Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coal Miners' Descendants Face Mountain of Prejudice Cincinnati Seeks to Protect Those with Ties to the Hills

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coal Miners' Descendants Face Mountain of Prejudice Cincinnati Seeks to Protect Those with Ties to the Hills

Article excerpt

FOR NEARLY 30 years after World War II, the mountain children of eastern Kentucky were said to learn three lessons early in life: reading, writing and Route 25, the old road to the factory jobs in this Ohio River city.

Newcomers in the city no more, the urban Appalachians still are set apart, even in the second and third generations. "Turns out that old highway could lead to a world of misery," country-music star Dwight Yoakam sings in a plaintive lyric dedicated to his Appalachia-born family.

In neighborhoods of shabby row houses and cramped bungalows, where preachers sermonize in storefronts and laundry dries on lines, tens of thousands of coal miners' descendants make up a lasting white underclass. It's a community plagued by high unemployment, horrendous school dropout rates, and drug and alcohol addiction. About 44 percent of the area's residents of mountain stock are either poor or at serious risk of falling into poverty, sociologists have found; virtually all of those live within city limits.

A major reason for the troubles, community activists believe, is lingering prejudice and ignorance of mountain culture. "Did you ever see `The Beverly Hillbillies'?" asked Pauletta Hansel, an assistant director of the Urban Appalachian Council. "Snuffy Smith. `The Dukes of Hazzard.' That's the stereotype."

The caricatures can make the basics - schooling, housing, jobs - hard to come by or to keep. A twang in the voice, a quirky expression like "I reckon," a taste for banjo music - all passed on to children and grandchildren raised here - can lead to many other assumptions: This person is not smart, this person won't show up on time, this person's temper is likely to be quick. "Hillbilly" jokes and quips are common.

Sixteen months ago, Cincinnati adopted the nation's only human rights ordinance banning discrimination against Appalachians.

With 20 percent to 30 percent of the city's residents of Appalachian stock, the mountain folk are the second-largest distinct group in town, behind the 40 percent of the population that is black. The city schools have designated May as "Appalachian Month," and a political action committee, AppalPAC, supports sympathetic candidates, albeit with a mixed record of success. …

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