The term Appalachia often conjures up images of moonshining and feuding, of the uneducated and backward. Terms such as hillbilly, redneck, backward, poor, and ignorant have come to describe the majority of the people in the Appalachians.
I once attended a summer science institute at North Carolina State University. People came from all across the United States. I asked a lady I knew was not from the south, “How do you like North Carolina?” She answered, “I love it here, I was expecting killings in the streets.” I was startled, but that was the image of the Appalachians, the media, and others, had painted for this lady.
I read Horace Kephart’s novel, Our Southern Highlanders, a novel written in 1922 about his life in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. He wrote of the people of the Southern Appalachians and a study of the life among the mountaineers.
In one place he wrote, “They are people of keen intelligence and strong initiative when they see anything to win.” He added, “They are apart from other folks by dialect, by custom, and by character, and by self-conscious isolation.
With just a little research, we would find that hardly a family today doesn’t have a member with some college education. We find, just in North Carolina, 131 colleges and universities. This includes the University of North Carolina founded in 1789, and Tri-County Community College founded in 1964 and this year celebrate their 50th Anniversary.
The Appalachian region includes 13 states, but people, including Horace Kephart usually just include the following states: West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia as making up the Unakas or Unaka System or Southern Appalachia.
I’m proud of my Appalachian heritage, the people of the Appalachians, the culture, the dialect, and character. I have no statistics, but will venture to say that our belief and practice of religion far surpasses any other region of the United States. That is a practice handed down for generations.
What Edgar Allen Poe judged in 1845, “The Appalachian people are an uncouth and fierce race of men,” is no longer true, but today we are a proud group of people with a proud heritage, and a deep faith in our fellow man and in our God. We are still, to quote Horace Kephart, people of keen intelligence and strong initiative.