March 15, 2006
By Natalia Lavric
Research has come to life for communication students from Ohio University-Southern. Working in conjunction with David Lucas, associate professor of communication studies, students contributed to "Porter Gap Road: A Microcosm of Appalachia," a folknographic research project that interviewed residents of Porter Gap Road, located outside of Ironton, Ohio.
Folknography is a qualitative method of cultural research developed by Lucas. It involves using several data collection processes, including compiling digital photos, artistic images and daily narratives written by researchers. For the Ironton project, students used interviews, focus groups, observations and a homecoming event for former residents to learn about daily life near Porter Gap Road.
This specialized research technique has taken folknographers all over the globe. Lucas and other researchers have traveled to Hong Kong, England, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Recent projects have kept Lucas busy in the Appalachian area, including the Ironton study.
Throughout their study of the area, Lucas and the students heard of the possible existence of an African-American cemetery near Porter Gap Road. The vague story intrigued them, and after completing research, pieces mystery came together and provided a truer picture of what really happened outside Ironton.
"In 1916, owners of the coal mines in the Ironton area brought African American workers in from Cincinnati ... to break a strike in the mines here in the region," Lucas explained. "In 1918, the Spanish Flu epidemic came through Lawrence County and killed some of the black miners and their family members."
"As the flu waged the deadly effect, African Americans - both adults and children - were taken to the top of the ridge and buried quickly and unceremoniously in the ground without casket or marker," Lucas continued. The location of the hasty burial, which took place in an unmarked area, was forgotten. "Life passed and the cemetery was vaguely remembered but strangely lost to the region."
Using the data they uncovered and "patience, dedication, and persistent research," students found an approximate location of the cemetery. They wrote a grant that was awarded to pay for an official survey of the property. Now there are plans to hold a ceremony to commemorate the cemetery and those buried there.
Funds from the grant will cover costs for a stone marker for the cemetery, gravestones for each grave location, a ground sensing radar to locate the exact location of each grave, and an Ohio Historical Marker honoring the project and cemetery.
"We may never know their names, but at least we can remember their contribution to our community and country," Lucas said.
Natalia Lavric is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.