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Helen Matthews Lewis

Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia

Helen M. Lewis
Patricia D. Beaver
Judith Jennings
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Helen Matthews Lewis
    Book Description:

    Often referred to as the leader of inspiration in Appalachian studies, Helen Matthews Lewis linked scholarship with activism and encouraged deeper analysis of the region. Lewis shaped the field of Appalachian studies by emphasizing community participation and challenging traditional perceptions of the region and its people.Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia, a collection of Lewis's writings and memories that document her life and work, begins in 1943 with her job on the yearbook staff at Georgia State College for Women with Mary Flannery O'Connor.

    Editors Patricia D. Beaver and Judith Jennings highlight the achievements of Lewis's extensive career, examining her role as a teacher and activist at Clinch Valley College (now University of Virginia at Wise) and East Tennessee State University in the 1960s, as well as her work with Appalshop and the Highland Center.Helen Matthews Lewisconnects Lewis's works to wider social movements by examining the history of progressive activism in Appalachia. The book provides unique insight into the development of regional studies and the life of a dynamic revolutionary, delivering a captivating and personal narrative of one woman's mission of activism and social justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3454-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)
    Stephen L. Fisher

    Many in the Appalachian studies community have been urging Helen Lewis for years to find the appropriate context to tell her story, to reflect upon a life that has been at “the nexus of social movements in the region calling for social, economic, and environmental justice” and in “the forefront of a new pedagogy, which envisioned student empowerment and community engagement” (see Patricia Beaver’s introduction to chapter 2). At long last, Patricia Beaver and Judith Jennings, working in close collaboration with Helen, have createdHelen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia.Using a chronological and thematic format, this book...

  6. Chapter 1 The Making of an Unruly Woman, 1924–1955
    (pp. 12-43)
    Judith Jennings

    Helen Matthews Lewis grew up, attended college, became a social justice activist, and married in Georgia. She both loved and worked to change the land-based society that shaped her formative years. As she learned and developed, Georgia developed and changed, too. Urban growth and rural poverty, populism and progressivism, religious conservatism and religious radicalism, racial hatred and racial justice, traditional gender roles and new opportunities for women, galvanized her and her home state from the mid-1920s through the mid-1950s.

    Helen’s roots in Georgia run deep and shape many of her lifelong views and values. She grew up knowing that two...

  7. Chapter 2 Breaking New Ground, 1955–1977
    (pp. 44-81)
    Patricia D. Beaver

    Helen Matthews Lewis moved to southwest Virginia in 1955. Witness to the impact of the coal industry in central Appalachia, Helen became an activist educator and an outspoken critic of the devastation occurring in the resource-rich region that she now called home. Teaching and learning from her students, Helen fundamentally reframed for a new generation of scholars and activists the most basic assumptions about Appalachian culture, communities, and inequality.

    Helen’s husband, Judd, had been hired to teach philosophy at Clinch Valley College, a branch of the University of Virginia in Wise, in the heart of the coalfields. At that time...

  8. Chapter 3 Local to Global, 1975–1985
    (pp. 82-123)
    John Gaventa

    I first met Helen Lewis in 1974, about the time her work reflected in this chapter begins. I was living in Clairfield, Tennessee, trying to understand how a British-owned multinational had developed its corporate power in rural east Tennessee and east Kentucky, as well as working with a bold group of citizens to challenge that power. This work informed my later bookPower and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley.While students in Oxford, England, Richard Greatrex and I had done some very rough videotapes in Wales of the 1974 Miners’ Strike. Helen invited me over to one...

  9. Chapter 4 Participatory Research, 1983–1999
    (pp. 124-171)
    Juliet Merrifield

    Participatory research and Helen Lewis were made for each other. They came together at the Highlander Research and Education Center in the late 1970s, when Helen joined the research team and made connections with the participatory research movement that was springing up around the global south. The international movement shared Highlander’s philosophy that the knowledge of ordinary people is valuable and valid, that people can document their own situation and use their knowledge for action. Helen, with John Gaventa and Aimee Horton, represented Highlander at a seminal meeting in Yugoslavia in 1980, at which enduring international relationships were formed.


  10. Chapter 5 Telling Our Stories, 1999–2010
    (pp. 172-220)
    Bill J. Leonard

    In May 2000, Helen Lewis joined Frederick Buechner, the well-known Presbyterian minister and author, in receiving an honorary doctorate from Wake Forest University. Buechner was named Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his distinguished literary contribution. Helen was both delighted and amazed that she, not Buechner, was given the degree Doctor of Divinity! It was no fluke. Any survey of Helen’s life as teacher, scholar, and writer cannot overlook the impact and implications of her work for religious communities, particularly those doing ministry through churches and community agencies in the Appalachian region.

    The sources cited here give clear evidence...

  11. The Final Word
    (pp. 221-230)

    After reading Helen’s influential writings, innovative ideas, and world-travel stories, coeditors Pat Beaver and Judi Jennings invited her to meet with them to discuss her thoughts and reflections on more than eighty years of living social justice. Steve Fisher was then working on the introduction, and he wanted to participate, too, because he had a few questions to ask Helen. The four of us gathered at the annual homecoming weekend at the Highlander Center on September 6, 2010. We all agreed that Helen should have the final word in this book, so what follows are the highlights of what she...

  12. Chronology
    (pp. 231-236)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-250)
    Helen Matthews Lewis
  14. List of Contributing Activists and Scholars
    (pp. 251-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-264)