They Are Just like the Rest of Us, Only with a Bigger Home: Spatial Integration of Socio-Economic Classes in Rural Mingo County, West Virginia
Leonard, James M., Southeastern Geographer
This paper examines the extent of economic segregation (ES) in rural Mingo County, West Virginia. Most studies of ES focus on large urban areas and are quantitative in nature, but because of the weaknesses of traditional quantitative techniques, I turn to qualitative analysis in this paper. Initial evidence derived from interpretation of the built environment supports the hypothesis that Mingo County is not highly segregated by socioeconomic status, leading to further probing. Interviews with residents of three small Mingo County neighborhoods are adduced as evidence of real interactions among members of different economic classes. I find that traditional forces of ES are weak and that place-specific factors such as racial and income homogeneity, division of family land, and a culture that promotes a family-like community outside family boundaries generate the spatial integration of socio-economic classes in the county.
KEY WORDS: economic segregation, class, rural, Mingo County, West Virginia
Este articulo examina el alcance de la segregacion economica (ES) en el condado rural de Mingo, West Virginia. La mayoria de los estudios de ES se centran en grandes dreas urbanas y son de naturaleza cuantitativa, pero debido a las debilidades de los tecnicas cuantitativas tradicionales, en este articulo recurro al analisis cualitativo. La eviden cia inicial derivada de la interpretacion de areas construidas apoya la hipotesis de que el condado de Mingo no esta altamente segregado por estatus socio-economico, lo que demanda una investigacion mas profunda. Entrevistas con residentes de tres veeindarios pequenos del condado de Mingo, son asadas como evidencia de interacciones reales entre miembros de clases sociales diferentes. Yo noto que las fuerzas tradicionales de ES son debiles y que los factores propios del lugar, tales como la homogeneidad de raza e ingresos, division de las tierras de la familia y una cultura que promueve una comunidad como de familia fuera de los limites familiares, genera la integracion espacial de las clases socio-economicas en el condado.
John Edwards' 2008 Presidential campaign focused attention on what he called Two Americas--one rich and the other poor--who are "segregated by race and economic status" (John Edwards 2007). The setting of Edwards' personal home seems to illustrate this principle--his 40-hectare (100-acre) North Carolina estate worth an estimated $6 million is shielded by forest and "No Trespassing" signs and sits across the highway from a mobile home park, an abandoned house, and a car repair shop owned by a nearby resident of a single-wide trailer (Carrington 2007; Christensen 2007). The vivid juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, seemingly common in rural Appalachia, attracted my attention during a summer workshop for teachers that I and a colleague conducted in rural Mingo County, West Virginia. Subsequent field work in the county revealed the complexion of the neighborhoods where mixing of rich and poor residents along the same streets presented landscapes challenging preconceived notions of economic segregation in rural Appalachia. While the Edwards' estate represents rural economic segregation similar to a gated community, what I found in Mingo County was not a deep social rift resulting in spatial segregation but a close coexistence of socio-economic classes.
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Despite extensive quantitative research chronicling and measuring pervasive, intense economic segregation (ES) in America, as a resident of the Appalachian region, the built environment I see around me causes me to question the extent of ES here. Figure 1 shows a neighborhood scene in Mingo County, West Virginia where a wealthy family dwells in the relative comfort of a modern upper-middle class home which is adjacent to their poor neighbors living in ramshackle mobile homes. In this landscape, however, there is no visual evidence of residential ES: all residences are in the same hollow with no fences, walls, or signs enforcing exclusivity, subject to the same flooding hazard, paying taxes for and sharing the same public schools and services, and accessing the same amenities. There seems to be no recent influx of disadvantaged migrants to the community encroaching on an upper crust neighborhood, rather the most recent construction apparently reflects an upper class family choosing to live on a parcel closely adjoining lower class residences. Such streetscapes seem to illustrate that the wealthier residents in rural Appalachia do not seek to avoid abjectly impoverished neighbors. Instead of ES and discrimination, the mixing of the residences of the rich and poor may lead to actual neighboring, shared experiences, and concern for the plight of the poor.
This paper examines the extent of ES in rural Mingo County, West Virginia. Most studies of ES focus on large urban areas and are quantitative in nature, but because of the weaknesses of traditional quantitative techniques, I turn to qualitative analysis in this paper. Initial evidence derived from interpretation of the built environment supports the hypothesis that Mingo County is not highly segregated by socio-economic status, leading to further probing. Interviews with residents of three small Mingo County neighborhoods are adduced as evidence of real interactions among members of different economic classes. I find that traditional forces of ES are weak and that place-specific factors such as racial and income homogeneity, division of family land, and a culture that promotes a family-like community outside family boundaries generate the spatial integration of socio-economic classes in the county.
The next section of this paper, Research Context, briefly summarizes current ES research. The third section of the paper investigates Quantitative Measures of ES. When quantitative techniques that rely on census units are applied to rural ES, two weaknesses are evident: 1) the ecological fallacy of interpolating local conditions from statistics employing large census units and, 2) the division of neighborhoods by arbitrary census unit boundaries. To illustrate, I compare rural Mingo County with urban Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Ohio. The fourth section, Mingo County, provides geographical context and initial impressions of ES in the county from observing the built environment. Mingo County exhibits neighborhoods where the wealthy upper or upper-middle class households live alongside the working class and poor. To determine whether neighbors of vastly different socio-economic classes really interact in these settings, I visited with the residents. These interviews appear in section five, Neighborhood Interviews. In the Discussion and Conclusion sections, I make sense of what I observed by incorporating the notion of geographical contingency, the concept that a variety of place-specific qualities of Mingo County produces a landscape of spatial integration.
A great deal of scholarly attention has been focused on the development, expansion, and negative impact of metropolitan area ES in the United States (see Massey 1996; Pack 1998; Holloway et al. 1999; Wang and Minor 2002; Fischer et al. 2004; Ross et al. 2004; Zenk et al. 2005; Glasmeier 2005; Brinegar and Leonard 2008).
While rural areas have attracted considerably less attention, Massey (1996) opined that ES in rural America was minimal and reminisced about the idyllic society, long since gone, where "most people live in small towns and villages ... mix socially, share the same public services, and inhabit the same political units" (p 406). Researchers, however, generally conclude that rural areas are as economically segregated or more economically segregated, even controlling for race, than urban areas. Specifically, quantitative analyses of non-metropolitan ES in the United States at the county scale (Murdock et al. 1994; Nord 1998; McLaughlin et al. 2001; Lee et al. 2003; Crowley and Roscigno 2004) and small town scale have generally concluded that poverty is spatially concentrated in non-metropolitan areas, fostering a "two-class structure ... where low-income people are stigmatized" (Parisi et al. 2005, p 472).
In addition, the few qualitative case studies of rural ES in Appalachia chronicle the dominance of elites and subsequent ES of "many of the poorest families ... in the hollows on the outskirts of town" (Jarosz and Lawson 2002, p 18; summarizing Duncan 1999; see also Pudup 2002). Jarosz and Lawson (2002) extrapolate their case study of ES originating in the coal industry's owner-worker dichotomy from Kentucky (and two other cases in Florida and Washington State) to the rest of Appalachia, and indeed, to all of rural America, equating rural ES among whites to economic and social racism. Similarly, Gillenwater's (1972) study of the Appalachian coalfields presents a class structure established from above, beginning with the extraction of coal and exploitation of coal miners in the 1880s. As mostly exogenous coal company operators arrived, they constructed class-based and racially segregated towns from the ground up. Typically, the coal operator's house (locally called the "white" or "big" house), administrators' houses, an administrators' church, and the infamous company store would be separated from the rest of town by distance or elevation. This spatial separation symbolized and solidified the strict management-worker class stratification. Company-built neighborhoods of substandard housing for workers were spatially separated and often self-contained communities with their own churches, schools, and ball fields. Duncan and Lamborghini (1994) provide historical continuity with patterns of ES in Central Appalachia noted by Gillenwater (1972) by comparing rural Appalachia and rural New England. The poor in their study's rural New England community were generally treated with respect, inclusiveness, and assistance, while the Appalachian poor were avoided even by church groups for fear of attracting undesirables to the neighborhood. "Interviewees from all social classes in the depressed Appalachian coal community described a rigidly stratified, two-class system of 'haves' and 'have-nots'" (Duncan and Lamborghini 1994, p 444).
In summary, research almost uniformly paints a bleak picture of ES in rural Appalachia. Although most studies use quantitative measures to chronicle pervasive ES in large urban areas of the United States, qualitative studies generally reach similar conclusions about ES in rural America. Such studies condition us to expect that the landscape of local neighborhoods will reflect residential ES in Appalachia. In other words, poor people should be stigmatized and relegated to lower class neighborhoods due to rigid and biased social structures. Because visual evidence in the cultural landscape of Mingo County seems to contradict this literature, I was motivated to find methods by which ES could be measured there.
QUANTITATIVE MEASURES OF ECONOMIC SEGREGATION
Quantitative measures of ES universally use census units, typically census tracts, for analysis (Massey and Denton 1988; Coulton et al. 1996; Kaplan and Holloway 1998; Holloway et al. 1999; Sin 2002; Lee et al. 2003; Glasmeier 2005; Strait et al. 2007). Within urban and metropolitan areas, census tracts are generally small enough to approximate neighborhoods and ES is revealed by dense clusters of rich and poor tracts which are easy to identify. Thus, levels of ES measured by quantitative indices likely correspond to real ES at the neighborhood level. Because the census tracts for rural counties are large in area, however, no conclusions about segregation within the tracts can be reached. The seven census tracts in Mingo County, West Virginia average 157 [km.sup.2] in area and the 501 tracts in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland's core county), average 2.4 [km.sup.2]. It is reasonable to assume that the 2.4 [km.sup.2] tracts (about 10 city blocks) of Cleveland (or small clusters of the tracts) approximate functioning neighborhoods and quantitative indices likely capture real levels of ES at the tract level. The average Mingo County tract could hold about 65 Cuyahoga tracts and could potentially hold 65 neighborhoods. The large areas and low population densities of rural census tracts make it problematic to consider them as neighborhood spaces and more difficult than in urban areas to identify segregated clusters of either rich or poor. The U.8. Census Bureau provides income data at a slightly finer scale, the block-group level (each tract consists of one or more block-groups), but the large discrepancy in size between urban and rural units and the subsequent interpretation dilemma remains.
The erroneous practice, called the ecological fallacy, of inferring neighborhood conditions from indices using large spatial units has been recognized by ES researchers (e.g., Massey and Denton 1988; McLaughlin et al. 2001; Sin 2002; Lee et al. 2003), but not adequately investigated and not integrated into conclusions about rural ES. Contrasting maps of the distribution of the rich and poor in two sample counties at the same scale provide clarity (Figure 2). While in Mingo County, rich and poor are scattered throughout the county's tracts, strong spatial segregation of rich and poor is evident for Cuyahoga County, Ohio (the core county of Cleveland). The level of segregation measured by the quantitative indices accurately reflects the mapped data for Cleveland. The poor in Cleveland are clustered in the central city and are spatially segregated from the rich, who tend to cluster in the suburbs. The level of detail available in Cuyahoga is not available for Mingo due to the size of the census tracts and potential clusters of rich or poor are impossible to pinpoint.
In addition to the ecological fallacy, a second problem for studies of ES is that census unit boundaries often follow major roads, dividing neighborhoods where spatial interaction might occur. Neighborhoods often form close to the highways in rural Appalachia and census boundaries unnaturally place families and friends into different census units. The three neighborhoods of Mingo County that comprise this case study (and this is typical of the census geography in rural counties) are all located along the highways and lie at the boundary of two or more census units (Figures 2 and 3). In two of the three neighborhoods, census boundaries divide the streetscape with neighbors and friends falling in different census units. Logically, these homes form a single neighborhood, but are divided by census geography. The complications arising from boundary de lineation render quantitative index values in rural Appalachia practically irrelevant.
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Interviews and landscape analysis provide the means to explore the extent of residential ES at the scale at which it occurs--the local streetscape. These types of qualitative analysis are not subject to the limitations of census geography, but are inherently impractical, expensive, or impossible to study nationwide like the statistical indices. I have chosen three small Mingo County neighborhoods to provide the depth of qualitative analysis to test the validity of quantitative analysis that suggests low levels of ES in rural Appalachia. The next section of this paper provides the geographical context and initial visual impressions of ES in the county.
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MINGO COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA
Mingo County represents a cluster of central Appalachian counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia roughly bounded by interstate highways 1-64, 1-75, 1-81, and 1-77. The cluster corresponds to the sub-region designated Central Appalachia by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The counties share a number of characteristics. Appalachia is a region recognized for the formation of a unique culture due in part to isolation. These counties are mostly rural, non-metropolitan, and, as a rule, more than 95 percent white. They are too remote from large cities to be subject to significant suburban or exurban development. Most of the counties are in the coal-producing areas of their states. Most exhibit low population densities with either stable numbers or slow population growth. A subset cluster of about 18 counties including Mingo County has lost population since 1990, at least in part due to decline in employment in the coal mining industry. They have lower than average proportions of high income households and generally have higher than average rates of poverty. Most of the counties exhibit rugged topography where flat land is scarce. Each of these factors contributes to a distinctive built environment and a unique rural ES dynamic. Mingo County presents a rural, central Appalachian contrast to studies of ES in metropolitan growth areas where quantitative analyses of dense, ethnically-diverse urban zones are the norm.
Mingo County is a largely rural (89 percent of persons; data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 unless noted), non-metropolitan county, bordering the states of Kentucky and Virginia (Figure 3). Some 29.7 percent of the population is below the poverty level in Mingo County, down from 31.0 percent in 1990, but still more than twice the national rate of 12.4 percent. The median family income of $26,581 reaches just 53 percent of the national average of $50,046, having declined slightly from 55 percent of the national average in 1990. Concomitantly, only about 35 percent of persons over 25 have a high school diploma, a slight improvement from 32.5 percent in 1990. The rich are scarce in the county. Only 136 or 1.2 percent of the 11,331 households in Mingo County have median household incomes above $150,000, about one-fourth the national rate of 4.6 percent. The county seat and largest town is Williamson (population: 3,414). The population of no other incorporated town exceeds 500. Three census designated places range from 700 to 1,600 people (Figure 3). The largest nearby cities are Huntington, WV to the north and the state capital, Charleston, WV to the northeast. Each of these cities has about 50,000 people and is about 1 1/2 hours drive from Williamson. The county's declining population (from a high of 47,409 in 1950 to 28,253 in 2000, and an estimated 26,755 in 2007) is racially homogeneous (97.1 percent white and 2.3 percent black).
Timber and coal extraction have been the most lucrative economic activities in Mingo County Since the 19th century. As part of the southern West Virginia coalfields, Mingo County's present economy is inextricably (and sometimes violently) linked to the fortunes of the coal industry. About 26 percent of the workforce is directly employed in the mining industry (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004 data), while many more workers depend on associated industries (e.g., coal transportation, mining equipment) and coal-related spending in service industries for their livelihoods. While employment as a coal miner is less prevalent in Appalachia today due to technological innovations, miners often work long hours for six days a week, but in a safer and cleaner environment. Coal miners generally earn a working class wage with possibility for advancement. Wealthy residents of the county are mostly associated with resource extraction. One resident commented: "If you're gonna have a nice place, you have to be connected to coal." Indeed, in the neighborhoods I examined (Figures 1, 4, and 5), two of the three "stand out" homes belonged to families connected to the coal industry-one mine manager and one trucking company owner--and several of the other homes belonged to miners. Because of the rugged terrain, agriculture has never been profitable.
After the coal boom of the early 20th century, the existing worker-management class stratification was reportedly maintained in Mingo County, as the middle class emigrated, leaving behind the few wealthy and the many desperately poor (Coal: The Curse and the Key, 1968). By the 1960s, Barnes (1970) posited that the top-down, nepotistic political environment and elitist social structure of Mingo County, left in the wake of declining coalmining employment and increasing federal government welfare assistance, had grown to county-wide proportions. The elite diverted state and federal resources to their own benefit and to the detriment of the abandoned, "apathetic, socially inactive, hopeless, and dependent" poor neighborhoods (p 571). Barnes (1970) suggested by contrast that at the scale of the local neighborhood, former coal camps were "highly integrated little communities" (p 572), albeit poor.
In one sense, the landscape of Mingo County reflects levels of wealth here--a high percentage of dwellings house the poor and working classes with a smattering of middle class homes and very few wealthy residences. The small number of upper income households is distributed throughout the county with no strong clustering pattern (Figure 2). Comparison of the maps of wealth and poverty certainly do not give the impression that the rich have erected enclaves or citadels of privilege (Marcuse 1997). In fact, the built environment conveys a sense of residential spatial integration of socio-economic classes. The rich comprise only one percent of the population in a county with more than double the national rate of poverty, so their homes are conspicuous wherever they appear. But particularly arresting is the juxtaposition of homes of the rich with those of their abjectly poor neighbors. Yet this is typical of the spatial arrangement of socio-economic classes here. The next-door-neighbor association of rich and poor stands in stark contradistinction to manifestations of ES in large metropolitan areas where gated, upper class, suburban communities are distanciated from central city ghettos. Can it be, as Mumford (1968) speculated, that these residents share nothing in common, no social interaction, but "proximity of their dwellings in space" (p 59)?
Perhaps the mixing of residences of varying socio-economic classes results from the rugged topography in central Appalachia. Have the wealthy no other choice but to mingle their homes with those of the poor as one resident suggested? Topography is a significant element in the built environment of any Appalachian region. Mingo County is part of the Appalachian plateau, an eroded, rugged landscape that begins to merge with the Appalachian Ridge and Valley province in the southwest of the county. The "scarce alluvial land" (Pudup 2002, p 274), i.e., flat river- or valley-bottomland, is shared not just by houses, but by railroads, roads, commercial and public land uses. Flat ground is cheaper to develop and thus more likely to be used first, but this fact does not rule out hillside and hilltop construction, even for the poor. Figure 4 shows examples of the use of hilly land adapted for homes of both the middle class and the poor. Rugged topography therefore is a limiting but not determining factor in the commingling of economic classes.
Given the significant exurbanization seen in other rural Appalachian counties near such large cities as Washington, DC, or Atlanta, Georgia, it is tempting to surmise that rural amenities, such as inexpensive land, peace and quiet, low crime rates, tree-clad vistas or even kinship ties, might attract rich exurbanites who would endure the commute of more than an hour to the employment centers of Charleston or Huntington, but who would be forced to accept undesirable, impoverished neighbors. This was simply not the case. No interstate highway intersects the county. The important access roads are two- and four-lane US Highways 52 and 119. Only one of the interviewed residents worked in the Charleston metro area. The remainder was employed locally. Shopping, movies, and restaurants were available in nearby Logan, West Virginia or South Williamson, Kentucky. Residents mentioned only occasional shopping visits to Charleston for higher order goods.
The wealthy have traditionally used their means to effect ES despite the additional costs due to topography or distance (resulting in longer commutes). While his context was urban neighborhoods, Tuan's (1977) description of ES is cogent: "The rich neighborhood is, from the start, highly visible to both residents and non-residents. Its architecture is likely to show character and the grounds may be walled off, with a guard at the gate" (p 171). The wealthy usually seek to distance themselves physically from the poor, lowering housing density, and emphasizing their power over public and private space, Tuan's "power and enough room to act" (p 52). The built environment in Mingo County, however, implies real integration of socio-economic classes. Schein (1997) suggested that "the cultural landscape serves to naturalize or concretize--to make normal--social relations" (p 676). The built environment, as an expression of cultural values and social norms imprinted on the landscape, demonstrates and is "implicated in the ongoing reproduction of social and cultural life" (p 662). The built environment thus reflects social relationships in a community, especially power relationships. Applying this principle to ES, a built environment exhibiting spatial integration of rich and poor reflects the cultural attitudes of the rich toward the poor and the real social interaction among neighbors of different economic means.
Jakle (1999) asserted that "neighboring is a form of social interaction inherently geographical in the sense that it is clearly sociospatial" (p 21). Spatial neighbors, in other words, tend to interact socially. By implication, exclusive metropolitan suburbs may exacerbate class prejudice by eliminating the poor from the action space of the wealthy. On the other hand, proximity per se cannot guarantee neighboring or social interaction, yet the neighborhood "built environment ... reflects ... constructs ... contains ... and symbolizes" (p 22) genuine social practice. Neighboring among social strata may not be planned, but chance, even prolonged, meetings occur due to residential proximity. Jakle supposed that these unintentional interactions could overcome differences in race or class and occur despite a proclivity for relationships with class counterparts on the job, at church, and in social settings.
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Does spatial togetherness lead to neighboring among classes in Mingo County as Jakle (1999) suggested? To investigate, I targeted three neighborhoods for inquiry that are typical of the few places where the wealthy of the county live. Selecting random neighborhoods in central Appalachia would likely bypass the few neighborhoods where the wealthy live, making a random sample unsuitable for analyzing the interaction of rich and poor. Conversely, the three study neighborhoods in this research are valuable for investigating the extent of the integration of socioeconomic classes precisely because they are composed of residents from both ends (and the middle) of the spectrum. To determine whether neighbors of vastly different socio-economic classes really interact in these settings, I visited with some of the residents.
For the three study neighborhoods, I stopped to ask residents about their neighborhood dynamics, especially about the relationship of the wealthy to the poor/ working classes where they lived as next-door neighbors (see Figures 1, 5, and 6). I visited each neighborhood on several occasions at different times of the day. Residents were willing to talk freely about themselves and their neighbors. I interviewed thirteen residents (rich, middle class, working class, and poor) from the three study neighborhoods, twelve in person and one by phone. In addition, I talked with a wealthy resident of Williamson, a church pastor from Williamson, and a resident of the county that I met outside the county. These additional interviews helped to corroborate that observations about ES were not confined to the three neighborhoods examined, but were general trends.
An open-ended interview format allowed each resident to express knowledge of the neighborhood and relationships among residents. As might be expected in a rural community, several residents had encyclopedic knowledge of real estate transactions, family histories, and the (mis)fortunes of their immediate neighbors and members of the broader community. I asked residents about their occupations, length of residence in the county, family status (e.g., the presence of children), schools, friends, and friends' occupations. I guided the interviews as needed to elicit information about the extent of social interaction in the neighborhoods, especially between the richest and poorest residents. I inquired how well they knew their neighbors and in what capacity they interacted at work, at church, socially, and in the backyard, including their children's school experience and friends. Although I kept careful, hand-written notes, these were un-tape-recorded interviews (so many quotes are close paraphrases) and lasted from a few minutes to more than an hour.
The socio-economic class terms used hereafter are informal and defined using a combination of factors such as home size, home quality, income, and occupation as well as my own field experience and professional judgment. These terms are specific to Mingo County and reflect relative class distinctions there, unlikely to hold true in other urban or rural settings. For example, the "stand-out" homes in two of the study neighborhoods (Figure 1 and Figure 6) are typical of upper-middle class professionals (managers, small business owners) found by the hundreds in large metropolitan suburbs. Only one family in this study would likely qualify as upper class in metropolitan America based on home size and quality, occupation, and socio-economic status (Figure 5).
Figure 1 provides the first example of a class-integrated streetscape in Mingo County. The contrast is striking, as the bird's eye view from US Highway 52 presents a vista of an upper-middle class residence adjacent to older mobile homes. dust to the right (west) of the upper-middle class home in Figure 1 is a second home, then a funeral home, then a third home. These structures share a large paved parking lot. The funeral home was purchased by the family with the grandfather living next door in a modest home and his child and spouse living on the other side of the funeral home. The new upper-middle class home was built by the third generation so that the properties form a compound. An initial business acquisition grew into this small cluster of middle and upper-middle class family homes along a street lined with homes of the poor, with whom the family chooses to interact and be compassionate toward. The poor family living in the mobile home on the other side (east) of the upper class home (Figure 1), for example, is not part of this family's compound.
Since the photo (Figure 1) was taken one of the mobile homes was removed, but many other homes of the abjectly poor remain along this street. The land on which the remaining mobile home sits is owned, according to its occupants, by their wealthy neighbors, whose yard was accessible through a large opening in the fence. The unemployed poor neighbor lent his mechanical expertise to his benefactors on occasion. When asked about the relationship with their poor neighbors, the resident of the upper-middle class home told me: "The man is unemployed ... He used to do some work for my husband as a mechanic ... I talk with her [female impoverished neighbor] everyday." Although construction of a fence has also begun to surround the upper-middle class home, the fence is used "to keep my dogs in," not the poor neighbors out. Furthermore, the tenants of the mobile home had been paying rent to another party, the putative land owner, only to discover by means of a recent land survey that the property actually belonged to their affluent next-door neighbors. They no longer pay rent--an allowance made by the wealthy residents to help their poor neighbors.
Philanthropic assistance is not unusual in Mingo County. The few wealthy of the county commonly extend paternalistic care toward their less fortunate neighbors ("they look out for them") and, important for my study of ES, associate with them in social relationships. One retired school teacher who had also coached in a local high school had kids of all social classes on his teams. Young adults whose families were upper-middle or upper class often offered to anonymously help their poor teammates who needed money for such things as athletic shoes or a field trip: "Coach, my Dad wants to buy 'Johnny' a pair of shoes" or "We want to help pay 'Johnny's' way."
A pastor in the town of Williamson, while confessing that "We have a middleclass church," nevertheless conducts a regular Wednesday children's program where children of all classes and races participate together. In fact, the church bus is sent to poor and black neighbors for the express purpose of bringing these children to church. "We see that they get at least one good meal a week" and have fun together. Even though many poor and black families attend other churches on Sundays, they are welcomed warmly by the pastor and his flock, he explained, at every opportunity: "We try to get their parents to come to church with us, but they prefer black churches or churches with their 'class' of people ... Just last week a doctor from our church was standing outside before a revival meeting and invited a poor [passerby] to our service." The poor man had accepted the invitation to attend worship.
Concern for their impoverished neighbors prompted one woman (whose husband's coal trucking business made them wealthy) from another study neighborhood to supply food and even construct a home for a disadvantaged, mentally unstable neighbor. "I felt the Lord called me to take care of this poor man. He was very suspicious of everyone and offers of food, so I began by leaving food for him on his doorstep. As I passed him while walking one day, I gathered the courage to talk to him." After befriending the man, she provided food and shelter. When he burned down the home she paid to have built, she intervened with the judge to try to keep the young man out of jail for arson. Attributing her wealth to "God's blessings" and for this reason setting aside pretension, she entertains politician and judge friends, but also lower- and working-class company employees in their luxurious home: "God blessed us by giving us this home for only $150,000 ... I would never put myself above others."
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Figure 5 shows a map and photos of a second neighborhood, juxtaposing an upper class home with lower and working class residences in a creek valley settlement. This is a small street neighborhood, consisting of about fourteen mostly middle class and working class single-family homes, but containing a range of housing types, values, and ages illustrating a low level of ES in the built environment. One double-wide mobile home is of recent construction, adjacent to an older home. According to the home-owner: "My husband's 85-year old mother lives next door" in the aging, lower class structure. The mother provided land for the mobile home in return for care in her old age. In fact, most lower class homes in this neighborhood are owned by elderly tenants (or their heirs) whose homes have aged in place. Several residents hold middle class occupations--insurance salesman, hospital manager, engineer--whose homes in some cases are relatively new.
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Because the busy state highway divides the neighborhood, social interaction is decreased, but still common. One little boy was recently killed riding his bicycle across the highway to play with a friend on the other side. A next-door neighbor commented, as if to surprise me: "The [deceased] boy's father is a union mine manager; his friend's father [on this side of the highway] is a non-union miner." When asked specifically about union-nonunion polarization in the county, several residents emphasized that the century-old union/non-union dichotomy was disappearing ("they get along fine") and that workers and managers were often neighbors and interacted as friends as was the case in this neighborhood.
The most opulent residence (Figure 5, house 1), built in the English Tudor style, is sandwiched between ordinary middle class and working class ranch style homes and is just across the street from lower class homes and a working class mobile home. The upper class home is at a lower elevation than the lower class housing across the street and shares this elevation (and potential flood hazard) with working class homes. The upper class home is distinguished by its large size, manicured landscape, and more expensive building materials and furnishings, but not by distance, elevation, or exclusion using fences or hedges from the poor or working class. In fact, the residents of the upper class home recently removed a barrier (erected by the previous occupants) to allow neighborhood children access and space for riding motorcycles. Their grandchildren had friends among the middle and working class families in the neighborhood. Children from nearby homes played with grandkids of the upper class family, free to romp over their yard space, and were invited to swim in their pool. A congenial attitude toward both upper and lower classes was communicated by one middle class resident who spoke of friendship for those "in the bottom" (referring to the valley floor to the south of the railroad tracks). The secretary for a home-based insurance business remarked of the upper class family living next-door that "they are just like the rest of us, only with a bigger home."
In a culture of rigid class stratification and ES, wealthier residents could select large tracts of land away from neighborhoods of mixed quality housing to insulate themselves from the poor. Tuan (1977) asserted that "from the start, the affluent can live in a place of their own, surrounded by their own kind of people, and they are well aware of this fact" (p 171). The tendency for exclusion is absent from this neighborhood. Rather, the upper class home (Figure 5, house 1) was recently sold after a fire damaged the interior. The new wealthy family restored the home to its splendor, choosing to live next to and interact with neighbors of more humble means. While the elite residents here own property in other parts of the county where their adult children live with their grandchildren, they own only their home in this neighborhood and, rather than insulating themselves from nearby poverty, address the needs of the poor around them. The woman of the house "checked in on" a poor, elderly woman who lived across the highway (Figure 5, house 2) until she became too old to live alone. "Her daughter asked me to check her mailbox," she said, after the elderly woman moved away for continuous care.
Figure 6 depicts another example of a mixed neighborhood. Here the upper-middle class home (Figure 6, house 1) and middle class homes are adjacent to mobile homes and other working or lower class homes. In some Mingo County neighborhoods, homes of the wealthier residents repose on larger lots than their neighbors, but not necessarily nor dramatically so. In this neighborhood, several homes of varying quality share similar lot sizes. Access roads are shared by all qualities of residences. Tenure and division of family land help explain the neighborhood dynamic here. An old home-place occupied by a widow once stood where the upper class home now sits. Her daughter and son-in-law moved next door to care for her and after she passed away, her granddaughter and husband, a mine manager in nearby Logan County, replaced the aging dwelling with a modern upper-middle class home. The family cemetery also sits on this land.
Across the street to the east, another family unit owns the land, including an older working class home, a new working class mobile home, and two lower class mobile homes (Figure 6, house 2). All the homes are on the same parcel of land-another family compound. The family had one retired miner and an employed miner, the nephew of the retiree. The resident who lived in a newer mobile home told me: "my husband's uncle [living next door in a mobile home] got him his first mining job," but that he simply applied for his latest, better-paying mining job. Both neighborhood families interact, however, socially as neighbors and in an employer-employee relationship--the working-class miner works for the upper-middle class mine manager across the street. Once again, the pool was a draw for neighborhood children who were invited by the upper-middle class family to swim with their own children.
Contingency theory is the idea that segregation by class varies from place to place due to locally specific conditions (Strait 2001a), that "places are not passive recipients of macro-level social and economic processes but rather, [these processes] are expected to have different outcomes in different places because of how local social and economic structures react to--and transform--larger social and economic processes" (Cooke 1999, p 555). This theory, in other words, is a rejection of the one-size-fits-all methodology and affirms that a broad brush approach to ES may not be appropriate for the study of specific locales. Searching for the cause(s) of local area inequality, Lobao et al. (1999) found support for an equivalent concept, their embeddedness thesis, the idea that "local context alters how theoretical generalizations work out on the ground" (p 593). My case study of ES in Mingo County validates the notion of geographic contingency (Strait 2001a; Cooke 1999) or embeddedness (Lobao et al. 1999) in that I have not found the ES expected from general trends observed in metropolitan or rural settings. How then do local conditions operate to produce a spatially integrated landscape where neighborhood interaction across class boundaries is the norm instead of the exception?
First, racial homogeneity in rural Mingo County presupposes an unconventional ES character. Whites constitute 97.1 percent of the population, blacks comprise only 2.3 percent of the population, and no other ethnic or racial group accounted for even 0.5 percent of the population (Census 2000). I did not even see a single racial or ethnic minority resident in the county during my visits to the county scattered over a few weeks. According to a pastor in Williamson, there are black neighborhoods in that town, but such neighborhoods were outside my focus on rural neighborhoods. Yet race often plays an important role in ES. Blunt statements like "poor Blacks experienced a profoundly unequal level of economic segregation and concentration of poverty-dominated tracts compared to the rest of the poor population" (Brinegar and Leonard 2008, p 603) are common in the ES literature. Gordon (1964) supposed that residents might self-segregate into neighborhoods based on a preference for race/ethnicity in addition to class. Johnson et al. (2007) similarly reasoned that several processes work together to effect segregation observed in the United States including discrimination and self-segregation due to race, ethnicity, and class.
The relationship between race, ethnicity, and ES is not simple, however. Strait (2001b; 2002; 2006) found that a complex set of compositional forces (broad economic or employment trends that change the number of poor) and redistributive forces (movement of the poor and non-poor) produce a variety of results for different cities among and between races and classes. In Los Angeles during the 1990s, for example, metropolitan ES increased overall, but with a "certain degree of racial and/or ethnic integration" that led Strait to conclude: "It is one thing to assume that [racial] segregation influences the residential experiences of the poor, but it is quite another to assume that segregation is the primary cause of poverty concentration" (Strait 2006, p 88). Generalizations and a priori assumptions about the effects of race and ethnicity on ES do not apply to rural Mingo County, however, due to the absence of a substantial minority group. In other words, racial homogeneity is a local condition that affects the extent and intensity of ES.
Another local condition affecting ES in Mingo County is relative income homogeneity. Seventy-four percent of Mingo County households have incomes less than $40,000 per year (compared to 47 percent in the United States), while only 25 percent have incomes between $40,000 and $150,000 (versus 48 percent in the United States), and only 1.2 percent have incomes above $150,000 (compared to 4.6 percent in the United States; Census 2000). The small number of the upper-middle and upper class limits their ability to form elite school districts, private schools, exclusive zoning, large neighborhoods with restrictive covenants, or a sub-culture for the wealthy. In addition, all of the wealthy families in my study neighborhoods experienced recent success, so there was no entrenched upper class typical of places with strong ES. Two business owners and one mine manager had moved from middle or working class to upper-middle or upper class in their lifetimes. Thus, instead of hailing from class segregated neighborhoods, they grew up with and lived alongside the working and lower classes. Before they "made it big," they went to school with, had friends or family in, and started their careers working on jobs with people of presently lower socio-economic classes. For example, the wealthiest resident I interviewed in this study had previously "lived beside a trailer."
School segregation achieved by the clustering of wealthy homes in rural districts is legal and sometimes results in vastly unequal funding for local school systems, further isolating the poor. West Virginia public school districts, however, are controlled at the county level. Funding from each resident no matter the district, community, or the neighborhood goes to fund the entire county system. Children whose parents vary widely in occupation and economic status find themselves schoolmates, resulting in regular social intercourse among the classes at school. Class integration in county-wide public schools both reflects existing income homogeneity and generates cross-class interaction. One woman interviewed believed that class distinction was less obvious in the schools because: "designer clothing is only available in Charleston or Huntington," each over an hour's drive away. Wealthier residents have the option of choosing from a few small faith-based private schools in Mingo County, but those interviewed sent their children to public schools. It is more common, but by no means the rule, for their grandchildren to attend private schools. Perhaps future generations may self-segregate by choosing only private schools. Even so, extracurricular activities for children such as sports are class and race integrated. "My grand-daughter," remarked one wealthy resident, "plays T-ball with all classes of children."
Zoning is perhaps the chief resource of the elite seeking to insulate themselves from the lower classes. Zoning frequently disadvantages the poor by creating wealthy neighborhoods spatially separated from the poor living in substandard housing, producing a "clear geographical structuring of homes by tenure, value, quality, and desirability" (Johnston et al. 2007, p 715) in metropolitan areas. But much of rural Appalachia, including Mingo County, lacks zoning laws. Lacking zoning protection, small communities of the wealthy without exclusionary zoning laws may congregate in subdivisions with restrictive covenants to effect residential ES. Both serve to protect the value of housing for wealthier residents (Fischel 2004), but this principle hardly applies to Mingo County. A local real estate agent who lived next door to the upper class home in Figure 5 emphasized the county-wide depressed housing values, remarking that the upper class home would cost more than $500,000 in an urban location, but "only cost them [the present owners] $100,000" to purchase.
In three representative neighborhoods (Figures 1, 5, and 6), the wealthier residents have not sought to retreat to secluded homesteads as a last resort. Rather the upper-middle and upper class homes are new or among the newest homes in each neighborhood, expressing the conscious decision of the more affluent residents to build or re-build on a site surrounded by lower class housing. In fact, the residents of these neighborhoods, from rich to poor, were on familiar terms with each other. The upper-middle and upper class residents emphasized the concern they shared for their less fortunate neighbors. They contributed to the community of the street-side environment through chance meetings while walking on the lawn or along the street, checking the mailbox while elderly neighbors were home-confined, and inviting neighborhood kids from families of lesser status to swim in their backyard pools with their own children or grand-children. The other residents also felt affinity toward their prosperous neighbors. They chatted with them in their backyards, enjoyed their hospitality, and worked with them on the job.
Family land and a common family history, as well as longevity of residence, encourages in situ improvements in housing and additional housing on the same family land rather than new exclusive neighborhoods. In every neighborhood examined in this study, divided family land formed clusters of homes where family members of similar economic means shared land or were next-door neighbors. The upper-middle class home pictured in Figure 1, for example, was built after moving an older home that occupied the site across the street, permitting the owners to build a new home next to two other family homes and their business. The result of in situ improvements and division of family land are clusters of residents of similar socio-economic status who may be neighbors to the abjectly poor or poor family groups. In my study neighborhoods, there were no clusters where the desperately poor lived with rich members of the same family. In other words, the integration of the streetscapes that I observed was not due to families whose wealthy members tolerated their poor relatives. Instead, whole families reached beyond their blood relatives and immediate families to include their neighbors as part of an extended community-family.
Mingo County has developed an inclusive culture, creating an expanded "family," i.e., an inter-family social relationship that crosses class and neighborhood boundaries. Reflecting on the information provided in the interviews, it seems clear that there is an awareness of class, but that residents move beyond class to minimize ES in their neighborhoods. This cultural value is encapsulated in the statement: "They are just like the rest of us, only with a bigger home." Here "bigger home" indicates an awareness of income and class differences, while "they are just like the rest of us" stands for the inclusive nature of community that transcends family bonds and class strictures to create integrated neighborhoods. Implicit in the statement "Coach, my Dad wants to buy 'Johnny' a pair of shoes" is an awareness of higher income and also a feeling of community-family beyond blood relatives. These statements reflect awareness of class differences balanced by reciprocal community feelings. Neighbors are living side-by-side, all the while aware of their differences, but extending their "families" to their neighbors, regardless of actual DNA. In fact, the interviews contained a number of similar statements that reflect this cultural system (Table 1).
Many researchers have argued that ES in rural and non-metro America, particularly in chronically impoverished areas like central Appalachia, is more evident than in urban areas. Gated communities, private schools for the privileged, expansive estates, and exclusionary zoning regulations are all means by which residential ES is created and class-based discrimination is maintained. In Mingo County, however, there are few examples of the wealthy who have walled themselves off from their neighbors by choosing remote home sites or erecting security fences. Wherever the wealthy live, they tend to be neighbors with the working class and poor.
Residential proximity as observed in Mingo County represents the antithesis of conventional discrimination due to ES. Distance and the accompanying segregation and isolation in the built environment have been the regular means by which socio-economic strata have distinguished themselves in the United States. The accretion of changes in the cultural landscape represents a number of ongoing discourses (Schein 1997) including relationships between power, poverty, and stratification. Local streetscapes both evince the social processes at work in the local neighborhood and express a collection of values and rules of social interaction. While one's larger "community" may be difficult to delineate, "the street where one lives is part of one's intimate experience" (Tuan 1977, p 170). These Central Appalachian street neighborhoods outwardly profess to be class integrated. The built environment of the neighborhoods examined in this research exhibits a surprising lack of ES. Interviews with residents confirm this visual impression.
I have presented the state of class integration in rural Mingo County, observed in the built environment of the streetscapes and practiced by the residents who have created a family-like community with their neighbors. Because it was impossible to infer the extent of street level interaction or neighboring from statistics which employ census units with large areas, I analyzed the built environment and conducted interviews of residents of three representative neighborhoods. These methods reveal class integration as lived in the backyard, schools, workplace, and at church. Besides the weaknesses of traditional forces of segregation such as race and income differences, zoning, and school segregation, additional processes such as division of family land and a culture of inclusion are at work to generate the spatial integration of socio-economic classes in Mingo County.
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JAMES M. LEONARD
JAMES M. LEONARD is an associate professor in the Geography Department at Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, 25755. Email: email@example.com. His research interests include religion, social issues, GIS, and West Virginia.
Table 1. Statements made by residents that reflect both a culture of inclusion and class awareness. Sense of community and Class/income awareness expanded family "Just like the rest of us"; "They have "a bigger home." neighborly attitude of those "in the bottom"; care given to poor elderly neighbor by rich neighbor. "He used to do some work for "The man is unemployed ... my husband as a mechanic ... I talk with her [female impoverished neighbor] everyday"; they no longer pay rent. "We see that they get at least "We have a middle class church." one good meal a week." "We try to get them to attend "They prefer to attend church our church." A doctor invited with their 'class' of people." a poor passerby to church. Employer-employee children "One boy's father is a mine were friends. manager, the other a miner." Wealthy landowner rents to all Owns surrounding properties. classes. "My grand-daughter plays "... with all classes of T-ball ... " children." Children of the wealthy Some of their grand-children attended public schools. attended private schools. Wealthy resident provided food "I felt God called me to help and shelter for a poor man; this man." intervened with the judge. Invites employees into her "I would never put myself home. above others"; friends are politicians and judges. Kids swam in the rich Poor family apologized to rich neighbors' pool. neighbors for condition of mobile home.…
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Publication information: Article title: They Are Just like the Rest of Us, Only with a Bigger Home: Spatial Integration of Socio-Economic Classes in Rural Mingo County, West Virginia. Contributors: Leonard, James M. - Author. Journal title: Southeastern Geographer. Volume: 49. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2009. Page number: 267+. © 2009 University of North Carolina Press. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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