Appalachian Odyssey: Historical Perspectives on the Great Migration

Appalachian Odyssey: Historical Perspectives on the Great Migration

Appalachian Odyssey: Historical Perspectives on the Great Migration

Appalachian Odyssey: Historical Perspectives on the Great Migration


One of the greatest internal migrations in American history has been the movement of the people of Appalachia to a variety of rural and urban destinations all over the country - - wherever economic opportunity beckoned, from the industrial Midwest to the timber empires of the Pacific Northwest. This movement (about five million in the 1950s alone) has taken place in several waves throughout the twentieth century, and continues to this day. Appalachian Odyssey provides an interdisciplinary exploration of the impact of this phenomenon on both the Appalachian region and the country as a whole.

Scholars from a variety of social science disciplines bring their perspectives to this volume in an examination of the historical, political, social, economic, and cultural impact of a talented group often derided as hillbillies. Appalachian Odyssey provides a much-needed corrective to this bias, and a deeper understanding of a people who have significantly influenced the American story.


In this volume we examine Appalachian migration, primarily the “Great Migration,” which took place between 1940 and 1960. Our contributors use various approaches to point out and interpret the differences between conventional views about Appalachian migration and what actually occurred. Unlike much of the previous work on Appalachian migration, this volume does not offer a single narrative, trope, or account that purports to explain the whole event. The contributors come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including history, sociology, urban planning, social work, urban studies, anthropology, and Appalachian studies. Although each brings a distinctive disciplinary perspective and research methodology to the topic, collectively, they aspire to recover the history of Appalachian migration in all of its complexity. Oral histories are used to tell the story of out-migration and to analyze the variety of migrants’ experiences in cities. Some of our authors examine institutional histories to trace the organizational responses of both the migrants and the host cities. Others look at the intellectual history of research in the social sciences and its role in shaping ways of thinking about mountain folk in cities.


The story begins with the first large migrations out of the Appalachian region into the metropolitan centers surrounding the mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this period many mountaineers left the highlands for the mill towns of the Piedmont and for jobs in Ohio and Michigan. As early as 1911 . . .

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