Roanoke has successfully reinvented itself from a gritty blue-collar railroad hub into a burgeoning, craft-beer soaked, millennial-friendly outdoor mountain town with a cool, freshly restored downtown.
In doing so it has become a model for small cities in Appalachia and the South looking to transcend outdated community narratives. But Roanoke still faces significant challenges in spreading that new prosperity to neighborhoods that have been hit by generations of segregation, deepening economic inequality, a powerful business class with outsized influence on city politics, & a legacy of disruption via urban renewal.
Roanoke’s challenges are those of many other New South towns that also struggle with historic economic immobility. I wrote for Scalawag about the Star City’s struggles, largely through the past and present of its public schools.
Before West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the US nearly had Westsylvania, Transylvania & Franklin.
This story, for Blue Ridge Country, is about the wild, unruly period between the end of the War for Independence & the writing of the US Constitution that saw Appalachian statehood movements that fell just short.
For more than three decades the Park + Backstreet Cafe were cornerstones of Roanoke’s gay bar scene. Hell, it wasn’t just LGBT folks, either: When I moved to Roanoke in 2003, punk bands would drink at the Backstreet, go down & play a show at then-boozeless Factory 324 (former Iroquois), and then half the crowd would go to dance afterward at the Park.
The Park continues to operate as a dance club, but the ownership changes there in 2015 + this year’s change from the Backstreet Cafe into the Front Row mark the end of a particular era for Roanoke’s gay bars, and the beginning of something new.
I wrote about the history & changes for Vice’s Munchies.
Statistically, crime in public wildlands is relatively rare. Most crime there tends to be vandalism or illegal dumping. As is the case with crime generally, violent crime on public lands tends to be domestic, occurring between people who know each other.
But occasionally something bad happens. Unsolved mysteries on public wildlands grip our imaginations, in part because they took place at the places we play.
For Blue Ridge Outdoors, I looked at unsolved homicides and a mysterious disappearance. Read the story here.
Here’s a story for The Roanoker about the best story I ever wrote for The Roanoke Times. It led to the discovery, 41 years after it was lost, of a rare nickel that later sold at auction for $3+ million.
Ostensibly, the story is about the Walton Specimen, one of five 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. It’s really about George Walton, though, and his unforgettable contribution to Star City lore.
Read the story at the Roanoker.
Like many others, I felt compelled to write about Dr. Ralph Stanley after his death on Thursday.
I’m especially struck by 2 things about Ralph Stanley:
1) That moment when in 1966 when his older brother Carter died, and Ralph, as the quiter half of the Stanley Brothers, had to figure out how to move forward in an uncertain environment. He went back to his roots for “Old Time Music” less than a year after his brother’s death, and it shaped his future for the next 50 years.
2) The sheer accumulation of moments over his career. He’s performed since the ’40s—think about how much music has changed over that time.
Reporters don’t often write headlines, but I wrote this one (“How Ralph Stanley overcame tragedy and the persistance of time to change country music”) for those two story points (& only partly for the Dali/Anthrax reference).
Read my story on Ralph Stanley at Noisey.
Growing up 20 minutes from Lexington, Va., and its numerous links to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, I’ve always had a fascination for the mutable meaning of the Confederate battle flag and its convergence of ancestry, race, history, politics & more.
That meaning has shifted again in the year since Charleston, those right on the edge of the flag debate have escalated the conflict, heightening contradictions and putting the flag back in the news on numerous occasions around the South & the rest of the country.
In this story for Politico Magazine, I tried to take a meaningful look at how the past year has changed the fight over the rebel flag, as well as how that all slots into an already crazy election year.
Read the story here.
The May 2016 election marked the end of an era in Roanoke politics, and the start of something new.
I wrote about the election for Blue Ridge Outdoors within the context of Roanoke’s transformation over the last couple of decades, from a deteriorating industrial center into the next great outdoors city.
Read “Roanoke Reinvented” in Blue Ridge Outdoors.
Last fall Roanoke Mayor David Bowers went viral when he cited Japanese internment camps during World War II as a reason why the city shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees.
The discordant statement not only flew in the face of Roanoke’s status as a destination for refugees, but it also disregarded the contributions of the many Syrians who migrated to the city in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.
In those days, “Syrian” meant something far different than it does today. Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire incorporated not just Syria as we know it today, but the bulk of the Middle East, North Africa and southeast Europe. Between 1880 and 1920, about 150,000 people left the Ottoman Empire—and many landed in Roanoke.
I and photographer Suzie Kelly explored Roanoke’s rich (and tasty!) history of Syrian and Lebanese cuisine from the early 1900s to today in this story for Munchies.
The fall 2015 issue of Virginia Tech Magazine has now been published and is available online.
My contributions include:
– The cover leader, which looks at Virginia Tech programs that link students and alumni, providing jobs for the former and access to talent for the latter.
– A story on who is buried at Virginia Tech, with a focus on the local leaders at the Preston Cemetery and the community that grew from the slaves buried at Kentland Farm.
– A profile of CNBC anchor Brian Sullivan, one of cable TV’s most prominent business analysts.
Read the entire issue at the Fall 2015 minisite.