I live in Knoxville, Tennessee. Knoxville is one of Southern Appalachia’s three “capitals,” the others being Asheville, NC and Roanoke, VA. The three are very different cities for historical reasons.
Knoxville is actually not in the Appalachian Mountains. Instead, it is in the valley carved by the junction of the Holston and French Broad rivers to form the Tennessee River, which eventually drains into the Ohio River, then into the Mississippi River, and then into the Gulf of Mexico. It is near the mountains–and contorted by ridge after ridge after ridge. But it is not a mountain city.
During the Civil War, East Tennessee actually seceded from the state in order to remain part of the United States. The soil in East Tennessee is rocky and shallow, good for grazing agriculture but not very good for deep-soil farming. As a result, East Tennessee was never a big slavery state. This is reflected in the low 9% African-American population in Knoxville (as compared, for example, to Jackson, Mississippi, whose population is 48% African-American).
Knoxville is largely a segregated city although there are neighborhoods that are mixed. For the most part, however, if you live in the white section of Knoxville, you don’t venture to the black parts and you don’t generally know people who live there. I say this without pride; indeed, I say it with shame because for so many years I stayed inside my white suburb, marrying, raising a family, divorcing, and working there. I was comfortable there. I am comfortable there. I live a basically secure life there. My neighbors are as watchful as birds of prey.
This began to change for me last January. I think I will never be the same. For half of that story, see this post:
The “other half of the story” that happened last January unfolded some weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the day on which I had simply given a sick man a ride to the hospital. I didn’t write about that part at the time, because it was still incubating. I didn’t know whether anything would come of it. Much has.