Southern Agenda

After the Flood

In late July in Eastern Kentucky, the waters of a historic flash flood took at least forty lives, damaged countless buildings, and washed away priceless possessions. “We watched as the water rose and rose, just wondering how high it was going to go,” says Meredith Scalos, a director at Appalshop in Whitesburg. Since 1969, the media arts and education center—along with other cultural hubs like the Hindman Settlement School, open since 1902—has preserved the faces and voices of Appalachia. That day, Appalshop’s radio station, theater, and archives sat under six and a half feet of water; at Hindman, the archive room was breached and soaking. Volunteers and staff jumped to action, hanging 35-millimeter slides on clotheslines to dry and packing damaged items in freezers to suspend decay. Some treasures survived: a table by the prolific chairmaker Chester Cornett; handmade dolls by the Kentucky writer Verna Mae Slone; a quilt donated by a family of Black coal miners; 1920s photographs of teens square-dancing. Thousands more items are currently being conserved by volunteers and partners across the country. “We’ll be recovering from this for years,” Scalos says. She recalls an apple tree outside the main building. “It was totally underwater, but after the flood receded, it somehow still had its apples. When we saw those apples, we thought, we are still here. We can emerge from this, too.”;