Anonymous said: I live in eastern Kentucky (Ashland area) and a friend once told me that we aren't really apart of Appalachia since where just in the foothills and not in the wv/ky coal fields, the moutins of Tennessee or in the deep woods of the Carolina's Your thoughts?
I really like this question since it seems to stump most people outside of the region and even some within. Your friend is mistaking Appalachia for the core Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Blue Ridge chain and the Ridge and Valley, which together make up the regions you’ve just described. Most of Eastern Kentucky is on what is known as the Appalachian Plateau, which is where the ancient mountains start rolling into hills and then into farmland. Geography aside, Appalachia is a broader region than just the center mountain chain because Appalachia describes a culture—a culture which permeates most of Eastern Kentucky as well as the Western region of West Virginia that isn’t necessarily “mountainous.” If you’d like any insights as to what defines Appalachian culture, I’d love to dig up some insightful academic articles about our past and present. Otherwise, I hope this has helped. Please ask if anything needs clarification.
What do you have in common with a firefighter in Scranton, Pa., a homemaker in the suburbs of Ithaca, N.Y., and a preschooler in Tishomingo County, Miss.? According to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), you are all residents of Appalachia.
ARC was the first government entity to offer an official definition of Appalachia. Prior to the inception of ARC, differing areas had been identified as Appalachia using criteria such as history, culture, geography, geology, and topography. However, in the 1960s, economic development, or lack thereof, was the yardstick used to measure the boundaries of Appalachia. President John F. Kennedy planted the seeds for ARC, and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, nourished the program as part of the War on Poverty. Lawmakers recognized the area as encompassing all of West Virginia and the mountainous areas of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. However, ever-changing political and economic currents have given Appalachia fluidity unheard of in other U.S. regions. Between 1965 and 2005, Appalachia “grew” from 11 states (360 counties) to 13 states (410 counties), reaching as far northeast as lower New York state and as far southwest as Mississippi.
Do these shifting, artificial boundaries impact one’s sense of identity? It is doubtful. Many of the people in ARC’s Appalachia don’t even realize they are identified as living in Appalachia. If they were made aware of it, some might shrug off the designation, while others might contest it with great vehemence. I wonder if any would embrace it. How many of us, who live in what’s considered the core of Appalachia, welcome the term?
A former coworker of mine insisted that we never use the terms “Appalachian” or “Appalachia” in our marketing materials because she believed the terms carried negative connotations. Standing in the midst of Appalachia, we were to deny its existence.
Perhaps it’s a moot point as to whether you reject or accept yourself as an Appalachian. Appalachia, defined and redefined to the nth degree, never quite fits any of its labels in a way that satisfies. John Alexander Williams, author of Appalachia: A History, espouses the theory that those who attempt to classify Appalachia walk away with the belief that it is a place of invention, “a territory only of the mind.”
Poet Michael Chitwood, in his book Gospel Road Going, speaks of “The Great Wagon Road, or Why Appalachians Are Mountains and a People”: “Locally, it took its name from where it was going, the potent away-from-here, the better place … .” That thought warms my heart. No matter who tries to define Appalachia, or how, those of us who live Appalachia know that it is the better place.