Appalachian Families

Appalachian Culture


  • Appalachia lies along the Appalachian Mountains, which extend from Mississippi to New York, and includes three sub regions.
  • The region was originally inhabited by Native Americans. The name Appalachia comes from the Appalachee tribe of Northern Florida.
  • The geographical region known as Appalachia is named after the mountain chain which serves as a barrier from the outside world.
  • The isolation that the mountains bring has preserved many traditions.
  • The Appalachian Region consists of 198,931 square miles, 13 states, 406 counties, 22,216,361 people and is 42 % rural.


Early History

  • During the colonial era, Appalachia was claimed by Europeans in search of independence
  • Much of the Civil War was fought in Appalachia.


Geography and Economy

  • Geography makes farming and industry difficult
  • Local economy cannot support the population for most of Appalachia.
  • Despite the natural beauty of the region, tourism fails to generate enough profit to offset negative economic trends.
  • The regions traditional economy is based on agriculture, extractive industries (coal mining), and blue-color manufacturing jobs

Appalachian Sub regions

  • Northern, Central , and Southern

Northern region

  • Extends from New York into West Virginia and Ohio
  • Economic based in steel, coal, and railroad transportation
  • Reduction in employment has occurred in this region.

Central Region

  • Includes sixty contiguous counties in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee
  • History of the most grinding poverty in America
  • Where War on Poverty Started and Failed.
  • Third World conditions
  • Entitlement mentality


Southern Region:

  • Extends from Virginia through the Carolinas and into Alabama
  • Includes many unique regional folklore traditions (Foxfire Series)

Significant influences to the Appalachian Culture


  • Labor Unions
  • Decline of the major industries (steel, chemical)
  • Education


  • Migration
  • Labor Unions
  • Unemployment/Poverty
  • Decline of the Coal and timber industry


  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Anti Labor Union
  • Education
  • Textile Industry


Appalachian out-migration

  • 7-8 million people migrated from Appalachia between 1940-1990
  • Most have moved toward industrial centers, auto assembly factories in Michigan and Ohio, textile Mills in the South or high tech jobs anywhere in the USA
  • Military Influence- joined and remained
  • “Brain drain”
  • Since 1980 Appalachian migration has decreased



Appalachian Culture Travels

  • Appalachian people have experienced a series of disasters and exploitations
  • The move to the city comes with the discovery that they have exchanged rural poverty and unemployment for urban poverty and unemployment
  • Move to the city has resulted in Appalachian-urban neighborhoods


Traditional Appalachian Identity

  • Regional Folklore shared with younger generations
  • Arts and crafts highlights the regions beauty
  • No other large geographic region in the United States has so many family members who live their lives in proximity to their birthplaces.
  • Extended Kinship networks
  • Children learn from parents and clan
  • Family Surname can identify persons and link them to a kinship network


Values of Traditional Appalachian Families

  • When an Appalachian moves from rural to city, they do not leave their values “back home”.
  • Their values do not mesh well with urban living
  • Traditional values include a present orientation with fatalistic views of the future, action vs. dialogue, and fierce protection of self and kin


Industrialization and the Great Depression

  • In the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialization largely bypassed the region
  • People there relied primarily on subsistence farming and hunting
  • Industrialization did lead to the growth of cities such as Pittsburgh and Birmingham
  • In the 1930’s. during the Great Depression, the federal government began to notice the economic deficiencies of the region


1960’s: War on Poverty

  • Attitudes toward poverty was simplistic: if a region is destitute, give it goods, services and infrastructures
  • JFK initiated War on Poverty in 1963
  • LBJ implemented the Program


War on Poverty

  • The Community Action Program sent volunteers into the region
  • The Federal Government poured money into the region
  • Social Programs such as Welfare relief, public works projects and subsidies to industries were implemented.


Poverty Wins the War

  • Rather than investing in education, businesses, and other income-generating concerns, federal aid was used to finance more consumption and more children
  • Welfare and state aid become dominant source of income
  • Despite efforts the region lacked entrepreneurship and education


Getting Passed By:

  • During the industrial revolution, the advancements passed the Appalachian region by
  • Now, with the information age, the lack of education has prevented the development of technology-related industries and jobs in the region



  • Many Schools often lack basic supplies
  • Because much of the population is poor, Appalachian states have lower tax revenues
  • This results in less funding for schools and substandard education



  • Key Feature: autonomous, regionalized, sub-denominations of Christian religions
  • Regional churches tend not to be involved with centralized religions
  • They often follow a literal interpretation of the Bible
  • The King James Version is still the translation of choice for the majority
  • Denominations or “brands” of religion are for the most part irrelevant
  • Most churches place a great importance on religious experience, especially in relation to conversion
  • Life is extremely hard- the sense of independence carries over into their religious experience (works, emotional, spirit led)



  • Strong folk tradition
  • Churches are very influential: no explicit lyrics
  • Country/bluegrass influence
  • Prevalence of white country gospel music
  • Square dancing is a common form of entertainment


Big Picture

  • It is important to understand the background of the people and places you will work with and visit.





Appalachian Culture

  • Characteristics: What is culture? The patterns of behavior and thinking that people living in social groups learn, create, and share.
  • Culture distinguishes one human group from others.
  • A people’s culture includes their beliefs, rules of behavior, language, rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food, religion, and political and economic systems.
  • Appalachia is not a “melting pot” so much as it is a stew: Irish, Scottish, Germans, Native Americans, Italians, English, Polish, Hungarians, Orientals, Asian Indians, Hispanic, African Americans, Other Europeans, Jewish, Arabs


Appalachian People

  • “They came in with a horse, a cow, a sack of corn, an iron pot and a wife and several children, an ax and a long rifle.”(Norman Simpkins)
  • “and a King James Bible.” (Unknown)


Diversity between the Regions

  • North and South
  • Wealth and Extreme Poverty
  • Major Universities and Illiteracy
  • Major cities and dying towns
  • Low unemployment and high unemployment


Characteristics of the Appalachian People

  • The inhabits of this area are traditionally very independent
  • Many have survived in the mountains for generations by subsistence farming
  • Family is very important to them
  • Love the home place
  • Most are culturally religious
  • Live on the land
  • Barter economy
  • “toot” work pattern (work hard, rest a spell)
  • Easy going
  • Person oriented- see other people as whole individuals
  • Proud people
  • Polite people
  • Suspicious of “foreigners” (strangers)
  • Staring is impolite
  • Equality of women
  • Independent (love to “fight it out”.)
  • More relational than goal oriented
  • Love good humor
  • “I can talk about where I’m from, but you can’t”

Comparison of Rural American with Appalachia


Rural America

  • Emphasis on community, church, clubs, etc
  • Oriented to progress
  • Home tasks shared by husband and wife
  • Shared family activities
  • Acceptance of the world
  • Cooperation with doctors, hospitals, and outsiders
  • Use of government and law to achieve goals
  • Denominational churches do well




  • Individualism, self-centered concerns
  • Oriented to existence
  • Separateness of husband and wife in home tasks
  • Few shared family activities
  • Suspicious and fear of the outside world
  • Fear of doctors, those in authority, the well-educated
  • Antagonism toward government and law
  • Suspicious of denomination and organized religion


Four traits of Appalachian Americans

  • Individualism
  • Traditionalism-familialism
  • Fundamentalism in religion
  • Fatalism-accepting life here as is and looking for a better hereafter (John Campbell, Loyal Jones and other modern scholars)


5 key groups of people living in Appalachia

Native Appalachians (Williams)

  • Town and city dwellers- urban
  • Valley farmers-rural
  • Branch water Mountaineers


Returning Appalachian’s

  • Those who return after a few years
  • Those who return “after being gone too long.”
  • Those who return to the “home place” after retirement.
  • Schooling or learning can drive a mountaineer from their culture and run the risk of making such a student unfit to return to the life he or she came from. (John Campbell, A History of Appalachia Berea College).




Ethnic People Groups


Appalachia Today

Modernized areas: In Appalachia, a flavor of the culture, but not much different from the rest of America (Knoxville, TN, Greenville, SC, Pittsburgh, Pa).

Emerging Areas– Hazard, Ky, Clarksburg, WV

Unaltered areas- coalfields

Relocated pockets– Cleveland, Ohio


“Television and the internet have not leveled the mountains in many of the rural and remote communities.”


Migration to the Cities “ Hillbilly Ghettos”

  • Causes of out migration
  • High birth rates
  • Unsustainable farming practices
  • Destruction of land
  • Concentration of land ownership
  • Fluctuations in the coal market
  • Anti-unionism and poor working conditions
  • Removal for National forests, national Parks, lakes
  • Economic pull of employment elsewhere



  • The migration begins in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Between 1900 and 1930 many Appalachians become migrant farm laborers.
  • Appalachians tended to move to the inner city
  • Akron Ohio gets nicknamed “The Capitol of West Virginia” today its Charlotte, Nc.
  • Post WWI anti-immigration laws cause industrial labor recruiters to look to Appalachia as a source of workers
  • A pattern of moving north/south when jobs where available and back to the mountains when layoffs occurred was established early .
  • Between 1940 and 1960- seven to eight million left the region and three million moved to the region.
  • They were part of the mass migration of southern sharecroppers (Black and white), Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans seeking a better life.
  • Many fully assimilated into their new environment.
  • Others became “bi-cultural” , returning home for visits, but blending in with their northern or mid-western neighbors.
  • Others became identified as a social problem.
  • This group became known among social workers, educators, police, and other professionals as SAMS (southern Appalachian migrants), WASPS (white Appalachian southern protestants or SANS (southern Appalachian newcomers.)
  • On the streets and schoolyards, it would be briar, briarhopper, cracker, hillbilly, redneck, ridge runner, snake eater






















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