Appalachia that stretches across the eastern United States, running from New York down to northern Mississippi. The former hunting grounds of the Cherokee and other indigenous groups, Appalachia became home to colonists seeking to escape oppressive British rule. Later, it was marked by the routes and hideouts of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. Growing into a center of abolitionism, more than a quarter million southern mountaineers joined the Union army during the Civil War.
But it was after the war that things began to change, as Appalachia was recognized as a distinctive cultural region in the late nineteenth century. Large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought industry to the region, taking advantage of the abundant natural resources of the land. Miners were recruited from southern prison conscript labor, local subsistence farms, African American communities in the south, and even towns and villages throughout Europe.
Despite the profits made by the mining and logging companies, the people of Appalachia have long struggled with poverty, as health care and educational facilities failed to meet the communities’ needs. At the same time, the region became a source of enduring myths and distortions about its inhabitants. As the media began focusing on sensationalized stories like moonshining and clan feuding, Appalachia became seen as America’s white ghetto, home to an uneducated and violent underclass.
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Photo: Builder Levy. Sisters, Osage, Scotts Run, Monongalia, West Virginia, 1970. Gold-toned gelatin silver print.