Pike County, OH: As Black as We Wish to Be

Pike County, Ohio

In this episode Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Cederstrand


Episode Music

Michael BrookBurning the Proof
Michael BrookCarthage Grain Sale
Act 1
Michael BrookChildhood Adventure
Michael BrookBillie & Hitchhiker
Michael BrookWayne’s Arrest
Michael BrookBirds, Snow, Ice
Michael BrookViolence at Home
Michael BrookBest Unsaid
Michael BrookCarte Noir
Act 2
Michael BrookCarthage Grain Sale
Michael BrookBurning the Proof
Michael BrookArrival at the Slabs
Nightmares on WaxFire In the Middle
Sending Letters to the SeaHopscotch
Michael BrookWaking/Waterskier
Erik FriedlanderKing Rig
Erik FriedlanderDream Song
Michael BrookBillie & Hitchhiker
Michael BrookSalvation Mountain
Michael BrookRon Climbs Hill
Michael BrookSelling Books
Act 3
Erik FriedlanderBlock Ice & Propane
Michael BrookSwimming & Horses
Erik FriedlanderDream Song
Michael BrookFree Satellite and Hunting Advice
Erik FriedlanderThe Wrong Advice
Kaki KingDoing the Wrong Thing
Michael BrookCarte Noir
Kaki KingNight After Sidewalk
Kaki KingNeanderthal
Erik FriendlanderYakima
  • My-two-cents

    As a Caribbean light brown woman with a white Haitian husband and a black Hispanic adopted daughter this story hit home. Well worth the time I spent in my car outside of my home not wanting to come in so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Very thought provoking. Excellent work. Love your show. Thank you!!!!!!!!!

  • Hondo

    This show was a great wake up call to America’s {1 drop rule} Being a Bi racial middle age man, i understand how both sides feel. Get rid of racial classifications and that we are all Americans! This theory who’s “black” it is base on racist believes that is still rampant in our society. No other country in the world classify people this way. To me this is base on the old ” Jim Crow ” style of thinking. We all have the right to be who we want to be regardless, what our peers tell us to be! Hold your head up high and don’t be ashamed who you’re!

  • C J

    Hondo, I said that a long time ago. I though we were all AMERICANS. I am a 15 year Army veteran and the entire conversation about race is just unbearable for me. I’m just sick of hearing it. I was very saddened to hear about the sister who not only disowned her own sister, but aided in the ridicule of her own flesh and blood. The part about how she sits down with a group of her white friends and listen to them bad mouth the black person across the room hit home for me as well. That happens more than people know. It’s quite pathetic. I’m going to stop here now for the sake of I hate to waste energy on something so ridiculous. I guess we’re proud to be anything BUT American.

  • thankgodforpbsandnpr

    Considering all the advantages of being white in the U.S., the young woman’s choice to identify herself to other as white is a rational choice.

    • Lawrence

      How so? How is it ever rational to turn on your family for you own feelings of being wanted?

    • mischling2nd

      I agree. Some families are toxic. A mother who teaches her white children that they are “black” should be horsewhipped. Read “Passing” For Who You Really Are.

  • Sara

    This is about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s sad to hear that people are ashamed of who they are and to have to deny who they are and to be so ashamed to be associated with a particular race- a race I’m a member of. It is sad.

  • dBark_

    I also understand the feelings within the “One Drop Rule.” I, myself am only 1/16 Native American, but whenever I am asked my background, that is what i refer to myself as. It wasn’t even necessarily how i was raised, it is just the pride I hold about my family’s past that makes me label myself this way. I really enjoyed listening to this podcast, it was very informative and I was glad that I could connect to it in my own way.

  • Sue Richards

    I am a fan of NPR and now a fan of this show. Thank you for sharing this story and please keep up the great work.

  • mischling2nd

    Telling a physically white child that he or she is really “black” is a form of emotional child abuse.

  • mischling2nd

    No one who “looks white” is “proud to be black.” That is ridiculous. You cannot be “proud” of a stigma. The members of the community who identify as what they are – white – are showing pride by refusing to consider themselves inferior or not good enough for their European ancestry.

  • mischling2nd

    Those fools who call themselves “black” when they are white are addicted to the open-mouthed shock they receive from strangers when they make the ridiculous claim of being the opposite of what they look like. That mother who deliberately humiliated her daughter in front of her date should be horsewhipped.