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Blacks in Appalachia

Blacks in Appalachia

William H. Turner
Edward J. Cabbell
Foreword by Nell Irvin Painter
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: 1
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Blacks in Appalachia
    Book Description:

    Although southern Appalachia is popularly seen as a purely white enclave, blacks have lived in the region from early times. Some hollows and coal camps are in fact almost exclusively black settlements. The selected readings in this new book offer the first comprehensive presentation of the black experience in Appalachia.

    Organized topically, the selections deal with the early history of blacks in the region, with studies of the black communities, with relations between blacks and whites, with blacks in coal mining, and with political issues. Also included are a section on oral accounts of black experiences and an analysis of black Appalachian demography. The contributors range from Carter Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois to more recent scholars such as Theda Perdue and David A. Corbin. An introduction by the editors provides an overall context for the selections.

    Blacks in Appalachiafocuses needed attention on a neglected area of Appalachian studies. It will be a valuable resource for students of Appalachia and of black history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5045-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)

    The plural nature of American society makes its study endlessly fascinating, yet scholars and policymakers sometimes disregard the nuances of our complicated culture. Black Appalachians, whose experiences have not conformed to stereotypes of black life, are, for that reason, an invisible people. Southern and AfroAmerican studies, the two fields of inquiry that ought to have noticed black Appalachians, have traditionally described a generalized black-belt plantation South and have divided Southerners into two categories: planters and their descendants (the powerful, the oppressors) and slaves and their progeny (the powerless, the oppressed). Wilbur Cash’s classicMind of the South(1941) is one...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction.
    (pp. xvii-xxiii)

    During the past quarter century, there has been a profound and marked interest in Afro-American and Appalachian studies. This book combines the perspectives of both fields to examine some social themes about Appalachia as a geopolitical and social region of the American South and to trace the history and development of Appalachia’s black people as well as the culture and the quality of life they have drawn from the region.

    The essays selected for inclusion demonstrate that blacks in the Appalachian region are neither aberrations nor epiphenomena, neither invisible nor insignificant. The project that led to this book began as...

  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)
  8. Part One. Basic Approaches

    • 1 Black Invisibility and Racism in Appalachia: An Informal Survey.
      (pp. 3-10)

      Ever since the fonnative years of the John Henry Memorial Foundation, Inc., in 1969, I have traveled extensively throughout the ARC-defined Central Appalachian Region seeking to understand the attitudes and values and heritage of fellow black Appalachians. From 1975 to 1978 I traveled full-time as the coordinator of the Foundation’s Creativity in Appalachian Minorities Program (CAMP). I talked with black and white Appalachians identified as community leaders or potential community leaders who were responsive to social justice programs and activities in the mountains. My observations are concluded in this informal survey.

      Black people in Appalachia are a neglected minority within...

    • 2 Between Berea (1904) and Birmingham (1908): The Rock and Hard Place for Blacks in Appalachia.
      (pp. 11-20)

      Students of the population(s) and culture of Appalachia, as well as scholars of the “general” black experience, have consistently overlooked blacks in the region. The presence of black people in the Appalachian Mountains (especially the central highlands), the labor of blacks in the industrialization of the region, their needs, and the culture that they have developed in the area have yet to be systematically analyzed. This essay offers some historical evidence and sociological interpretation of the experience of black Appalachians. It reviews the blacks’ arrival in the region, the general character of their social and cultural development, and two specific...

  9. Part Two. Historical Perspectives

    • 3 Red and Black in the Southern Appalachians.
      (pp. 23-30)

      The ftrst black Appalachians did not live under the control of white planters, railroad builders, lumber companies, or mine operators; instead, they lived within the domain of the Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee Nation extended from its spiritual center at Kituwah, near present-day Bryson City, North Carolina, into what has become the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia as well as North Carolina. Much of this vast territory was hunting ground, but Cherokee villages lined the riverbanks of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northwestern South Carolina. The Cherokees were agriculturalists long before...

    • 4 Freedom and Slavery in Appalachian America.
      (pp. 31-42)

      To understand the problem of hannonizing freedom and slavery in Appalachian America we must keep in mind two different stocks coming in some cases from the same mother country and subject here to the same government. Why they differed so widely was due to their peculiar ideals formed prior to their emigration from Europe and to their environment in the New World. To the Tidewater came a class whose character and purposes, although not altogether alike, easily enabled them to develop into an aristocratic class. All of them were trying to lighten the burdens of life. In this section favored...

    • 5 Boyhood Days.
      (pp. 43-50)

      After the coming of freedom there were two points upon which practically all the people on our place were agreed, and I find that this was generally true throughout the South: that they must change their names, and that they must leave the old plantation for at least a few days or weeks in order that they might really feel sure that they were free.

      In some way a feeling got among the coloured people that it was far from proper for them to bear the surname of their former owners, and a great many of them took other surnames....

    • 6 The Black South and White Appalachia.
      (pp. 51-68)

      Observers seemed to be depicting slave conditions in the antebellum South. One minister found the people “the worst housed, worst fed, most ignorant, most immoral” of any he had encountered. Others stressed the presence of homes that were mere hovels, of windowless log cabins with only one or two rooms. They told of a religious people, but one who believed in spells and witchcraft. Some writers termed the food deplorable and the speech patterns difficult to understand. Lazy, shiftless men and hard-working women inhabited this world. Their melancholy folk songs with origins across the ocean helped to lighten the burdens...

  10. Part Three. Community Studies

    • 7 The Negro Miner in West Virginia.
      (pp. 71-78)

      Although studies of Negro migration of the past two decades have pointed out the fact that every large exodus of Negroes from the south has contained a number whose destination was the mining fields of West Virginia¹ no sociological study has appeared of the Negro in this area.² Here Negroes occupy a unique position; more Negro miners work in the coal mines of West Virginia³ than in those of any other state. Although they formed only 6.6 per cent of the population of the state in 1930 they constituted 21.8 per cent of all miners.

      The purpose of the study,...

    • 8 The Black Community in a Company Town: Alcoa, Tennessee, 1919-1939.
      (pp. 79-92)

      For almost four decades, from the time of its incorporation in 1919 to 1956, when the first “outsider” was brought in as city manager, Alcoa, Tennessee, was a company town. There was a progressive facade, but neither city manager nor commission could “sharpen a pencil without getting approval from a Company official.”¹

      The purpose of this article is to consider the function of the black community within that framework and to identify such leadership as demonstrated itself in the twenty-year span of Alcoa’s development before the advent of World War II, although it should be stressed at the outset that...

    • 9 Class over Caste: Interracial Solidarity in the Company Town.
      (pp. 93-114)

      Although the UMWA made little headway in the southern West Virginia coal fields between 1890 and 1911, a powerful social force was already producing a collective mentality among the miners. By its contrived and rigid structure, the company town, while giving the coal operators extraordinary forms of power over the miners, precluded the development of a social and political hierarchy based on color ethnicity, that is, a caste system, within the working class community. Its standardized living and working conditions prohibited socioeconomic competition and mobility, and its highly rigid capitalistic structure established distinct class lines, based not on an ethnicity...

  11. Part Four. Race Relations

    • 10 A Judicious Mixture: Negroes and Immigrants in the West Virginia Mines, 1880-1917.
      (pp. 117-132)

      In the first years of West Virginia’s coal mining industry the labor force was made up primarily of native, white Americans who left their poor farms to work for the high wages available in the mines.¹ There were also some Negroes used in the mines either as slave labor or as free men. The use of Negroes became particularly widespread after the railroad companies brought many of them to the Mountain State for use in railroad construction. The Negroes often chose to remain in West Virginia as coal miners rather than to return to their homes in the South.² Negroes,...

    • 11 The Sociohistorical Roots of White/Black Inequality in Urban Appalachia: Knoxville and East Tennessee.
      (pp. 133-144)

      The low-caste position of Knoxville’s native black today can best be understood in sociohistorical tenos. Racial inequality cannot be examined adequately without consideration of forces such as industrial development, migration patterns, and geographical location as well as racial ideologies. When these factors are studied, it becomes clear why Knoxville’s blacks, and those of East Tennessee in general, have lagged behind those of other southern cities both economically and politically.

      For nearly 200 years, Knoxville, Tennessee, has been a major Appalachian city, mainly because of its central location with relation to a number of southern regions: East Tennessee, east Kentucky, West...

  12. Part Five. Black Coal Miners

    • 12 The Black Worker.
      (pp. 147-158)
      W. E. B. DU BOIS

      Easily the most dramatic episode in American history was the sudden move to free four million black slaves in an effort to stop a great civil war, to end forty years of bitter controversy, and to appease the moral sense of civilization.

      From the day of its birth, the anomaly of slavery plagued a nation which asserted the equality of all men, and sought to derive powers of government from the consent of the governed. Within sound of the voices of those who said this lived more than half a million black slaves, forming nearly one-fifth of the population of...

    • 13 The Coal Mines.
      (pp. 159-172)

      The bituminous coal industry has served as a laboratory for the development of many trade union policies. Of considerable importance is the manner in which the United Mine Workers has met the problem posed by the presence of large numbers of both white and Negro workers in the coal industry. The “miners’ formula” for resolving this question has been adopted by many of the CIO unions, which it helped to bring into existence, and in which the influence of the experiences of collective bargaining in the coal industry is still strong, although the UMW has now dissociated itself from the...

    • 14 Race and the United Mine Workers’ Union in Tennessee: Selected Letters of William R. Riley, 1892-1895.
      (pp. 173-182)

      Historians know very little about early labor organizers who laid the foundations of many modem unions. This invisibility is particularly true for that small number of dedicated black activists who sacrificed their own economic interests, safety, and sometimes dignity, for the labor union cause. Certainly this was the case of William R. Riley who emerges momentarily from the dark comers of the past only to disappear again without a trace. Among the few known general facts about Riley is a record of his association with the Knights of Labor in the coal fields of his native southeastern Kentucky. Moving to...

    • 15 The Collapse of Biracial Unionism: The Alabama Coal Strike of 1908.
      (pp. 183-198)

      In July 1908 the United Mine Workers of America authorized the calling of a strike in Alabama because of the refusal of many large coal companies there to renew a wage agreement that had expired the year before. This strike was one in a series that befell Alabama between 1894 and 1920, and it was as devastating in its destruction of life and property as it was in its effects on the UMW in District 20.

      The UMW ftrst entered Alabama in 1893, only three years after the union was founded in Columbus, Ohio. When it was organized, unlike most...

  13. Part Six. Blacks and Local Politics

    • 16 The Vanishing Appalachian: How to “Whiten” the Problem.
      (pp. 201-206)

      Nine years have passed since a social work professor confided, with candor, to a class of eager young West Virginia University social work students that, “Appalachia may one day become one of the few regions in America without a black population.”

      This comment was made in 1964 and the passing years have been witness to the inexorable trek of blacks out of Appalachia to the ghettos and marginal neighborhoods of urban America, pushed by the indifference and unresponsiveness of the Appalachian region ... a modem day exodus, unheralded and unmarked.

      Few, it seems, mourn the passing of so many Appalachian...

    • 17 Not Just Whites in Appalachia.
      (pp. 207-210)

      During the early 1960s, America discovered Appalachia Here tucked away among the stunningly beautiful mountains and valleys of a region that stretches from Mississippi to New York were millions of white Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and despair which rivaled the plight of the underdeveloped nations.

      Congress passed the Appalachian Regional Development Act in 1965, and the Appalachian Regional Commission was created. In came the poverty fighters, the big money, the special programs and studies. Almost a billion dollars has been poured into the region since the inception of the Commission.

      But it was not until the annual...

  14. Part Seven. Personal Anecdotal Accounts of Black Life

    • 18 Conversations with the “Ole Man”: The Life and Times of a Black Appalachian Coal Miner.
      (pp. 213-222)

      In 1951 when I was born, my father James Efferson Millner was 45 years old. Though over half of his life had already been lived, he was still quite an energetic man.

      As I grew older I observed how the years began to take their toll on my father’s health. Black lung, arthritis, diabetes, and being “just plain tired” were constantly deteriorating his health. However, he was never without kind words of advice and interesting experiences to share. or just general conversation. He loved to talk and I learned to listen.

      This article, a small tribute to the man and...

    • 19 The Mountain Negro of Hazard, Kentucky.
      (pp. 223-228)

      The reason we left Kentucky, we thought that there wasn’t [enough] income coming to the family to educate our children and do the things we felt parents should be able to do. This was back in the early fifties; teachers’ salaries were low and the biggest industry in these mountains was coal. Many of the coal camps were closing and men were leaving the mines and going to northern cities to get work. At that time my salary was about $225 a month. This was for ten months of the year. I was principal at Dunham High School in Letcher...

    • 20 “If I Could Go Back . . .”: An Interview with Dobbie Sanders.
      (pp. 229-234)

      Fairfield, Alabama, is a company town, one of 17 residential areas near Binningham built by the United States Steel Corporation. Nearly everyone who lives here works—or has worked—in US Steel’s local mills or mines.

      Dobbie Sanders is one of those former employees. Now 85 years old, Dobbie spent more than a quarter century working for US Steel, and the years have reshaped his body. His eyes are blurry; his feet, covered with callouses; his fmgers, thick and rough—one with a tip missing.

      Sanders lives in a small house on the comer of Fairfield’s Sixty-fIrst Street and Avenue...

  15. Part Eight. Selected Demographic Aspects

    • 21 The Demography of Black Appalachia: Past and Present.
      (pp. 237-261)

      This essay reviews changes in some of the demographic, social, and economic characteristics of the black population in central and southern Appalachia only. There is no consensus on the exact boundaries of the region. First, any historical overview of blacks in the region is subject to artificial geographic constraints, since current definitions have been standardized around boundaries drawn in the early 1960s by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The political exigencies which the ARC lines reflect encompass areas of New York State, Mississippi, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. My definition of Appalachia and my focus are less broad than those of the ARC...

  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 262-266)
  17. Resource Guide
    (pp. 267-274)
  18. Sources and Contributors
    (pp. 275-277)