Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia

By Helen M. Lewis; Patricia D. Beaver et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Breaking New Ground, 1955–1977

Patricia Beaver

I grew up in north Georgia. And when I moved to the coal fields that was a
shock because there were a lot of similar characteristics, like the old Hard-
Shell Baptists, as we called them in north Georgia, and a lot of music was
the same. … But coal, the whole industrialization of rural people made a
big difference. And so that’s where I got really interested in what coal does
to traditional Appalachian culture.

—Helen Matthews Lewis, quoted in Lori Briscoe et al., “Unruly Woman:
An Interview with Helen Lewis”

Helen Matthews Lewis moved to southwest Virginia in 1955. Witness to the impact of the coal industry in central Appalachia, Helen became an activist educator and an outspoken critic of the devastation occurring in the resourcerich region that she now called home. Teaching and learning from her students, Helen fundamentally reframed for a new generation of scholars and activists the most basic assumptions about Appalachian culture, communities, and inequality.

Helen’s husband, Judd, had been hired to teach philosophy at Clinch Valley College, a branch of the University of Virginia in Wise, in the heart of the coalfields. At that time the University of Virginia would not employ both husband and wife in permanent positions. So for five years, Helen held temporary and part-time positions at the college, while she worked with women in Wise County to help start a local public library, learned from her students about the impact of coal on their region, and called for a coal severance tax to support public schools.

Helen sought the PhD in order to be qualified for a full-time position at

-44-

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Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1- The Making of An Unruly Woman, 1924–1955 12
  • Chapter 2- Breaking New Ground, 1955–1977 44
  • Chapter 3- Local to Global, 1975–1985 82
  • Chapter 4- Participatory Research, 1983–1999 124
  • Chapter 5- Telling Our Stories, 1999–2010 172
  • The Final Word 221
  • Chronology 231
  • Bibliography 237
  • Contributing Activists and Scholars 251
  • Index 257
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