West Virginia's Appalachian Culture
Karen Morgan is a public school
teacher and an Appalachian culture specialist.
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
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
We are very
independent, we are very contented with the places that we live, we are very
close to nature, we have a deep sense of a belief in God, and we have a deep
sense of being friendly and kind to one another and helping one another, and
taking care of everyone else in their needs. And we also have a strong sense
of what's right and what ought to be and a deep mistrust of anyone who's new,
anyone who's a stranger. We don't trust change very well and we don't like
change very well.
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
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
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.
Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature in AppLit