|Courtesy: Berea College|
The older generations of Appalachians were not uneducated, ignorant, or backwards. They were skilled and crafty; capable of living off the land and knowing who could and could not be trusted. For the majority of Appalachians, their handshake was as good as any legal contract, and their beliefs often centered upon the golden rule of “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” For many, this often translated into loving thy neighbor and other lessons such as “giving is better than receiving.” Such knowledge and understanding became the fibers from which some of the most tight nit communities in our nation were weaved and was essential to making a life of subsistence and freedom possible in the mountain wilderness.Mountain people were only considered “uneducated” or “ignorant” by societal standards, the same societies who measured people’s worth by the amount and rarity of useless materials one could purchase, or the amount of people they could enslave/employ to obtain more material wealth.
Those in the mountains who could not read or write effectively were often denied the ability due to the lack of good public schools and/or the need to stay at home and tend to the chores necessary to continue their lives of basic homesteading. Though their education was not from schools, books, or universities, the traditional Appalachian family’s knowledge of the land, and their passion for living upon it in freedom, could have easily equaled that of having a Ph.D.
|Mountain Homestead – Photo by R.L. Mullins|
This “down home” intelligence, as I refer to it, far outweighed a college degree making any derogatory statements about the intelligence of mountain people utterly and morally wrong. Times have changed however.
Our ancestors were forcibly transitioned from subsistence living to economic living. They were forced into a materialistic society. As this occurred they were made to work in the coal mines to keep their families alive. Their lack of access to education, coupled with the mono-economy put in place by the coal industry, sealed the fate of our forefathers and literally damned them to a life of coal company servitude. Starting unions, fighting the greeds and control of coal companies, and doing what they could to be good neighbors despite the circumstances is the true heroism and self-sacrifice I associate with the coal mining profession.
Had I applied myself more in the Dickenson County school system, terrible though it was, I could have gone on to college. Had it been a regular, non-coalfield school system, the question of going to college would have been answered with a definite
|Courtesy Dickenson County Schools|
yes, but I must admit there were many students not outside of the affluent who worked hard and went on to college where they did surprisingly well. I, and so many, others did not.
- Continue working in the coal mines for large paychecks while knowing they can be killed and will ultimately suffer debilitating long term health problems?
- Intentionally ignore scientific evidence regarding the detrimental health effects upon families who live near mining as a result of mining processes and the mono-economy perpetuated by the coal industry?
- Choose to ignore the history of Appalachian struggles against the coal industry and instead embrace a new found love of the industry by blindly accepting everything the industry tells them?
- Continuously sacrifice the environment necessary for the good health of our children and future generations?
- Go into tremendous debt for recreational items and/or unnecessarily large homes and vehicles based upon the income of an industry proven to have “booms and busts,” a decision that ultimately puts their family’s well-being at risk?
- Choose to use hearsay as their basis of knowledge in political decision making rather than taking the time to perform the proper research on various issues themselves?
- Choose to be racists or bigots?
- Support organizations such as “Coal Mining Our Future” that promotes the idea of their children being coal miners who will eventually face the same debilitating health and economic problems?
- Intentionally withdraw from the workforce to pursue government assistance while supporting a substance abuse problem?
- Currently stand up for their neighbors in a fight for the betterment of Appalachia even if it involves going without a big paycheck (similar to what our fathers did)?
Today, when I look at Appalachia as a whole and I see the amount of “Friends of Coal” stickers plastered on people’s vehicles, I begin to realize that few folks have stopped to research what “Friends of Coal” really is and have made some pretty poor choices with regard to those I mentioned. So I’m on the fence with all of the stereotyping of Appalachian intelligence these days. Could it be that we have
|A truck in Hazard, Kentucky – Photo by R.L. Mullins|
started living up to the old stereotypes? When I think back to previous generations, I believe emphatically that it was wrong to call our ancestors “ignorant hillbillies.” Today, it’s hard to take in the many choices my fellow Appalachian people are making. I often wonder if they haven’t begun living up to the stereotypes placed upon us. Who else would agree that cancer rates are on the rise in their hometowns, yet choose to ignore peer reviewed scientific reports on how coal companies are poisoning their water sources and then turn around to support the companies who are causing it all? Who would ignore a history wrought with honest to God human struggle against the power of the coal industry and instead begin singing the praises of companies who have never, and will never, care about the health and welfare of Appalachian people?
|Senator Mitch McConnell|
Start by getting rid of your debts and using less. Learn your history and learn about the scientific reports regarding environmental health and coal mining. Then start cleaning house of politicians whose campaigns are funded by the coal companies—whose cell phones are on the coal association’s speed dials.
Put in representatives willing to work towards a diverse economy, a better education system, and who will work to create jobs by 1. Making coal companies clean up their messes and 2. Bring in industries that really do have a future—such as those in energy efficiency.
It’s not just about making the smart choice; it’s about making the right choice…