Response to Appalachians Program 2
The Appalachian Program video 2 tied in very nicely with the readings we have been assigned in class. The entire film made many things more clear about both the people of Appalachia and outside perceptions of them by the rest of the world. It seemed to me that the people of Appalachia are most profound in expressing their uniqueness and their struggle with poverty and dangerous work through their music. Although, the narratives in the film and the sayings of the people are important in understanding their history, their entire culture can be expressed in just one song and that is exceptional. This reminds me of things that I have seen or read about blacks and their use of music to fill the void of freedom and the throes of oppression. There are many stereotypes that exist about the people of this area of the U.S. and from the story of the Hatfield/McCoy incident comes the stereotype that the people are violent and “backwards”, even “hillbillies”. This too is very in line with what Black Americans have had to deal with in terms of negative outside oppression and influence and barriers to safe and legal employment.
The fact about the people of Appalachia is that many of the poor men were either conscripted or volunteered for every war since the Civil War. This is common with people in poverty that feel that they have no option to feed their families if they do not take the only opportunity to work that they can. The feuding that is common with the people is part of their cultural norms of dealing with disputes in ways that do not involve the police, as they have become accustomed to being separated from the rest of the world and any safety that could be provided of them. They are just as wary of “outsiders” as their critics are wary of them for this same reason. In addition to the violence that has been fueled by the aftermath of military combat and the lack of safety that the is perceived in these areas, work in coal mines is very unsafe and dangerous. This adds a further element to the environment, that of the fear of the unknown as many workers die in the mines just as they do in war. Just as these men have joined the military service seeing it as their only option, they are lured into the only work that is available, dangerous coal mining.
Ted Olson ties in the film with some commentary of his own about the people indigenous to the area in the article “The Mountain Melting Pot: Appalachia’s Diverse Racial and Ethnic Groups” in The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier. He maps the people’s journey from the BC era and talks about all the racial and ethnic diversity along with the issues with people emigrating from and immigrating to this area. He cites racism and issues with low-paying jobs that disperse people from there currently and goes into a myriad of reasons why settlers chose this area to live in from the earliest recorded history. He talks about the most recent influx of immigrants from Mexico as transient workers, but what really surprised me was the numbers of people coming in from India, Iran, Japan, and Jamaica! Before that time period displaced Civil War soldiers from France came there as did slaves that were freed after the war was over. The film covered much of what Olson writes in terms of the Cherokee influence and their subsequent departure in the Trail of Tears. I think it is a misconception that this area is comprised of only white “hillbillies”, as stereotypes suggest, but the this area is truly a melting pot with a rich culture and wonderful music that can tell the tales of all the hardships and sufferings of the slaves, the poor, the wars, and all the things that the people there have accepted in their own way. The problem is with other people not being able to accept the people.
Olson, Ted. (2004). “The Mountain Melting Pot: Appalachia’s Diverse Racial and Ethnic Groups” in The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier. Random House: Toronto, Canada.