Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation

By Hall, Randal L. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation


Hall, Randal L., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South From Slavery to Segregation. Edited by JoHN C. INSCOE. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. vii, 330 pp. $34.95.

IN this carefully edited and well-produced book, John C. Inscoe has selected eighteen essays that address the ways African Americans have been part of the history of the Appalachian region. As Inscoe explains in a cogent introduction, this book builds upon the pioneering essays in William H. Turner and Edward J. Cabbell, eds., Blacks in Appalachia (1985). When approached by the press to update and expand the earlier work, Inscoe found instead that the continuing outpouring of historical scholarship on the subject warranted an entirely new volume. Most of these essays have been published previously as articles or book chapters, but a few are new. Authors have slightly changed many of the previously published pieces to establish context, meet length requirements, or update the references. Most of the contributors, who include a fruitful mix of established historians and younger scholars, confine their topics to the nineteenth century, though a few venture into the early years of the twentieth century.

Five strong essays analyze the experiences of blacks in mountain industries. David Williams writes about Georgia's gold rush in 1829, while John E. Stealey III scrutinizes slavery in the important Kanawha salt industry in what is now West Virginia. With great skill and imagination, Charles B. Dew unearths the life of slave forgeman Sam Williams in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Ronald L. Lewis investigates a later period, documenting the postbellum leasing of African American convicts for work in dangerous coal mines in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, while Joe William Trotter, Jr., records the ways black coal miners formed spiritual, social, and political communities in West Virginia during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Several authors illuminate other aspects of slavery in the mountain South. Richard B. Drake looks briefly at different shades of Appalachian opposition to slavery; Kenneth W. Noe demonstrates the expansion of slavery in southwestern Virginia in the context of the railroad development of the 1850s; and Wilma A. Dunaway traces interstate slave trading in the mountains. Marie Tedesco relates the fascinating case of Adam Waterford, a free black who owned land and slaves in East Tennessee, and John Cimprich who, also focusing on the eastern Tennessee mountains, delves into the initiative blacks took in moving from slavery to freedom.

Two articles survey the perceptions outsiders held of race and Appalachians. Inscoe evaluates Frederick Law Olmsted's description of a trip through the mountains in 1854, and Nina Silber offers a nuanced evaluation of the role of race in some northerners' reconciliation with the southern mountain residents at the turn of the century. …

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