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Lacy Hale, 36, grew up in Eastern Kentucky as part of the sixth generation of Hales to live on her family’s property on Wolfpen Creek, near the residence of iconic author James Still. After graduating high school, her community raised funds to send her to Pratt Institute, an art school in Brooklyn. After two years, Hale returned to Kentucky, where she now works with Appalshop and as an independent visual artist.
When Hale and others learned in February that a white supremacist group known as the Traditionalist Worker Party planned to hold a rally with the National Socialist Movement and the League of the South in Pikeville, they were stunned. In response, Hale headed up a day of making art at the Boone Youth Drop-In Center, where she coordinates workshops. That day, she developed a print that read “No Hate in My Holler,” with the hashtag #GoHomeNaziScum at the bottom. The image stirred something in the community’s imagination, and requests for prints and t-shirts followed.
Hale’s image appeared on shirts of protesters throughout the rally that day, and #NoHateInMyHoller became a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter in the weeks that followed. Hale assumed the phrase would decline after Pikeville. This month, however, it was revived as neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally that quickly turned violent and left one protester and two Virginia State Police officers dead.
In the two weeks that have followed, Appalachian musicians such as eastern Tennessee black metal outfit Twilight Fauna and Virginia bluegrass picker Tyler Hughes have shared the image or hashtag, while some Kentuckians used it to show support for Charlottesville.
We talked with Hale about how she developed the phrase and the life it has taken on since then.
How did you come up with that print and phrasing?
I was working with Appalshop as program coordinator for their Appalachian Media Institute program and coordinating arts workshops at the Boone Youth Drop-In Center [in Whitesburg]. We heard news that the neo-Nazis were wanting to come to Pikeville. After Trump was elected, I think they felt emboldened and able to do stuff like that. Everybody I knew was furious. We have so many people come here anyway to try to save us or help us because of the stereotypes floating around.
There is a lot of poverty, that’s true, and there are lots of things that can help. [But] these people who obviously had connections to a loathsome point in history were coming in under the guise of trying to help poor white families. Everybody that I knew and talked to was furious. They asked, “What can we do? How can we keep this from happening? What kind of protest can we lead?”
We were talking to youth at the drop-in center about it, and one of the young named Jaydon Tolliver said, “I’d love to do some sort of art project around this.” We decided to have an art in response day. The drop-in center had tons of free supplies. I helped to organize the workshop. Anybody could come and and do art based around this. I wanted to do something too.
Printmaking is very stark-looking in black and white, but you can also do it in colors. This piece just came to me. I feel very rooted to this place and the land I grew up on. I’m very proud to be from the holler. It just popped in my head—“no hate in my holler.” Don’t bring that here. Don’t try to bring that fear and lie to us under the guise of helping poor white families. You’re bringing hatred and trying to fool people into supporting your cause.
I created that piece through the workshop and posted it on Facebook and Instagram. I started getting contacted by people who said it really resonated with them. People wanted to use it and share it. Then they wanted to buy T-shirts or a printing of it. It was encouraging to see the way people identify with that. We get a bad rap here. I’ve talked to people of color who don’t want to come because of the stereotypes about the area, but to hear so many people attach to that phrase and use it was super-encouraging.
I started making different merchandise with it. About a quarter of all the profits went back to buy art supplies for the drop-in center where I made the piece. I didn’t want to use this to make money. I wanted to use it to generate funds for something I care about. That’s basically how it came about.
Some people see that and see the “go home nazi scum” [hashtag] at the bottom. They say it says, “no hate” but this bottom piece is pretty hateful. I was pretty angry and I don’t sympathize with Nazis. I wanted to make the point that they’re not welcome here. Normally I don’t use curse words. That was strongest language I used to convey, “We don’t want you here, go home.”
Did you go down to the protest in Pikeville? If not, did you see any of your shirts on the TV coverage? If so, how did that make you feel?
I had planned on going to the protest, but I had a friend who was friends with someone working either with the cops or with the City of Pikeville, and he personally warned me not to go since things were looking to get scary and the “no hate” hashtag was making the rounds. We knew that someone in Letcher County had provided a place for the white supremacists to stay and there were rumors that the neo-Nazis may come to Whitesburg to cause trouble, so I stayed with my husband at our record store, and we wore our No Hate shirts. Many of the businesses put up signs in their windows saying we did not want them here. There was no trouble here, and Pikeville did a great job keeping trouble to a minimum there.
I did see coverage and saw several people wearing their No Hate shirts in the crowd in Pikeville. I felt like I was there in a way because of that. It made me happy to know that even though I was not there, some that could be thought the phrase was a strong enough statement to wear to protest in.
Were you surprised that the motto came back with the rally in Charlottesville?
I had a lady who bought a print who lived in Frankfort but was from Eastern Kentucky, who bought it when the neo-Nazis were coming to Pikeville. She messaged me after Charlottesville and said, “I thought this was going to be outdated and irrelevant, and now here we are.”
This is very upsetting. I thought I’d made this piece of artwork for a specific period of time in this part of the country. I thought it had died down, but after Charlottesville, I started seeing this come back, and people started messaging me to ask for artwork. I changed my cover photos to that artwork. People were really wanting to get T-shirts to give to their friends and to use this. Someone tagged me in a post and said, “Thank you for your kickass war cry.”
It’s sad we’re still having to use that in 2017. We should be better than this and above this. Have we learned nothing from history and where we’ve been? I did follow the events in Charlottesville. Several of my friends went down there to protest. I was relegated to staying home and watching it unfold. I saw it and it was extremely upsetting. When you heard there were fatalities … I cried almost all day that day. It’s so awful.
People started asking me again for stuff with that phrase on it. This time, I’m trying to find a local non-profit I can donate part of the proceeds to as well. I want to do something new. If I can find something based around racial justice or LGBT communities, that’s who I want to donate to. I’ve had people ask me for a shirt without the “go home nazi scum.” It touched people who just needed to be able to say that. It’s disappointing that people are still wanting to use that because they have to.
What wisdom did you take away from this experience? What did you learn?
The news has been so overwhelming, so discouraging, so disturbing. I couldn’t imagine being a person of color living around these things, hearing this stuff happen. Even before this, I know it was hard and has been hard for people to live here, but I just couldn’t imagine what some people have to go through. You hear white privilege a lot. I know that even though I grew up poor, I had that. I’m a white person living in this country and this world.
I like to do large-scale public art pieces, and whenever I do those I like to include community as much as I can. I’ve done a couple of community art projects. I’m starting to do more: I’ve got two to three more coming up in the next six months. To see the difference between what I have seen on the news, and to see the way people I know in my community have rallied around this cry of “no hate in my holler,” it says a lot to me that it’s important to know your community at a base level, to get out and talk to people.
I work as a full-time artist. People in my community support me. I get most of the money I make I get from people buying this or that, here and there. The people in my community have made me feel better about where we are, just because I’ve seen the kindness that they’ve shown. A lot of my friends have protested or made artwork or helped in some way.
You watch the news and see that everything is so horrible, but in your community you can work on a smaller level to make things better. As I work more and begin to understand the role I play in my community, I’m finding ways to help people express themselves.
What did you learn from moving away from Eastern Kentucky and then coming back?
I’d never been to a city as big as New York before, and I went by myself. It was kind of a culture shock. I learned so much there. I made a lot of really great friends. I learned a lot about different people, seeing different cultures, eating different foods. The first time I stepped into the Met [the Metropolitan Museum of Art], I started bawling my eyes out, seeing these staircases and these marble statues and artwork I never thought I’d ever see.
So the experience was incredible. It also gave me hindsight. I realized my community was who actually sent me. My parents did as much as they could, and my community gave me that final push to get me to art school. I remember coming home the first time after being there for a few months and thinking, “It is so dark here.” I had no idea about light pollution before I went up there.
I spoke on Monday at Morehead State University about being an artist in Appalachia. I told them about [going] away to school, and how it made me realize how important this area is. I chose to move back here because I felt a connection to the people and place. I believe in it and I believe in the people here. I believe we have to help ourselves if we’re going to do anything here. I want to be part of that.
The coal jobs have almost dwindled to nothing. That was such a big part of the economy. How do we find ways to stay here and make a living here. I’m surprised that I can actually be an artist in Eastern Kentucky and make a living. Moving away made me realize how special and important central Appalachia, or at least my neck of the woods, is. I don’t think I’ll ever live in the city again. I’m close enough I can visit my mom and siblings.
Disclosure: The Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder, is the fiscal agent for a grant to EpiCentre Arts. Lacy Hale is a board member and leader of EpiCentre Arts.