Virginia Tech Professor's Books Challenge Appalachian Myths

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According to conventional wisdom, residents of Appalachia had few slaves, and the slaves who did live in the region received better treatment than their counterparts in the Deep South. Virginia Tech sociologist Dr. Wilma Dunaway says much of this conventional wisdom is plain wrong.

"We do a lot of historical lying in this country," she told The Roanoke Times. In her new books, Slavery in the American Mountain South and The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation, she intends to set the record straight.

Dunaway said she has studied slave narratives, slaveholder records and tax and census records from 215 Appalachian counties in nine states, including Maryland, Georgia and Alabama. Not only was slavery common in the mountain South, it was more brutal than the slave systems in the Deep South, her research concluded.

Among the ideas Dunaway addresses in her new books is the thought that Appalachian slaveholders treated slaves like extended family members. She said slave narratives paint a darker picture.

Between October and December, enslaved men were hired out for the year. One of every three Appalachian slaves probably would be sold away from their families by the age of 40, she said. The author argues that this forced migration destroyed Black families and left women without any help in raising their children and without protection from predatory White owners. Only about half of the enslaved children lived to the age of 15, another factor that led to the destruction of enslaved families, Dunaway says. …