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‘Black In The Middle’ Highlights The Midwestern Black Experience

Terrion Williamson, left, was the editor of "Black in the Middle." Florissant writer Lyndsey Ellis' essay appears in the anthology.
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Terrion Williamson, left, was the editor of "Black in the Middle." Florissant writer Lyndsey Ellis' essay appears in the anthology.

Terrion Williamson launched the Black Midwest Initiative in 2017. An associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, she saw the complexities of Black people’s lives in the Midwest given short shrift by national media outlets. It wasn’t until the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that she found pundits and reporters from the coasts willing to listen.

“Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest,” which Williamson edited, was underway well before Floyd’s death. She submitted a full draft to her editor in February. After Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May, she added a brief epilogue.

But as that two-page addendum makes clear, the book is only more relevant now.

“Part of what this collection endeavors to do is reckon with the routinized brutalities and systemic inequalities that have historically structured, and continue to structure, so much of Black Midwestern life — and which far too few people recognized as the kindling for both the actual and metaphorical fires that were set in the Twin Cities in late May,” she wrote.

The book was released by Belt Publishing on Sept. 11. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Williamson discussed the anthology and her work with the Black Midwest Initiative.

“[We wanted] to speak to what we saw as a void in coverage of Black Midwesterners in a really robust way,” Williamson said.

The anthology also features the work of Lyndsey Ellis. Born and raised in Florissant, she moved back home after 12 years in Oakland. Ellis wrote an essay for the anthology about her time at the University of Missouri titled “Hair.”

Speaking of her time in Oakland, Ellis said: “When I was out there, you’d be surprised. … Some people just think that the Midwest is basically synonymous with cornstalks and fields. There’s no real cities here, and no people of color here, no Black people, nothing like that. That’s a real big misconception.”

Williamson said the white composition of many mainstream media outlets plays a factor in the Midwest being neglected, as does those outlets’ location on the coasts.

At graduate school at the University of Southern California, “I experienced something very similar to what Lyndsey is talking about here,” Williamson said.

“We don’t get the coverage,” she added, speaking of the Midwest. “And to the extent that you get the coverage of Black folks in the Midwest, it’s often centered around the bigger cities, particularly Chicago and Detroit … and even then, it’s centered around stories of criminality, and violence. … I absolutely think that’s something that this book, and the work I’m doing and the work Lyndsey is doing, is meant to mitigate against that very thing.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.