The vast Appalachia region stretches across 13 states and is home to more than 23 million people, yet it may be the least understood culture in America. Appalachia has existed for generations as a region apart, isolated physically and culturally by its rugged mountains. This 3-part series is a comprehensive historical and cultural overview of this distinctive region. It documents the unique legacy, courage, character, arts and culture of the central and southern Appalachian people. It includes the work of outstanding Appalachian historians and scholars, writers and musicians, including Ricky Skaggs, Loretta Lynn and traditional folk artists from the region.
Episode #103 Duration: 56:40 STEREO TVG
At the turn of the 20th century, the phonograph and the radio exposed the mountain people to new influences, and took mountain music across America. Stars like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family began making records. And it was a radio program at WSM in Nashville, Tennessee, that gave birth to the Grand Ole Opry.
But times were hard, and Appalachia fell into an economic depression even before the rest of the country. President Roosevelt's New Deal was a great boon to the region. The TVA brought electricity into the mountain hollers; the WPA and the CCC offered jobs and built infrastructure. Roosevelt was a hero in Appalachia, and many wondered how they would have survived without the New Deal.
World War II took many young people from the mountains. After the war, underground mines were mechanized, and miners were laid off. Throughout the 1950's, people flocked to the big cities in search of work. For those who tried to stay home, it became harder to hold on to their land. State and federal governments claimed property for dams; family farmsteads were flooded, and more people moved away. It was one of the largest internal migrations in American history, and left many Appalachian people displaced in an urban world.
The War on Poverty in the 1960's again sent federal aid into Appalachia. But television and magazines showed painful images of hunger and poverty, reinforcing the stereotype of the poor hillbilly.
The nation still has a need for coal, and methods have been found to produce it more cheaply and efficiently. In the 1950's, it was strip-mining, and for the past thirty years it has been a process that opponents call `mountain-top removal.' The rich land of Appalachia has been a magnet for investors, and the great majority of land in the region is now in the hands of outsiders.
In recent years, life has improved in Appalachia, though there is still severe poverty in remote areas. But the cities are vibrant, and traditional culture is being revived. Three centuries of history live on, in the songs of the mountain people.