully implementing necessary actions to mitigate climate change.

Many people will argue that putting the onus on the individual to make personal changes (even sacrifices) is letting off the hook the large corporations and governments who are responsible for the bulk of climate-changing carbon emissions, while others still will advocate for personal responsibility and note that it starts with individual action to make a true difference. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Promoting education and action from a bottom-up and top-down approach is so critical, and each is a vital piece of the puzzle should we collectively hope to succeed in mobilizing towards successful action in the face of climate change.

UPDATE: Sharing Successes in Forest Farming across Central Appalachia

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

In May 2020, LiKEN initiated a project to develop educational materials about agroforestry in Central Appalachia. With funding from the National Agroforestry Center of the US Forest Service, this project will not only identify and encourage successful practitioners in our region, but help develop connections between communities, landholders and service providers to help guide new agroforesters, whether that be through linking practitioners with apprentices, identifying land access opportunities, or through the development of compelling narratives of success. Our new LiKENeer, Chris Burney, directs this project, which is part of our emerging Appalachian Mother Forest project.

What exactly is agroforestry? 

Agroforestry is generally described as ecologically sustainable land-use practices that incorporate tree crops with agricultural crops and/or livestock. The USDA defines agroforestry in terms of its five practices and the four I’s. The five main practices of agroforestry are:

  • Forest farming – growing food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy;
  • Alley cropping – crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature; 
  • Silvopasture – combining trees and livestock on one piece of land;
  • Riparian buffers – natural or re-established areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses;
  • Windbreaks that shelter crops, animals, buildings, wildlife, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors.

These practices can be found in many ancient, traditional, and Indigenous systems which have provided human sustenance for millenia while stewarding land, trees, and biodiversity. So, in some ways, scientific agroforestry is just catching up with past wisdom. Contemporary research shows that the above practices can increase long-term production, while benefiting local ecologies. When looking for agroforestry practices, though they may not be termed as such in everyday language, we look for what are called the ‘four I’s’ of agroforestry; practices that are intentional, intensive, integrated and interactive. 

Case studies and videos for farmers 

To reach diverse audiences, we will produce materials in diverse formats:

  • To inspire farmers who are considering transitioning to agroforestry, this project will produce six case studies of highly successful agroforestry ventures from across Appalachian Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Each case study will describe challenges, costs, and rewards experienced by individuals over the years involved in their transition into forest farming and economic growth.
  • We will also develop videos that can be shared over diverse platforms to attract new farmers, especially youth. Short educational videos will focus on topics that producers identify as most useful for beginners in agroforestry, from land access to planting and sales. 
  • Testimonial videos will document traditional Appalachian practices that reflect rich knowledge about the remarkable biodiversity of this ancient temperate rainforest.  How are growers and producers engaging and fostering non-timber forest products, including understory botanicals, mushrooms, fruit, nut, and syrup producing trees?  What forms of traditional knowledge, tools, and management may be used to encourage pollinators, and harness aspects of distinctively Central Appalachian forest habitats, including streams, soils, and characteristic features such as coves, hollows, and bottomland for the production of crops and game animals?

This project will also reach out to service providers (extension agents, non-profits, etc.) as they help landowners make decisions about the sustainable management of their forests, opportunities for income generation and sustainable livelihoods. We will develop briefing papers about scenarios for multistory forest farming adapted to two economic, ecological, and physiographic subregions that reflect current farming communities across Central Appalachia. 

  • Some scenarios will focus on mid-size farms in highly rural, primarily agricultural communities with stressed, overused soil and watersheds. 
  • Other scenarios will focus on Appalachian cove forests and small landholders in historically coal-dependent areas with pockets of less disturbed land with high biodiversity arising from microclimate, rich cove soil, and abundant waters.
All photos by Chris Burney

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Chris Burney (who is also completing a PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University) in collaboration with Dr. Tom Hammett (Sustainable Biomaterials, Virginia Tech), Dr. Mary Hufford (LiKEN Associate Director and visiting professor in Folklore, Ohio State University),  Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director), and Dr. James Thompson (Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University).   Ruby Daniels (LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator), retired school teacher Wilma Steele, retired coal miner Terry Steele, Sprouting Farms, Yew Mountain Center, and Future Generations University are playing key roles in outreach and gathering of feedback from diverse stakeholders and networks.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you may contact Chris Burney, or visit the LiKEN website   If you are a farmer, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview and a walking tour of your agroforestry plots  with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Funding by:

elitefeats World Aids Marathon

USATF Certified Half and Full is a BQ

Sunday, December 6, 2020
Far Rockaway – Rain or Shine

All participants get:
World AIDS Marathon Finisher Medal, Buff 
1st 100 Registrants get a Long Sleeve Tee

10K Run/Walk – 2.5 hr cut off
Half Marathon – 4 hr cut off
Full Marathon – 6 hr cut off

Race instructions regarding the event start will be sent out by the evening before the event.

Please be Mindful as social distancing will be in effect at the start line with staggered and chip-timed starts.

Be Prepared &
 bring a mask or buff. You do not have to run wearing your mask/buff but have it on you at all times.

No formal bag check. elitefeats cannot take responsibility for any personal belongings – Bag Check for Marathoners & Half Marathoners ONLY.

There will be water / Electrolyte support for Marathoners and Half Marathoners – there will be no course water support for the 10k run/walk.

Bathrooms – Public bathrooms located within a few minutes walk from start & finish.

No Spectators – No official bag check


Proceeds from the event are going to the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation

Turkey Trot

Never Stop Running Foundation is a 501(c)3: Supporting athletic and charitable events as they raise awareness and foster community involvement as well as encouraging and promoting Olympic development for local emerging elite and post collegiate runners.

“The Worst Problem you never heard of”: Heirs’ Property Ownership in Appalachia and the South

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common” of the property. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable. Land speculators can acquire a small share of the property and force a partition sale, often far below fair market value. Extensive research across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South has found that heirs’ property correlates with low wealth in African American communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers heirs’ property to be the leading cause of African American involuntary land loss. Heirs’ property also seems to be common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities) but only a few scholars have studied the issue in these communities. Heirs’ property has been called “the worst problem you never heard of”. 

In October 2020, LiKEN began a project investigating heirs’ property occurrence and the experiences of heirs’ property owners in selected counties of Alabama, Georgia, and eastern Kentucky. This project is supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Center at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. In Alabama and Georgia, this project will assess outcomes of the Uniform Partition of heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) by looking at changes in partition sales since the passing of the act and by talking to local officials, lawyers, and heirs’ property-owning families. In the selected eastern Kentucky counties, the project will estimate the frequency of heirs’ property and speak with heirs’ property owners to gain an understanding of their experiences and perceptions related to heirs’ property. 

How heirs’ property creates household vulnerability

The “clouded title” associated with heirs’ property can result in a variety of issues for landowners. Lack of clear title makes it difficult for an heirs’ property owner to make improvements to their property because they must obtain permission from all the other heirs. Depending on how many heirs there are, a number which can increase rapidly with successive generations, getting a consensus from all owners can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Clouded title also eliminates the option of using land and buildings as collateral on loans. In the event of a disaster, clouded title can make it impossible to access relief and resources. 

Another major risk heirs’ property owners face is the possibility of a forced partition sale. If one heir wants to sell the property, a judge may order a partition sale, even if all the owners are not in agreement. Over the past several decades, speculators and developers have taken advantage of this legal practice by buying one owner’s share of an heirs’ property, forcing the sale of the entire property, and buying it, often at a low cost. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coal speculators in Appalachia took advantage of the vulnerability of households with clouded titles. More recently, African American communities in coastal Georgia and South Carolina have lost family lands to developers seeking to profit from the tourism economy of the region. In already socially and economically disadvantaged communities, these challenges further dampen prospects for sustainable well-being and security.

Policy solutions: a beginning

As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of partition sales, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 17 states and introduced in six others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act has not yet been introduced in Kentucky. Virginia enacted the UPHPA in 2020 (the only Central Appalachian state to do so). It was introduced in the West Virginia legislature in 2020.

Our work

This project seeks first to evaluate the impact of the UPHPA on both the number and rate of partition sales and on the actors involved in these sales in Georgia and Alabama. The project will assess court-level impressions of how the act has worked  to influence partition by sale versus partition in kind (or other means) in Georgia and Alabama. We will also assess the frequency and impact of heirs’ property in Kentucky – a state that has not adopted the UPHPA. In Kentucky, we hope to communicate our findings on the nature and impact of heirs’ property to catalyze public conversation about the UPHPA.

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Megan White in collaboration with co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Cassandra Johnson Gaither (Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director). This project spans across several communities and requires expertise in multiple areas. The core advisory group, made up of Mary Cromer (Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center), Joe Childers (Childers & Baxter, PLLC), Brady Deaton (Univ of Guelph), Dr. Aaron Guest (Arizona State Univ), and Putnam LaBarre (Oscar P. LaBarre LLC), provide legal and methodological expertise. Advisors on other targeted areas of the project include Marty Newell (Center for Rural Strategies), Dr. Simona Perry (c.a.s.e. Consulting Services), Dr. Karen Rignall (UnivKY), Sarah Stein (Federal Reserve of Atlanta), and Dr. Robert Zabawa (Tuskegee University). We will be working collaboratively with the Appalachian Land Study collective.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you will contact Megan White,, or visit the LiKEN website If you are an heirs’ property owner in any of the counties listed above, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Watch for more publications from us!

We will regularly produce educational materials about heirs’ property in general, and our findings in particular — on LiKEN’s new “Popular Education page”.  Please stay tuned for upcoming webinars, issue briefings, research reports, infographics, etc.

Make sure that you are on our mailing list.

This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

References cited

Presser, Lizzie.“Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery”. ProPublica. July 15, 2019 Accessed Nov. 14, 2020

Johnson Gaither, Cassandra

West Virginia Mine Wars

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is now located in the Matewan National bank building. Photo by Chris Burney

article by Bethany Turley and Chris Burney

The Mine Wars Museum opened in its new location at the Matewan National Bank building in Matewan, WV, on Friday, September 4th, 2020. LiKENeer Christopher Burney and Bethani Turley visited the Mine Wars Museum for its opening on Saturday September 5th. The reopening was initially planned for May 16, 2020 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Matewan, but the opening was postponed due to the novel coronavirus. The museum opening coincided with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1440 chapter’s Labor Day celebration, held just down the road in Matewan, which included appearances by WV Gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango, and WV Attorney General candidate Sam Petsonk. Many museum visitors on Saturday were donned in UMWA branded t-shirts and facemasks.

The Mine Wars Museum depicts the history of several armed uprisings that occurred between 1900 and 1921 by coal miners in the Southern West Virginia coal fields. Its exhibits are laid out chronologically, starting with exhibits about the everyday life of Southern WV coal miners and their families, including the terrible working conditions they faced in the mines and the oppressive political situation they faced outside of the mines.  The museum then details the events and actors that led to the Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection in the US after the Civil War.

Garments on display as part of a new exhibit about women’s lives in West Virginia coal camps at the turn of the century.  Photo by Chris Burney 

The new museum location, which is a much larger space than the previous location, has allowed for the museum to go more in depth into topics such as women’s lives at the turn of the century, and contemporary exhibits. One of the contemporary exhibits is about the 2011 march on Blair Mountain, when locals marched over 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and prevent strip mining of this historically important site. Another is a revolving exhibit, which currently displays photographs by West Virginia’s Roger May. May’s exhibit includes contemporary photographs of landscapes and locations that were significant during the mine wars. The Mine Wars museum touches on issues of importance to our contemporary moment, including the labor history of unions and mining and race relations in Appalachia. 

The Mine Wars Museum was originally located near Blair Mountain, but it moved to Matewan in 2015 where it was set up in the former the Chambers Hardware and Furniture Store building, but the museum outgrew the small location. The Matewan National Bank building, the museum’s new location, is owned by the UMWA Local 1440. This site includes a window in the museum that overlooks the site of the Matewan Massacre, paying austere homage, including a view of the building with bullet holes from the shootout.  The new space is large, allowing for the museum to expand and to take on new projects. The building features a UMWA community center, a parking lot that can host outdoor events, a space for rotating artist exhibits, a gift shop area, and a space to hold the museum and community archives preserved on site for more in depth scholarship. 

The UMWA community center can hold up to 150 people and is equipped with seating and presentation equipment. The archive has long been a goal for the museum. They currently have in their possession a host of materials, including many personal letters written by various actors who were involved in the miner’s union and in the uprisings. On Saturday board member Wilma Steele discussed some of the materials that will be held in the community archive, such as personal letters from Eric Kerr, who was pivotal in setting up UMWA owned hospitals for miners in southern West Virginia. These items will be stored and digitized in the community archive. 

The museum’s new larger space has allowed for new exhibits which showcase more recent history including the 2011 march to save Blair Mountain from mining. The formation of the WV Mine Wars Museum has its roots in this protest march. Photo by Bethani Turley 
You can visit the Mine Wars Museum at 401 Mate Street, Matewan, WV 25678. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am. to 6 pm and has a suggested entrance fee of $5 per person. You can also support the museum by becoming a member. Face masks are required, and they are limiting the number of guests to 10 at a time. 

44th Annual Appalachian Studies Virtual Conference, March 11-14, 2021

LIKEN will be co-convening a series of events about the Appalachian Mother Forest at the upcoming virtual meetings of the Appalachian Studies Association. More information can be found here:

The Central Appalachian forest is the world’s oldest and biologically richest temperate zone hardwood system.  For thousands of years this forest has sustained human communities and it continues to do so today. Many of these communities have used these rich native forests as “commons,” meaning, shared sites of harvest, recreation, and community renewal. Because of its unique topography and biodiversity, this forest system provided crucial refugia during past climate shifts, leading some ecologists to call it the ‘mother forest’.  In our current climate crisis, this forest system can again play a crucial role. The Mother Forest Working Group, a collaborative of the University of Kentucky and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network, invites forest-commons proposals for the 2020 Appalachian Studies Association annual meeting. The meeting’s theme is “Appalachian Understories: Growing Hope and Resilience from Commonwealth to Global Commons,” and forest commoning is a major focus.