West Virginia's Appalachian Culture

Karen Morgan is a public school teacher and an Appalachian culture specialist.

 Listen to Karen Morgan as she talks about Appalachian Culture

In thinking about Appalachia, the first thing you need to know is that the word Appalachia is an old Indian word and it has a real definition, and that definition is "endless mountain range," because those Indians thought these Appalachian Mountains went on forever and ever and ever.

But you also have to know the other side, which is that you have to pronounce the name of Appalachia correctly. And Jim Comstock tells us in The Hillbilly how to pronounce the name Appalachia. He said it was named in the Garden of Eden. And this is what happened. In the Garden of Eden, "Snake," said Eve, "if ever you deceive, and I catch ya, I'll throw this apple at ya." And he said, "You can't go against a word that was named in the Bible like that," so you have to pronounce it "ap-uh-LACH-uh."

The other thing you need to know about Appalachia is what we are made of. Why are we a separate culture? Why are we a separate people? If we think about being a separate people, we have to identify the things that make us unique. And those things are very definite in Appalachia. We come together from lots of backgrounds, like Native Americans, and Irish and English and Scotch, and then a third immigration of Germans and Poles, and so many nationalities that came together that we are a real blend of all of those things.

And the mountains have figured into all of it. The mountains kept us so isolated from the rest of the country and from other people's involvement in our lives that we developed these characteristics:

All of those things you can find as characteristics in the lives of the people in Appalachia and you can certainly pick them out in the literature that's written about the people of Appalachia.

I hope you enjoy getting to know this new culture.


"There is a widespread belief among people whose knowledge of the mountain people has been gained from fiction, pictures and stories in the press, and programs on radio and television, that the part of the United States called 'Appalachia' is a region of poverty, depression, loneliness, and ignorance, whose inhabitants are called 'hillbillies.' The West Virginia 'hillbilly' is pictured as a kind of degenerate character whose chief occupation is making moonshine; he goes without shoes, wears dirty, ragged clothes, a ragged hat with a pointed crown, and is usually found asleep near his still or sitting on the porch of his little shack while his woman does the work. To true West Virginia mountaineers the term 'hillbilly' is highly derogatory."

Patrick Gainer, Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills (Grantsville, West Virginia: Seneca Books, 1975) 

True Mountaineers come in all types and styles, just as people in other parts of the United States do!


CULTURE is a way of life, unique to a given group of people. Discuss with your teacher and classmates the culture of your family and of your region.

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West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature in AppLit