Appalachians - Orientation

Identification. "Appalachians" refers to a largely rural people who reside in the southern Appalachian region covering about 110,000 square miles in the states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Although these rural people are only a minority of the regional population, the region has long been defined in terms of their traditional culture. Geographically isolated throughout much of their history, they are thought to have retained cultural traditions of early nineteenth-century pioneers. Their language and music are thought by some to be "pure" survivals of Elizabethan forms, although many scholars believe that this is something of an exaggeration. It is no exaggeration, however, that White inhabitants of southern Appalachia were cut off from the mainstream of American culture and that their culture is conservative. Their ethos and values center on those traditionally associated with small, rural communities in the United States including individualism, familism, loyalty in personal relationships, and egalitarianism. Appalachians are known to the general American population through television and comicstrip stereotypes as "hillbillies."

Location. As noted above, Appalachians are spread through the Appalachian Mountains in nine states. This area consists of three physiographic regions. The Blue Ridge Mountains, with the highest peaks in the area, constitute the eastern region; the central, southern, East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia valleys and their ridges constitute the central region; and the Appalachian plateau forms the western region. Settled areas and cultivable land are scattered along streams and their basins, coves, and hollows.

Demography. At the time of the first U.S. census in 1790, the population of southern Appalachia was 175,000 with most of these people settled in what is now Virginia. Settlement throughout the rest of southern Appalachia was completed after the removal of the Cherokee in 1836 and the discovery of gold in northern Georgia. The area remained largely isolated until the Civil War. By 1960 there were 5.7 million people living in the southern Appalachians, with the population expanding steadily up to that time because of a high birthrate that offset periodic population declines stemming from outmigration. Outmigration has produced large Appalachian enclaves in industrial towns in Ohio and Kentucky as well as in cities such as Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. The southern Appalachian population is now thought to be either stable or increasing. There are relatively few African-Americans in the region, compared to the rest of the South, although a number of biracial American Isolate groups are found in Appalachia.

Linguistic Affiliation. Appalachians speak a regional dialect of English that is described by some as being difficult for outsiders to understand.

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