Blue Heart sat down with Carlton Turner, Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS, a grassroots organization in the American South that serves artists and cultural organizers exploring themes of social justice. Founded in 1976, Alternate ROOTS supports the creation of original art which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. They are the forefront of establishing model programs for regional cultural organizing in the US. The fusion of art and anti-oppression work is at the core of their DNA and grassroots action.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BLUE HEART: What is the story of how you got involved with Alternate ROOTS?
Carlton Turner: I’ll start with my time as a college student at the University of Mississippi, otherwise known as Ole Miss. Going there as a student, I didn’t really know the historical context of getting educated there. But I left that institution with a deep understanding of the way that racism, privilege, and white power manifests itself in contemporary times. I was there at a time when the University was dealing with its public image because it was still flying the confederate battle flag as its basic university symbol at sporting events. So we were dealing with this contradiction of Black bodies on a field and these white folks waving the confederate battle flag. This would have been 1992 through 1996. We are still having that conflict today in the South and across this country.
My older brother who was there with me at Ole Miss. He was a music major and I was an english major. We began to put those two things together and created a group. We were doing spoken word, hip hop, and jazz. We called our group MUGABEE which stands for Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction. Carolyn Morris, who was then working with