“There are many authors, of course, who have written about the people and problems of Appalachia who don’t have eugenicists for pen-pals and mentors. Some of them even anchor frank discussions of social problems within moving personal stories. Otis Trotter’s Keeping Heart, a memoir about growing up poor, sick, and black in Appalachian Ohio springs to mind.”
Elizabeth Catte, The Boston Review (adapted from What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia)
“The saga of Otis Trotter and his siblings is an inspiration for anyone with an ounce of empathy. Raised by a widowed mother, they were forced to overcome the debilitating legacy of racial, economic, and political oppression to achieve meaningful, prosperous lives. In many ways their history could serve as a metaphor for African American history. The ‘Trotter Fourteen’ seized control of their destinies through initiative, intelligence, dogged persistence, and by taking care of one another. The Trotter family’s courageous struggle to succeed against improbable odds will uplift the spirit of everyone who reads this book.”
Ronald L. Lewis, Robbins Chair and Professor of History Emeritus, West Virginia University
“Trotter’s story is the American Dream: in America, one can overcome the obstacles in one’s life through hard work and self-reliance. It will appeal to anyone who is interested in Appalachian studies, African American studies, and especially racial and ethnic diversity in the region.”
Andrew Baskin, chairperson and associate professor of African American studies at Berea College
“After saying our good-byes to friends and neighbors, we all got in the cars and headed up the hill and down the road toward a future in Ohio that we hoped would be brighter,” Otis Trotter writes in his affecting memoir, Keeping Heart: A Memoir of Family Struggle, Race, and Medicine.
Organized around the life histories, medical struggles, and recollections of Trotter and his thirteen siblings, the story begins in 1914 with his parents, Joe William Trotter Sr. and Thelma Odell Foster Trotter, in rural Alabama. By telling his story alongside the experiences of his parents as well as his siblings, Otis reveals cohesion and tensions in twentieth-century African American family and community life in Alabama, West Virginia, and Ohio.
This engaging chronicle illuminates the journeys not only of a black man born with heart disease in the southern Appalachian coalfields, but of his family and community. It fills an important gap in the literature on an underexamined aspect of American experience: the lives of blacks in rural Appalachia and in the nonurban endpoints of the Great Migration. Its emotional power is a testament to the importance of ordinary lives.
Otis Trotter lives in North Canton, Ohio. He worked with the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities as an instructor until his retirement. He is currently a Certified Independent Provider for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. More info →
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This oral history, based on interview transcripts, is the untold story of African American life in West Virginia, as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman: Memphis Tennessee Garrison, an innovative teacher, administrative worker at US Steel, and vice president of the National Board of the NAACP at the height of the civil rights struggle.
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