Pine Mountain Settlement School


TAGS: Roscoe Giffin; Southern Mountaineer; Cincinnati; migration; reports; Social Service Association of Greater Cincinnat; Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee; workshop; Kentucky migration; sociological studies; statistics; population studies;


In April of 1954, Roscoe Giffin attended an important workshop that was held in Cincinnati, Ohio convened by the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee and the Social Service Association of Greater Cincinnati. The gathering was titled simply, “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati.” The workshop was convened to review the growing complexity of social issues surrounding “the newcomers from the Kentucky’s hills.” Dr. Giffin was asked to write the  “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati,” April 29, 1954, [copy here is second printing]. The final report was compiled by the staff of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee and Dr. Roscoe Giffin, of Berea College. It is a classic study of the going and coming back of Appalachian families to urban settings.

The issues for discussion that were determined by the participants were outlined as statements:

  1. Substantial migration from the hills will go on due to the area’s poverty and high birthrate
  2. These migrants’ adjustment to city life, as workers, parents and citizens, is important to Cincinnati
  3. Too many now make a poor adjustment, to their own hurt and that of social agencies, city services, schools, churches, industry, and community relations generally
  4. The gap and conflict between living-ways of hills and city can be studied like any intergroup problem
  5. Pooling local experience and sociological data can reduce our ignorance and stereotypes, in fruitful consultation

A little over 200 individuals attended the workshop and with the support of the SSA [  ?    ] Berea College, and the MFRC and a host of social workers, educators, government officials, personnel directors, and church and civic leaders, the joined effort produced a report. “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati,” April 29, 1954, [here, second printing]. The final report was compiled by the staff of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee and Dr. Roscoe Giffin, of Berea College. It is a classic study of the going and coming back of Appalachian families to urban settings.

Dr. Giffin’s report is based on his observations of the work of the Cincinnati workshop and his own observations of the “culturally determined patterns of behavior which the Southern Mountaineers bring with them when they come to live north of the Ohio River.” By the necessity of the requirements of the urban setting, Dr. Giffin focused his report on “observed patterns of behavior” of the Southern Mountaineers in the urban setting and not on generalized behaviors associated with the people in their mountain regions. This declared bifurcation did not always work out in Dr. Giffin’s report, as it is near impossible to separate the two without assigning the Appalachian urban dweller a new identity. But, perhaps that is one of his points.


What is so very valuable, however, is the substantive work that Giffin brought to the gathering social crisis identified with the mass migration of Appalachians to northern industrial cities such as Cincinnati. Statistically, he paints a growing population shift after 1870 to Ohio from three states: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia. By 1910 Kentucky had the second largest number of migrants in Cincinnati. Pennsylvania was first and West Virginia, third. By 1950 the entire Southern Appalachians were populated by approximately 8 million people. By 1950 the distribution was roughly the same, but the new Ohio (not just Cincinnati) immigrant numbers had increased dramatically


Pennsylvania 309,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)
Kentucky 275,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)
West Virginia 103,000 (new residents living in Cincinnati)


In the United States in 1950, Giffin tells us that there were some 3.5 million people who had been born in Kentucky but only 2.4 million were living there. This put 1.1 million people living somewhere else. This put the out-migration rate at something near 1 in every 3 persons born in the state living somewhere else. As coal saw the bottom drop out of the market following the Second World War, the out-migration saw upwards of 100,000 plus or minus people leaving the state as coal began decreasing production.

What is striking about the migration of peoples from the Southern Appalachians is the mobility of that population. Time and again Dr. Giffin notes the flow of cars filled with migrants going back to their states of origin for brief visits. This brief but frequent immersion in familiar surroundings, Giffin describes as a desire for the familiar, an integration that can be described as “knowing your way around” — a kind of immersion in family ties that reduces the “emotional deficit” that strange places often bring about.


Giffin describes the process: At “home” the migrants sit around their familiar tables, laden with the familiar comfort foods, and tell family stories and share stories of city life. The city life often holds considerable attraction for the young and a tense dynamic begins to evolve in many nuclear families. Giffin suggests that the larger the nuclear family the stronger the pull for migrants to maintain connection with their home area. This “familism” is a force that repeats itself over and over again in the large Appalachian families, — yesterday and today. As the Appalachian birth rate has gone down from the approximate 38/1000 ratio of the 1950s the pull to return has, not slowed significantly. What the lowered birth-rate has significantly altered, however, is the enormous pressure placed on housing for the migrant populations in the urban centers. The quality of living while supporting a family of 7 to 8 children requires significant income. Food, which often came from the land is now no longer available in the city and must be purchased substantially reducing any gains in salary. Housing is generally rental and often sub-standard as rentals are expensive and landlords often hostile to the patterns of behavior often identified with the Southern Appalachian migrant families. The urge to form a community with other migrants is, of necessity, strong.

In the 1950s the patterns of behavior in the Appalachian family was not so remarkable as Giffin seems to describe it. He calls it “well-marked.” Women across the country were not leaving the home to workm says Giffin. Men still dominated in the household and discouraged women from leaving the home to work. Those who did seek employment also faced the criticism of other women who saw work as interfering with child raising. Care for children and affordability of child care were strong deterrents to women desiring to work outside the home in the 1950s, a trend that continues to often be the case. Giffin also cites the move to city life disrupted the cycle of “chores” that family members engaged and the discipline that accompanied those cyclical work routines often found in rural households working the land and maintaining animals.

Further, neighbors in the migrant communities of the city often changed frequently and long interpersonal relationships were hard to establish. “Knowing your neighbor” and relying on the neighbor in an emergency became significant issues for struggling families in the city. The desire for the “community” drove the Appalachians into extended communities of relatives and regional clusters. The family authority also shifted to the mother, suggests Giffin, as the fathers were often more absent in the city environment. Giffin notes that this shift in parental control often resulted in the children’s and mother’s anger issues toward the absent but frustrated control needs of the father.


Social issues surrounding motivation are also cited by Giffin, who notes that the rural behavior which he calls, “just settin’ and a marked disinclination toward competition do not prepare the transplanted migrant children to deal with the competitive rivalry of city living. This lack of competitive rivalry, he notes does little to prepare the children for success against the more competitive and versatile city dweller. Giffin tells us that “just settin'” is seen as “loafing” by the native city-dwellers and a growing bias evolves in all areas of work and school.

Schooling was also a significant flash-point in the workshop dialogs. Giffin looked at the statistics of the mountain counties of Kentucky and determined that less than 15% completed high school in 1950. In some counties, he studied he found that in the age group of adults over 45 most had less than 5 years of schooling. Absenteeism was a chronic problem in the mountains and he cited the figure of half to one-third of the 7 to 13-year-old children were out of school! This low regard for education placed many of the children far below their peers when they relocated to the city. It is little wonder muses Giffen that absenteeism was a chronic problem with the migrating families. in their new home.


Interestingly, Giffin’s figures for the draft, seem to disagree with the popular notion that the Southern Appalachians saw a disproportionate number of men swept up in the draft, going to war and showing unusual bravery, such as the classic Sgt. York film mythologized. Based on an article cited by Giffin authored by J.J. McGrath, “Selective Service Rejectees — a Challenge to Our Schools,” in School Life, Vol. 35, No. 2, Dec. 1952 (pp. 35-37), the Selective Service in 1952 rejected 1/3 to 1/2 of all young men called into service from the Southern Appalachian region. Placing the region’s states in the highest rejection rates in the nation in 1952, however, this does not take away from the high numbers from the region that served with honor and distinction in both WWI and WWII.


On the topic of religion, the Giffen study also has some surprising observations. He makes room for basically two strains of religious practice. The one, the Holiness organizations he suggests are attached to social status and reflect the belief that members “…are the elect because anyone who is rich obviously didn’t get there on the basis of virtue.” This “virtuous” group of believers is contrasted with the second group that is seen to be more affluent and members of the Baptist or more fundamentalist traditions. He notes that both the Holiness adherents and the Baptists seem to ignore the social gospel and show little interest in associating their beliefs with a social consciousness or action. This rather harsh observation suggests that religion played a negligible role in moving the migrants toward any organized social self-rehabilitation.

MONEY MANAGEMENT AND “The characteristic of the species ,,,”

Money management is another area that Giffin cites as problematic to some classes of Appalachian migrants in their new urban home. A pattern that Giffin points to is the lack of ability to negotiate thrift and saving of money. He notes an “easy come easy go” attitude to the money earned in industrial jobs in the cities of migration by the Appalachians. He, however, suggests that there is another set of values seen in some migrants and that is a tendency to be “thrifty”. It is a tendency that Giffin suggests has its origins in the mountaineers’ Puritan heritage. Giffin suggests that the Cincinnati social service folk will rarely see these migrants in their offices as they migrate in very small numbers to the city and only rarely will be seen as a “problem case.”

At this point in The Giffin report, a phrase jumped off the page at this reader. It was his use of “the characteristic of the species ‘Southern Mountaineer’.” “Species”! Really? Up to this point, I could find points of identity with many of his observations, but suddenly I found myself lumped with a “species” that was separate from the rest of America. I began feeling like many migrants must have felt in their new home. “Rare species” suggests that any migrant from the Southern Appalachians is a rare species apart from the greater humanity — human beings? The questons about out-houses and “Why do you talk different?” surged in my memory.

Through the lens of the twenty-first century and as a Southern Mountaineer, I suddenly found myself wanting to take issue with Giffin and his observations. I wanted to be sitting in his classroom at Berea debating what made a sociologist tribalize his subjects. Strange that this reaction may seem to some, it was associated with the very section of the Giffin study that dealt with the freedom to see things differently. In many ways, Giffin had touched on a dilemma that still plagues immigrants. How do we maintain our identity with dignity and not with our defenses? On reading this section again it seems valuable to transcribe a section in its entirety. Reading the quote again, I forgave him a little for his use of the term “species”

Free to Differ, But —: Continuing this listing of the characteristics of the species “Southern Mountaineer,” we must not overlook the behavioral patterns centered around individualism. They expect to have their own decisions accepted and grant to others the right to their own decisions and the right to differ. “…Mountain people are inclined to be nonconformists. Many … have … ability to go their own way … being quite sure that their own way is just as good as anyone else’s.” (20) 

The quote within the quote is that of Edwin E. White, who wrote Highland Heritage, published by Friendship Press, New York, (p.35), in 1947. It is often cited in connection with the perplexing problem of defining “culture” in Appalachia. In actuality, White’s book was written in 1937, not 1947. It was then re-published in 1947, ten years later, with no revisions. White, a Presbyterian minister, was not unlike William Aspenwell Bradley, whose article, “The Folk Culture in the Cumberlands,” in the Dial of 1918, tried to make a direct a connection of Folk culture as found in Appalachia with the essence of American civilization. Even early writers as admired as John C. Campbell, in The Southern Highlander and His Homeland, used a broad brush to categorize mountain people…. it always ended badly as it set us apart — while giving us a “homeland.”

The insistence of an association of the Appalachian mountain people with specific ethnic, even racial, folk, and, for goodness sake, species, has been a trend that has plagued the field of Appalachian studies for the length of its existence. Sometime after 1920 this need to isolate the exceptional in the native Appalachian dweller began to fray and today our contemporary conception of the nature of America ‘s civilization is one that is fundamentally comprised of both migrants and immigrants who share many of the same aspirations basic to well-being. Another omission in the report of the Cincinnati workshop is a full accounting of African-American Appalachians as integral to the understanding of Appalachians, generally. Or, Irish? Or, Italians? Or? To read the report is to assume that there are not African Americans making the journey to Cincinnati to find work and that the only interaction occurs with “native” African American Irish, Italian, and other racial and ethnic populations. 

“Other,” is used today to set people apart and it continues to be a divisive word for Appalachian residents identified with a so-called Anglo-Saxon origin, but “other” pulled along the many other sub-groups that make up smaller proportions of the region’ population. The ratio of these “other” migrants in the Cincinnati social complex and their social relationship in the urban community is still under construction and discussion. Clearly, this “other” population was not been seen as integral to a discussion of the whole of Appalachian migrants and a consideration of targeted social services for those Appalachian migrants but was focused on a typical “species” of Appalachian. Such is the nature of the continuing debate about what constitutes an Appalachian and when “other” is used someone is disenfranchised. “Other” only further fragments the discussion of what should be universal empathy for the distress of all populations forced to migrate. Social intervention, generally, for all people in such distress, both here and abroad should not be parsed out. Recognition and empathy for the individual seem to still be out of reach in our contemporary world which is now even more fractured than in the 1950s ….. and just what is “maximum recognition”?


The author’s report continues its discussion of “Free to Differ, But …” and Giffin says

A practical application of these observations might be that personnel policies need to provide maximum recognition for the individual if their work is to yield mutual satisfaction.

I believe that this individualism shows up also as a tolerance which partly explains the fact that they possess less of the deep-seated racial and religious prejudices characteristic of many Americans, both North and South. I am of the opinion that in the right atmosphere they will lose their prejudices rather quickly. Such prejudice as they have is more like a coat than a suit of underwear into which one has been sewed. At Berea, we have found that their socially inherited prejudices yield quite readily to the medication of the integrated living of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

Migration is a story of going and coming back, but today’s migration is also a story of struggle to identify a place that welcomes and understands going and coming back. We now have a world in a state of migration and immigration as people seek to leave places where life has become intolerable. Today people are on the move due to many reasons: economic pressure, civil strife, war, disease, drought. ocean rise, environmental disaster and a myriad of other impingements on quality of life.


But with an eye to the growing tensions in contemporary life, all these dilemmas bring us to another characteristic found in Giffin’s study. That is, “Mind Your Own Business.” While most scholars acknowledge the general individualism and tolerance of the Appalachian people, there is a long history of feuds among Appalachian people that could quickly escalate and result in violence. Such anger can also be slow to dissolve. Guns still play a role in solving grudges, family disputes, and perceived injustices. With the prevalence of guns in the society today and the long-standing role of the gun in Appalachian households, this tendency is and should be a point of major concern to urban and rural social service providers, alike.


Well, I knew it was coming. Our language. Words Are Different, says Giffin — when spoken by an Appalachian. He notes that the language of Appalachian folk is distinctive. There is no disputing this auditory evidence, Scholars and others have found the distinctive sound and pattern and choice of words in the language of many Appalachians to be a treasure and a wealth of creative expression. Others have found the language of Appalachians to be “Hillbilly English” and a way to single “those people” out from the mainstream of American life and to label them as “ignorant”, uncultured, and lacking in social skill, particularly the skills of social dialog. It is my view and that of Giffin that what is needed in the general population are lessons in listening — not just to the unique cadence and construction of the language, but also to what is being said. We could all benefit from a conversation that doesn’t focus on “accents” before listening to the message.

In summary, Dr. Giffin leaves us with this message. Listen and Look and get Beyond the Data. He questions whether we can statistically isolate the average Southern Mountaineer and notes that his survey is preliminary and partial. He also provided the conference attendees a list of his summarized innate characteristics of Appalachian migrants

Behavior is directed by the traditions of the culture, but marked individualism is an aspect of this tradition.
At home in the mountains, the stranger is received usually with a cordial hospitality which may be concealed beneath certain shyness and reticence of manner.
Placidity of manner and behavior yields readily to any word or action which infringes on the prevailing definition of the rights of a free independent, self-reliant individual.
When so provoked, the response is apt to be militant if not violent.
Persons of authority tend to be defined as threatening rather than helping symbols though accredited authority is usually paid its due.

 Throughout this report by Dr. Giffin I kept thinking of my grandfather in a migrant culture in some city in the North. I wondered how he fared. I thought about the process of describing the Appalachian migrant and defining his needs against what I knew and did not know about my grandfather. I thought about my own absorption of Appalachian traditions and culture and my own long “migration” path that turned me into an “outsider”. I recollected my own goings and comings and the patterns and traditions that I thought were unique and that held a resonance with the patterns seen in the Giffin report. I thought about the current political tribalism that so readily identifies those for “us” and against “us”. I studied on the current state of the nation and measured against that turmoil what I have learned by coming back to Appalachia.  I learned that “going back” was sometimes painful, and sometime joyful. I learned to question my “Appalachianess” and to treasure it. What is lost and what is gained from all the coming and going from our places of origin? What does it mean to have identity? Are we born with it? Is it enough just to be a part of humanity in this world of branding? Our labels used to be on the inside. We had style, not fashion. Have we been copted? Will the current identity crisis only be a fad? Our problem is not the symbol but, the semiotics.

I remembered what I had read in a favorite book by Raymond Williams, The Country and the City, as he watched his rural countryside being destroyed by manufacturing and railroads.

“It is not the known, but the knowable community: A selected society in a selected point of view.”

I did not go and come back. I am constantly going and coming back.