Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation

By Higgins, Billy D. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation

Higgins, Billy D., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation. Edited by John C. Inscoe. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Pp. vii, 330. Introduction, illustrations, notes, contributors, acknowledgments, index. $34.95.)

John C. Inscoe, professor of history at the University of Georgia, selected eighteen articles by twenty scholars to document an array of white and black interactions that occurred in Appalachia a century or more ago. Taken in sum, the essays jar common and long held assumptions about racial relationships in southern mountain societies. To emphasize the significance of the anthology, Inscoe writes in the introduction that "on no other aspect of Appalachian culture has opinion been so divided as on the question of how mountaineers regarded blacks."

Many scholars have insisted that slaves owned by mountain southerners were better off than those in the true plantation country, where the harshest work and the harshest attitudes existed. The first journals of Frederick Law Olmsted imprinted this idea of "kinder, gentler" treatment upon historians of the South. But in his article on Olmsted, Inscoe points out that the 1850s travel writer and future park designer finally concluded that mountain residents "had equal contempt for slaves, their masters, and the system itself." No less a keen observer of the South than W. J. Cash contended that mountaineers "had a dislike so rabid that it was worth a black man's life to venture into many mountain sections." Nevertheless, slavery in the foothills and valleys of Appalachia where ratios of blacks to whites were low seems to have been a less central constituent of white status than in lowlands areas thick with blacks and utterly dependent on slave labor.

Charles B. Dew demonstrates the value of industrial slavery to upland whites with his examination of Sam Williams, a Buffalo Forge, Virginia, slave. Amazingly, Williams, a master ironworker, maintained a bank account upon which he drew to finance his occasional sabbatical. Marie Tedesco focuses on legal actions against a white neighbor brought by Adam Westphal, a free black slaveholder and landowner. Cecelia Convy finds that Africans made a major contribution to mountain society when whites began to "catch" banjo styles from the slaves in the 1840s. Obviously, an appreciation by one culture of another's could sprout even if that enthusiasm lived only for a short time. Such interaction may have loosened protocols and joined with the oft-noted mountaineer proclivity towards social leveling to create a more humane ethos in which the peculiar institution could operate. This mountain-grown equality, if a reality, might support the thesis of Richard B. Drake, professor emeritus of history at Berea College, who traces the impetus of the American anti-slavery movement to eastern Kentucky activists such as John G. Fee, who established Berea.

The treatment of slaves, though, varied widely and depended on local customs and individual holders. Auburn professor Kenneth W. Noe found that while the building of a railroad in southwest Virginia gave slaves opportunities to improve their lives, "sale down the river," "miserable clothing," and hard drivers reminded them that slavery was, well, still slavery. Noe points out that the railroad physically linked plantation country to southwest Virginia, which became a Confederate hotbed during the Civil War.

Essays by David Williams and John E.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?