The United States of Appalachia

by
Book jacket of "The United States of Appalachia," by Jeff Biggers

by Jeff Biggers (excerpt)

Beyond its mythology as a quaint backwater in the American imagination, Appalachia also needs to be embraced for its historic role as a vanguard region in the United States.  Would you believe me if I said an Appalachian preceded, led or influenced every one of these historic events or gatherings? That years before Jefferson completed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, a backwoods settlement had already stunned the British Crown with its independence as a “dangerous example for the people of America.”

That an alliance of Southern Appalachian insurgents orchestrated their own attacks on British-led troops and turned the tide of the American Revolution. That a humble band of mountain preachers and writers published the first abolitionist newspaper in the nation and trained the radical Garrison. That a Cherokee mountaineer invented the first syllabary in modern times. That a back-hills young woman astounded the Boston literary circles in 1861, with the first American short story of working-class realism to be published in the Atlantic Monthly.

That a young publisher from Chattanooga actually took over the New York Times and set its course for world acclaim. That the “high priestess of soul” put a spell on an audience at the Village Vanguard in 1959, with her blend of folk, jazz, gospel, country, and Bach-motif riffs she had learned in her Southern Appalachian hamlet. That a self-proclaimed “radical hillbilly” galvanized the shock troops of the civil rights movement and returned an African spiritual and labor song as its anthem. That the first American woman ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature was recognized for her family memoirs of West Virginia as much as for her literary contributions to the Far East.

This is Appalachia’s best-kept secret: Far from being a “strange land with peculiar people,” the mountains and hills have been a stage for some of the most quintessential and daring American experiences of innovation, rebellion, and social change.

This book is an attempt to enter another part of Appalachia, or, in fact, we should say Southern Appalachia, that mountain spine and its valley tributaries that trundle along the eastern and Southern states from northern Alabama to southwestern Pennsylvania. (The Appalachian Regional Commission actually defines Appalachia from southern New York to northern Mississippi.) It is not a definitive history of the region; instead, it is a portrait of a hidden Appalachia on the cutting edge, full of revolutionaries and pioneering stalwarts, abolitionists, laborers, journalists, writers, activists, and artists overlooked among the lineup of conventional Appalachian suspects.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s