A Place Close to my Heart

I have been rather excited to begin my oral history project for this class.  My mother and grandparents were both born and raised in Mount Airy, North Carolina. The fact that this town has been a large part of their lives as well as mine is why I chose to focus on it for this project. I hope to learn more about my grandmother’s and mother’s experiences through the lens of the town and its history, economy, and culture.

On every other weekend my grandparents would either come down to visit us in Winston-Salem or we would go see them for the day. I always enjoyed traveling to Mount Airy. When I was much younger, it felt like a little mini adventure. On the way there, my family always took highway 52 north. If any of you have travelled that highway towards Mount Airy, you will know that you always pass by Pilot Mountain along the way. I would always get really excited about that and until I was a little older, I was always referred to it as “the rock.” My parents and grandparents got a big kick out of it. Pilot Mountain always fascinated me and I knew from an earlier age that I would be into the outdoors and exploring beautiful ecosystems. This has held true since I have been here at App with frequent hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I was excited once we reached the turn off for my grandmother’s house on S. South Street. The house was an older estate with three floors (including a basement) and a large backyard. The house had at one time been much smaller. My grandparents had added to it over the years to make it more suitable for a family. We always had great experiences in that yard. I loved to “explore” the area and the little gulley behind their property. The whole area intrigued my young curiosity. I even remember dragging my grandmother through some potentially treacherous areas just because she had to see some object that I found interesting. She was always adventuresome and happy to accompany me through these little treks. Looking back on it, kind of cracks me up just because I was such a little nerd. 😉

One summer, in particular, I remember having a family cookout in my grandparents’ back yard. My great uncle and aunt, who lived down the street, would walk down almost every day to check in and visit. I remember it was really comforting and exciting to have everyone together for a little cookout and some summer fun. I definitely miss those times now that most of them have passed away.

Even as I grew older, I would go and spend the weekend or several days (if it was summer) with my grandparents. My grandpa would always wake up at buttcrack of dawn everyday and go get us biscuits from Hardees for breakfast. The rest of the day was spent prowling around town, visiting relatives and friends, and relaxing. I remember loving being in that house. There was something always very reassuring and comforting about being there. Even on the days that my family would just go to visit for the day, I never wanted to leave. I loved it there. There was something about my grandparents’ way of life, the atmosphere of the house and even the feel of the town that I was drawn to and didn’t want to leave.

As you can see in depicting some of my more brief, but fond memories of my grandparents and Mount Airy, I fell in love with this little town. This adoration for both my grandparents and the town led me to decide to research Mount Airy for this project. I hope to learn more about the town that I always had a warm, nostalgia for all these years.

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Appalachia: Of Blended Nature

Michael Ann Williams’ chapter on Folklife in High Mountains Rising focuses primarily on the blending of various ethnicities and cultures to produce elements of music, dance, and art that are representative of the Appalachian region. From previous reading within this book and also that of United States of Appalachia, I became aware of how diverse the backgrounds of most of the residents in Appalachia actually are in comparison to what I originally had thought. I, like most other people that are ignorant of the history and culture of the region (until now), assumed mainly a predominantly English heritage. To a certain extent that conception is correct. However, the region also consists heavily of Scottish, Irish, and even German descendants. Other ethnicities are also present like that of African, African American, and Eastern European.

In light of Williams’ chapter, I was very intrigued by how these various cultures contributed different elements of their culture to the “budding” of what is known now as Appalachian culture. One of the first topics Williams mentions is that of logging and log homes. This practice and method was not found in the Appalachian region until the German immigrants came and settled there. This practice created not only well-built residences, but also a sense of community. If a new member of a town wanted a home built, the current residents would take time out of their daily activities to assist in building the new home. Unfortunately, in time this also changed with increased demand of timber and new technologies. Even some Native American tribes began to incorporate this method into building their homes.

The next topic that was discussed was that of basketry. Originally, Native American basketry was developed for everyday purposes and had structural differences from that of Anglo-Saxon basketry. For instance, Native American baskets did not have handles. It was not until much later when they were trying to market to white settlers, did they add handles. Further, Anglo-Saxon basketry was considered more of a decorative item rather than a tool. As these two cultures intermixed, they began integrating each other’s methods and styles into a “hybrid” form of basketry.

Another similar item to that of basketry that had a unique background was that of weaving. Weaving was originally brought over by Swedish immigrants. One college, Berea College, asked a Swedish weaver to come and teach weaving/quilting classes in the early twentieth century.
Again, different groups constructed quilts through weaving of various materials. Those who were of a lower socioeconomic status typically used scraps of fabric from old, worn out clothing items. Sometimes in a crunch they even utilized fabric from large feed bags to construct quilts. People of a higher socioeconomic status used more decorative fabrics for making quilts and constructed them more for pleasure, whereas those of lower socioeconomic status made them when they had the materials out of necessity.

Food items were another example of a mixing of cultures. Originally, Native Americans lived mainly off of corn and bread. It wasn’t until Anglo-Saxon settlers came to the states that pork, beef, and other items were integrated into the diet of Native Americans. Cherokees showed white settlers how to find and grow various plants for food such as corn or ginseng for medicinal purposes. Ginseng is actually still one of the major exports of the Appalachian region. Many travelers still rely on locals to assist them in locating it since it has become scarcer due to surface mining and mountain top removal, which have destroyed its natural habitat.

The two final aspects of folk life that Williams discusses are that of “clogging” and music. Clogging is a form of dance that is mixture of Native American, African-American, and Scottish traditions. Each ethnicity contributed various aspects and derived slightly different versions of a similar form of dance. Eventually, each form of dance was eventually distinguished separately. As far as music, the trademark instrument for the Appalachian region is the banjo. Interestingly enough, the banjo is an African instrument that was brought over by slaves to the region. When slaves had the opportunity for leisure, music and dance was an integral part of their lives. Even when they were working, they would sing for comfort and hope. Williams also mentions how a lot of music that is considered “Appalachian” is actually not even from the region. The musicians from the actual region have distinct vocals and ways of “plucking” or “strumming” the instruments. Williams also relates the music style back to religion and how the various forms are evident in the different types of faiths, such as Old Regular Baptists and Southern Baptists.

Overall, it was intriguing to gain insight into how each of these various ethnicities mixed various forms of their culture to make up what is known now as Appalachia. This is quite unique especially since even today the Appalachian region is known for a distinct sound, culture, and style.

 

References

Biggers, J. (2006). The United States of Appalachia: How Southern mountaineers brought independence, culture, and enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard.

Straw, R. A., & Blethen, T. (2004). High mountains rising: Appalachia in time and place. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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A Distinct Language

Michael Montgomery, in his chapter on English Language in High Mountains Rising, deconstructs the misconceptions and realities of the “Appalachian language.” I found it interesting that certain groups of individuals compared the dialect of the region to Shakespearean or Elizabethan language in various regions of England. To me, that seems absurd considering my own personal experiences with the dialect in Appalachia. After reading some examples and reasoning Montgomery provides based on specific excerpts from Shakespearean plays and Elizabethan terminology, it began to make a little more sense to me. However, as Montgomery states in his chapter, these theories about their relationship to these “dialects,” is still very farfetched considering both of these styles were prevalent over a century before most colonists arrived in the Americas.

Montgomery also breaks down the language of Appalachia into several different groupings which incorporate the areas in Europe from which settlers originally descended. These areas included various regions in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. This assertion supports claims made in other readings on geographical migrations to the Appalachian region. I found it amusing as well as interesting to see how certain “slang” or abbreviated terminology came from these different regions originally and how residents of Appalachia shaped all of these different variations into their own distinct language. To a certain degree, I was surprised to discover that some of the slang I have encountered actually originated in various parts of Europe. It is especially amusing when one considers how England’s English language is considered the “proper” form taught in other countries in Europe, yet the language in Appalachia is frowned upon as a sign of ignorance and lack of wealth.

I can strongly relate to this chapter in that when I was growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I purposely tried to not adopt the “southern twang.” I did this simply because I did not want to be thought of as ignorant or “backwards.” I had numerous friends that I interacted with on a daily basis who had the authentic southern drawls, but I still refused to adopt an overt twang and was very conscientious of my language. It did help that my parents did not have much of a Southern drawl, since one of them was originally from Florida. As I have grown older, I have not been as deliberate about this practice, but I believe unconsciously I still attempt to be very careful about my dialect, especially when traveling. This topic is brought up in Montgomery’s chapter in reference to Appalachian residents moving to larger cities like Detroit and Cincinnati. He discusses how these mountaineers were viewed differently than other groups of people. They were frowned upon and falsely stereotyped as ignorant and unable to complete normal duties. Because of this, they (mountaineers) tended to stay in groups and stay true to their upbringings. This was even evident in simply pronouncing the word Appalachian. If you were more likely to pronounce it with a “latch” sound primarily as in Appa-latch-chain, you were automatically staying true to your roots and separating yourself from the “others.” The others, or non-residents of Appalachia, would pronounce the word with primarily a “lay” sound as in Appa-lay-chain. This reiterates the distinction between Appalachians and non-Appalachians. The amusing aspect of this example is that when I traveled to West Virginia University (which is in Northern, West Virginia, almost in Pennsylvania) for a interview for graduate school, a lot of the professors pronounced Appalachian as Appa-lay-chain and I instinctively wanted to say, “No, it is pronounced Appa-latch-ian.” So in the end, I guess I have formally adopted the dialect to a certain degree and I am proud to have spent time living in Appalachia.

 

Straw, R. A., & Blethen, T. (2004). High mountains rising: Appalachia in time and place. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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The Consequences of Mountain Top Removal

I was honestly shocked with “The Rape of Appalachia” and also the documentary that we viewed in class on Wednesday, Black Diamonds. I knew that coal mining was dangerous, unhealthy, and filthy for most miners. I knew that the coal industry was huge in this country, but I did not realize the actual extent of coal in our economy. According to Black Diamonds, the coal industry produces around 50-55% of the energy for the United States. That further displays our country’s dependence on it and why the coal industry is so hostile. The runner-up energy source to coal for this country is nuclear energy at around 20%, which is significant but hardly comparable. I also had heard of mountain-top removal, but have never really known much about the topic. It was interesting to gain more insight into the issue and understand how disastrous this activity is to the ecosystem and local residents.

In reading, “The Rape of Appalachia,” I was also caught off guard at the lack of care and empathy towards not only the environment, but also towards the residents around these mining sites. In both the article and the documentary, residents in SW West Virginia near mining sites (specifically mountain-top removal sites) would feel and hear blasts all hours of the day and night. Further, these residents’ homes and vehicles would be covered several inches of collateral dust/debris/toxins from the explosions. Even their homes’ structural integrity suffered with continual blasts from nearby mining sites. Some of these people were able sue the coal companies and received monetary damages which were insignificant in the broad picture. A lot of these residents had been residing in these areas for multiple generations and had their deceased loved ones buried in the area. Further, they had property and jobs in these towns. Sadly, most of these wronged residents either were forced to move due to lack of rights to the property or mineral rights or were bought off. It astounds me at how merciless these coal companies are to these residents. I understand the importance of coal to our economy, but I feel that is way overboard.

Another interesting story brought up by the article was that of a Marsh Fork Creek elementary school in SW West Virginia. This school was located 300 feet from a coal silo (which stores coal). The school was located in that particular spot before the silo was built by the Massey Coal Company. Due to water and air pollution, countless children have become chronic ill due to upper respiratory illnesses, and gastrointestinal illnesses. Some of the locals believe that the school’s drinking supply of water became contaminated, yet some parents of these children still supported the coal companies. The coal company refused to do anything about it until federal legislation stopped the building of a second silo and forced them to stop the local water pollution.

Like some of my classmates, I was also bewildered at the story of Larry Gibson who owned a large amount of land at the top of a mountain. He had been approached by multiple coal companies to sell his land which he adamantly refused. His family had lived on the land for generations and he was not about to just give it up. Unable to get Gibson to give in sell, these companies turned local coal miners against him claiming that he would be the reason that they might lose their jobs. This absurd statement led multiple angry coal miners and potentially representatives of the coal company to commit violent acts against Gibson and his property. The violent acts ranged from shooting holes in his barn to shooting and hanging his dogs, and trying to flip his car into a ditch.

Overall, it is just absurd how these issues have been handled by corporate companies.  I can understand why so many people are advocating against these practices. Hopefully, we will be able to turn to renewable resources in the future.  

Another view of mountain-top removal

 

The blasting of the mountain to access coal

THE RAPE OF APPALACHIA – Hilltop by hilltop, coal giants such as Massey Energy Company are decapitating Appalachia’s historic mountains. In the blast-scarred Coal River Valley, where a few brave souls are fighting for their land, Michael Shnayerson learns about Massey’s C.E.O. — And his powerful friends in government – Photographs by Colin Finlay. (May 01, 2006). Vanity Fair, 140.

Pancake, C., Graham, L., Pancake, A., & Bullfrog Films. (2006). Black diamonds: Mountaintop removal & the fight for coalfield justice. Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films.

Image References (in order):

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/02/mountaintop-removal-mining-video.php

http://calvinsjc.wordpress.com/

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Potentially Interesting Blogs

An International Blog-Zhao is a Chinese professor living and working in the US who writes blog entries regarding current American events as well as international events; http://zhaolearning.com/category/blog/

A Local Blog-discusses local issues related to Boone, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the High Country; http://blueridgeblog.blogs.com/blue_ridge_blog/2005/07/boone_north_car.html

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The Industrialization in Appalachia

In chapter six of The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America, Jeff Biggers discusses a wide range of topics all connected to Industrialization during the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. Biggers’ main purpose is to shed light on the harsh conditions of the various production and extraction labor jobs in the region. Further, he discusses certain key individuals that led the protests against exploitation of manual laborers. The first, Rebecca Harding, wrote a short fictional piece titled: Life in the Iron Mills. This literary work shed light on one woman’s personal accounts of the horrible conditions that iron workers endured. Harding’s work drew national attention to growing issues surrounding manual labor in major production mills as the need for raw resources increased. She was well praised in the literary field for her brazen, yet painstakingly true depiction of mill workers. Harding was the first of the “muckraking” generation, preceding Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Biggers discusses her life after her success and her continued attempts at educating the general public. Unfortunately, her other literary works were not as popular as her audacious fiction, Life in the Iron Mills. Most writers of the time were bewildered by her uncanny accounts of the production in Appalachia and chose to fall back to “embellish the preindustrial and romantic ways of the mountaineers (Biggers, 145).”

                Biggers continues on to discuss how conditions became worse over time and more and more laborers were being injured, crippled, killed, or acquired illnesses (like Black lung) on top of being malnourished.  As the demand for goods increased and more laborers were being exposed to these harmful conditions, more people began to rise up and challenge the companies, eventually establishing unions.  One of these individuals was: Ella May Wiggins. Biggers states that she “became one of the key mill organizers in the area (Biggers, 154).” Wiggins led a strike against a major mill that harbored women and children laborers in Gastonia. As events escalated, a gun battle occurred killing the chief of police and causing a major revolt in the town. Wiggins, on the way to a union rally around that bloody exchange, was shot to death. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be until much later in history that unions would be recognized and protected under federal laws, and even later before conditions were altered for the better.

                Besides the turmoil related to the mills, coal production began to see its fair share of conflict and the formation of unions began to increase dramatically. Like the mill unionists, the conflict escalated until bloodshed.  To make matters worse, a lot of the coal miners were also war veterans.  A large number of the coal miners came together and began to overtake transportation which brought utilities to the miners. These union protesters wore red sashes and became known as “the rednecks (Biggers, 159).” I wonder if this is where the stereotype might have originated? Unfortunately, this rebellion failed. Biggers also briefly draws parallels to the African-Americans that were pushing for Abolition.

                Fortunately, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Act into law in 1933 (Biggers, 162).” This protected any laborer’s (mill, cotton, or coal) right to belong to a union without any punishment by corporations (Biggers, 162). Biggers concludes the chapter with discussing the immigration into the Appalachian region by Europeans and African Americans during Industrialization. Later, these migrations were halted due to the First World War and the immigrants became fed up with the current conditions, which led to another migration toward large industrial cities. Biggers states that this “great migration from Appalachia might be the region’s most important contribution to industrial America (Biggers, 164).”

                I found it interesting how closely the unionists resembled the African-Americans in the Northeast who were fighting for abolition of slavery in the South. It is intriguing to think back in history to the all of the different “uprisings” that have occurred to improve conditions for various peoples.  I mean even now we are experiencing the exact same scenario in Egypt. The lower class became fed up with not being able to make enough money to provide for themselves and their families, which led to a massive rebellion against the current leader who has been in power for thirty odd years. All that was needed by these people was a spark that gave them the initiative to rise up. This spark was provided by a man who had received a college education and could not find a job that would support his family. He then turned to trying to sell merchandise or food items in a market where he was then severely reprimanded for not having a permit to be a seller. This permit required money he did not have. Being fed up with his dismal position, this man walked into the middle of a street and poured gasoline on and proceeded to set fire to himself. This self-sacrificing spectacle caused a major rift in the poor masses which in turn led to a long rebellion against the government leader. Recently, the president resigned and Egypt is now in the process of establishing a new leader.  This example displays that we as human beings will go through cycles of ups and downs which lead to violence, death, destruction, new legislations, and leaders.

Biggers, J. (2006). The United States of Appalachia: How Southern mountaineers brought independence, culture, and enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard.

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The Pivotal Role of African-Americans in Appalachia

In chapter three Slavery and African-Americans in the Nineteenth Century in High Mountains Rising, John Inscoe compares and contrasts two African-Americans’ lives, both of whom were slaves and later freed. The two slaves are Booker T. Washington and Sam Williams.

Booker T. Washington was a well-educated, prominent proponent of abolition. However, most do not know where his roots originated. Washington was born into slavery in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia to a slave mother and an unknown father who may have even been white. When Washington was around nine years old, the Civil War ended. However, as Inscoe notes “freedom does not mean upward mobility.” Despite newfound freedom, Washington was forced to work in salt production and coal mining. Viewing the number 18 inscribed on the side of a barrel without understanding what it meant and being fed-up with a dangerous, drudgery style of work motivated Washington to seek a better way of life through obtaining an education. After receiving an education, he was able to move out of coal mining. He would later state that he believed that “young boys who begin life in a coal-mine are often physically and mentally dwarfed.” Further, Washington believed that these young boys would “lose ambition to do anything else other than to continue as a coal-miner.” As Inscoe states, Washington “was one of the few – certainly very few black miners – who escaped such a fate.”

Sam Williams, on the other hand, lived a vastly different life compared to Washington. Sam Williams, who was also a slave in Virginia, worked strictly in a steel refinery. Due to his level of skill in the field, he eventually moved up to become a “master refiner.” Williams saw his advancement in the field as a way to move up in the “hierarchy of his slave community and workforce.” After the Civil War commenced, Williams was freed from his enslavement like other African-Americans. Instead of moving away from his master, Williams asked his former master for work doing the exact same labor had been doing as a slave. He continued to work hard, long hours to support his growing family through the years.

In discussing these two men’s lives, Inscoe not only wants to give two different perspectives on lifestyles of African-Americans during this period of time, but highlight the conditions of pre and post-Civil War conditions for ex-slaves. Further, he hopes to prove the importance of African-Americans to the major refineries of the time that help to stimulate the American economy. African-American slaves were more prominent within the Appalachian region during this period of time than most previously thought. These slaves were forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy condition to extract and produce large quantities of salt, gold, and coal. After the Civil War ended, many African Americans that were once slaves were left without a direction or way to make a living. This led many to still be very dependent upon their previous masters as well as difficult physical labor that at times proved to be either unhealthy or dangerous. Unfortunately, abolition did not protect these ex-slaves from such tedious professions. For the few who were able to escape such awful conditions, they sought refuge in the urban areas through educational advancement. Those who were able to escape were usually the ones who not only drove the movement toward abolition, but also tried to improve conditions for African-Americans in the work-force. Unfortunately, the demands for the goods produced through the manual labor ex-slaves performed was very high, and the ones who were desperate for wages to make a living and willing to do whatever was necessary were ex-slaves. Further, a lot of the ex-slaves already had experience with these types of physical labor. As a result, although they gained their freedom, very few ex-slaves were able to improve their standard of living.

I thought it was very interesting to not only gain perspective on the lives of two very different men who were both slaves, but also of how limited African-Americans were after the Emancipation Proclamation. I am grateful that the African-Americans gained their freedom and didn’t have to be exposed to such harsh treatment by white “masters.” However, the government failed to find ways to effectively incorporate them into the workforce and society, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. I do realize that the government and country in general was going through a vast restoration period filled with bitterness, pain, economic turmoil, and disorganization, but it just seems like there would have been more steps taken to ensure a little more stability for their transition. Further, like Williams, many of the ex-slaves went back and worked for their previous masters. This, in a sense, defeats the point of getting away from slavery, with the exception of the barbaric treatment. Due to their hostilities toward the government and hatred of the American-Americans, many white southerners still treated ex-slaves horribly. This continued until the 1960s Civil Rights movement. It just seems illogical that more wasn’t done immediately following abolition to assist ex-slaves in assimilation as well as to protect them from prejudice like Jim Crow Laws.

I also was unaware of how many African-American Slaves were present during the nineteenth century in the Appalachian Region. I figured there would be some, but I thought there would be a lot less than there actually was due to the geography as well as the lifestyles of the mountaineers. Further, I was not aware of how active African-Americans were in the major industries like: coal, salt, and gold. They were a vital work force that helped to keep us supplied with raw natural resources which in turn, stimulated our economy. It would be interesting to see how things might have been if slavery had never been present in our country’s history and if these African-Americans had not participated in these industries. Maybe we would not have progressed as quickly as we did industrially?

 

Straw, R. A., & Blethen, T. (2004). High mountains rising: Appalachia in time and place. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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The First Independent Republic of America

In The First Washington, D.C., of The United States of Appalachia: How Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America, Jeff Biggers discusses the first independent republic in this country. Just by the title of the chapter, thoughts of the American Revolution, patriots, and the Boston Tea Party come to mind, which I’m sure is common for most people. However, this is not the “republic” that Biggers is referring to in this chapter. Biggers is discussing the region of western North Carolina, Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky.

As most know, the British controlled the first thirteen colonies (states) of the United States. They had arranged a proclamation which drew a boundary between the western mountains of North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. The western boundaries were set aside for the Native American tribes whereas the Eastern boundaries were designated for English (and other ethnicities) settlements. Some prominent names within the thirteen colonies became exasperated with British taxations and regulations and fled to the West along the Appalachian Mountains. Some of these prominent names include: the Carters, Browns, Beans (Biggers, 49-50). Each of these families brought with them power and finance which allowed them to settle large plots of land. As time progressed, more and more settlers moved west into the mountains. These vast migrations led to the white settlers’ infringement of designated boundaries. This turmoil led to several disputes between the white settlers and the Native Americans. These disputes became more extensive which led the British to reprimand the white settlers. After the difficulty of being stuck in the middle of both the Native American tribes on the west and the unjust English rule on the east, these settlers decided to establish their own legislations and eventual declaration as an independent republic (the district of Washington). Because the British desired to remain in control of the colonies, they attempted to force the Washingtonians to submit and conform to the laws instated by the British over the colonies. Further, the English attempted to get the Native American tribes to help enforce this hope. However, being intelligent and well aware of the various pieces of legislation of the colonies and coming to an agreement/arrangement among the Native American tribes, the Washingtonians were able to devise a loop-hole which protected them from the English legislation (Biggers 53-56). Instead of buying the land or residing in a territory which was considered illegal, they “rented” or leased their land from the Native Americans (Biggers, 53-56).   This action of defiance was the first attempt at becoming independent from Great Britain in the colonies of America. Despite the difficulty this independent state encountered with failing relations among the Native American tribes and the English, which led to numerous battles, this pivotal moment in history set the stage for the American Revolution. It reminded all the colonists of the unjust regulation of their region by the British and the need for independence (Biggers, 64-66).

I found this chapter rather intriguing in the sense that I never was aware of the bold and rather important part that Appalachia played in early American history. Never once, did I hear any mention of these events which led to the establishment of the District of Washington. It makes me question why, especially growing up in  North Carolina that no professor or teacher throughout my education ever brought this up much less spent time discussing it. I was always taught about the North-Eastern colonies that brought about the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our country. It is nice to finally see a new perspective on the subject. Further, it elicits an immense pride in the region for their vital role in our history.

I also found it interesting that in many of our readings and experiences with Appalachia, stereotypes are brought to mind. To me, this revelation about their importance in American history puts to shame any stereotype that mountaineers are backwards or ignorant. To be able to understand and be able to manipulate the British legislations that existed at the time, these settlers had to be very intelligent and knowledgeable. Further proof of this is that they were able to come to an agreement among the Native American tribes that absolutely despised their presence in the Americas. Their decisive actions also display the boldness and courage to stand up against adversity, which gave other settlers in the colonies courage to do so as well. All in all, I believe that this chapter would not only challenge a lot of stereotypes but obliterate them.

 

Biggers, J. (2006). The United States of Appalachia: How Southern mountaineers brought independence, culture, and enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard.

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Misconception of Cherokee Women

In the excerpts from Theda Perdue’s non-fiction text, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, Perdue addresses not only the culture of the Cherokee tribe, but also the roles of women in society. Perdue begins by discussing a historical mythological story which sets the stage for the significance and duties of women within the tribe. The main character of this myth is Selu, the god of agriculture and specifically maize or corn. Selu is represented as a woman who ties in directly to the designated duties of females in the Native American culture. Women are held responsible for taking care of “household” chores like that of cooking and retrieving water. In fact, retrieving water is viewed as a famine activity so that any male whom partakes of such activity is ridiculed and viewed as containing the essence of a female. The major duty that women must attend to is agriculture. Women are expected to till the ground allotted to the family, plant the seed, watch for predators, scare predators off, and harvest the various crops. Men take no part in this process. Men are only reserved for hunting and warfare. However, on long hunting treks, some women are chosen to accompany the men to perform their gender assigned roles of retrieving water and cooking for the hunters as well as themselves. Now, this is not to say that there weren’t men who performed some “feminine “tasks or women who partook of “masculine” tasks like battle. As mentioned briefly earlier, these individuals were rare and considered to contain more of the opposite sex’s soul. Some women who engaged in warfare were highly respected and feared by many.

Women were also required to seclude themselves during menstruation for fear of special, potent powers of their blood.  Also, during pregnancy, women were expected to follow extremely strict dietary regulations that some might find very odd. Some ascertain that this regulation of diet assisted in the production of very healthy children. Some theorists believe that the reason they didn’t have many mentally or physically handicapped individuals was because the mother alone had the right to determine the fate of the newborn child. They claim that if the mother detected any oddities, she could either leave the child alone in the woods or dispose of it completely. From what I could ascertain, this argument is based on some factual knowledge and some speculation.  

Some academics and researchers have brazenly made claims that the Cherokee men simply exploited females in regards to their agricultural duties and discriminated against them in relation to menstruation. In these excerpts, Perdue attempts to put forth factual knowledge that these women didn’t have those feelings or opinions at all. These women simply thought that that was their duty in this world and they were going to perform their duties to the best of their ability for their families and their tribe. Further, women believed in strictly abiding by their mythological and religious teachings to prevent any negative events from occurring. Some researchers might claim that these women, due to lack of experience with other cultures, knowledge, and education, adhered to regulations that were discriminatory and unfair. I pose a challenge to these critics to try and be objective about their views. One cannot let one’s own culture determine what is right and what is wrong. Nor can one let their societal beliefs cloud their judgments about what activities are gender appropriate given the circumstances. These individuals must be able to leave behind their subjectiveness and put themselves in the shoes of Native Americans during this period of time. When they realize the hardships the Native Americans faced, the chores they had to do on a daily basis just to survive, and the advancement of a new, intimidating Caucasian race, then perhaps one can more fairly judge their way of life. It is likely that Native American women may have not had the luxuries that Caucasian women had back then, much less today, but they did what they deemed necessary for survival. Their way of life obviously worked for them for many years before the white man ever arrived.

This reading reminded me a lot of the chapter out of The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America about the development of the Native American lexicon. It brings to light again the various struggles in understanding different cultures and being tolerant of them. It seems that Caucasians in general have had serious struggles understanding and accepting the Native Americans’ lifestyle and culture simply because we have been blinded by our own societal biases. This lack of understanding and tolerance as well as fear is what led to endless battles and discriminatory behaviors. Further, it didn’t help that we as Americans were driven by Manifest Destiny. Even when Native Americans attempted to assimilate and elevate their standards of life, Caucasians were still intolerant. In fact, the “bettering” of the Native American culture only raised more fear in Caucasians.  It seems that this fear, lack of understanding, intolerance, and discrimination have predominated American culture up until the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement. Even now, there is still prejudice and discrimination against people that we view as different from the “typical” American. I realize that prejudice and discrimination will not ever completely be removed from society, but I hope in generations to come, that people, overall, will be more tolerant and understanding of one another.

Perdue, T., & American Council of Learned Societies. (1998).

Cherokee women: Gender and culture change, 1700-1835.

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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The Development of a Lexicon

In Jeff Biggers, The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America, I found The Trail of Tears chapter to be quite intriguing. I found the opening verse from a Cherokee myth to be quite poetic as well as setting the stage for the rest of the chapter. After the presentation of the myth, Biggers begins to discuss a prominent ethnologist who studied Cherokee culture, which serves as a perfect transition into how the Cherokee language became more than an oral tradition. Biggers traces the Gist/Guess/Guest family over three generations to allow the reader to fully grasp the establishment of the Cherokee written language. Despite the assumption by the reader, the first two Gist ancestors were of English, Caucasian descent rather than Native American ethnicity. The first two ancestors, Christopher and son, Nathaniel, had ties to prominent American names such as the Cromwells and the Washingtons. Both of these men were active in the English and later, the American military forces, as well as Native American affairs. Nathaniel, in particular, was assigned the lead position in Cherokee affairs (Biggers, 33). Nathaniel’s complex duty of being a trader, “messenger, negotiator, soldier, and consort” made his life rather tumultuous (Biggers, 33). Through his consistent and rather intimate contacts with one of the tribes, Nathan became father to a bi-racial son, Sequoyah, who was also known as George. As an adult and with rising turmoil spreading between the Native American tribes and the English/Americans, Sequoyah sought to disprove the barbaric stereotypes about Native Americans. Through intensive studies and work, Sequoyah was able to construct a lexicon for the Cherokee nation. At first, numerous authoritative members within the Cherokee nation rejected it because they viewed it as a method of assimilation into the white man’s traditions. Sequoyah, in time, was able to get “85%” of Cherokee people to adopt the written format of their language (Biggers, 38). The Cherokee nation began to see the written language not as a tool to conform to the white man’s ways, but rather, as a lexicon to distinguish them as well as challenge any negative stereotypes that had arisen through time. The development of the lexicon led to multiple Native American newspapers which were widely distributed.    Biggers ends the chapter with a line from the Cherokee myth that began the chapter. The quotation is quite symbolic of Sequoyah’s life and that of the Native American people.

            After summarizing the chapter, I hope that one would be able to appreciate the great measures that several generations went through to maintain somewhat peaceful and productive relations between the English/Americans and the Native American Culture. Further, I hope one would recognize, maybe more than before, the intense struggles that arose between these different groups of people within the Appalachian region. I found the chapter especially interesting because of the development of a Cherokee lexicon. Until this book, I was unaware that Native Americans had a lexicon. I was under the falsely mistaken premise that all of their rich culture, language, and mythology has been verbal and never had the chance to make the transition to a written format. I think that Sequoyah’s vital contribution challenged the views of both the Cherokee and the English/Americans. It challenged the barbaric, uneducated, ignorant biases the Caucasians had about the Native Americans, but it also challenged the traditional ways of thinking for the Cherokee. Cherokee discovered that this new tool did not serve as an assimilation device, but rather a cultural icon that could be used to their advantage in political and military realms. I found Bigger’s combination of historical events along with the personal accounts of the Gist/Guess/Guest family to be the perfect balance of importance along with an element that allowed all readers to relate. Further, the inclusion of the Cherokee myth in both the beginning and the end of the chapter was artistically crafted thus enhancing the overall effect the chapter had on the reader. Overall, well-done, Mr. Biggers! 😀

Biggers, J. (2006).The United States of Appalachia: How Southern mountaineers brought independence, culture, and enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard.

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