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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Coming Back and Going Some More

Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  Coming Back and Going Some More

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


ROSCOE GIFFIN AND THE  1954 CINCINNATI WORKSHOP

In April of 1954, Roscoe Giffin, faculty at Berea College, Kentucky attended an important workshop that was held in Cincinnati, Ohio convened by the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee [MFRC] and the Social Service Association [SSA] of Greater Cincinnati. The gathering was titled simply, “The Southern Mountaineer in Cincinnati.” The workshop was conceived as a means 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, [the copy here is second printing] that would bring together the issues facing the group and to assist in preparing the final report with the staff of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee. It is a classic study of the going and sometimes coming back of Appalachian families who migrated to urban settings.

The issues for discussion 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.With the support of the SSA [Social Service Association of Greater Cincinnati], and the MFRC [Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee] 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.

KENTUCKY MIGRATION

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

1950 MIGRANTS

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 which is remarkable in its ebb and flow. Time and again Dr. Giffin notes the flow of cars filled with migrants going back to their sates of origin for brief visits when times get tough and the ebb when the economic conditions improve. 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 king of immersion in family ties that reduces the emotional deficit” that strange places often bring about.  

THE PROCESS OF APPALACHIAN MIGRATION

Giffin describes the process of migration as a familiar set of actions.  At “home” the migrants sit around their familiar tables, laden with the familiar comfort foods, and tell family stories and share stories of the new familiar city life. The city life holds a considerable attraction for the young and a tense dynamic often begins to evolve in the nuclear family.  Giffin suggests that the larger nuclear family the stronger the pull for migrants to maintain a 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.  Interestingly, as the Appalachian birth rate has slowed from the 1950s 38/1000 ratio, today the pull to return has not slowed significantly though the returning population is largely comprised of those of retirement age. Another shift noted by Giffen in the urban populations is that the birth-rate of the migrated Appalachian families declined. The result was a lessening of the pressure placed on housing in the urban landscape. It is a demographic that Giffen explores.

He suggests that the qualityof living in an urban environment while supporting a family of 7 to 8 children requires significan income. Food, which often came from family gardens is now no longer available in the city and must be purchased and that on top of rent. The economic demands substantially reduced any gains in the family income. Housing in the city for transient populations is generally rental and often sub-standard as the urban land-lords often exhibit hostile patterns of behavior toward the Appalachian populations and extortion is not uncommon. 

The new economic demands, particularly the housing demands gave families some urgency to seek out and form strong community bonds with Appalachian neighbors and other migrants and ethnic minorities. Giffen points out that these bonds are necessarily strong bonds.

WOMEN

In the 1950s, however, the patterns of behavior in the Appalachian family were not so remarkable to only that demographic.  Giffin seeks to describe them as a people apart, but the activity he assigns to their situation was repeated in many cities in the United States. It is a behavior that he called “well-marked.” He points us toward the women in the household.  Women across the country, he reminds us, were not leaving the home to work he declares. Men still dominated the household wage-earner position women were still discouraged from leaving the home to work.

Women who did seek employment often 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. It was a trend that was diminishing but could still be found in communities throughout the country.  Giffin declares that the move to city life disrupted the cycle of “chores” that Appalachian family members engaged. He observes, that the discipline that accompanied the cyclical work routines such as working  the land and maintaining animals began to fall away in the city and new patterns began to develop.

Giffin observed that 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” had driven the Appalachians into extended communities of relatives and regional clusters but even those could not sustain the pressures of the urban life. 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.

WORK AND “JUST SETTIN” AND SCHOOL

Social issues surrounding motivation are also cited by Giffin.  He declared that the rural behavior which he calls, “just settin’ showed a marked disinclination toward competition and did not prepare the transplanted migrant children to deal with the competitive rivalry of city living. This lack of competitive rivalry, he notes did 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 began to be evident in the areas of work and school.

Schooling was also a significant flash-point in the diaogs of workshop participants. Giffin looked at the graduation 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 Giffin that absenteeism was a chronic problem with the migrating families. in their new home.

MILITARY SERVICE

Giffin’s figures for the military draft, seem to disagree with the popular notion that the Southern Appalachians saw a disproportionate number of men swept up in the draft.  The general myth has persisted that Appalachians go to war in disproportionate numbers,  This appears to Giffin as incorrect. The picture of strong young and eager men going to war and showing unusual bravery, such as the classic Sgt. York film mythologized was not born out in the statistics. 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. This statistical analysis places the Appalachian region’s states among 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.

RELIGION

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 of more main-line denominations. This group 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 to Giffin 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 money earned by many 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  migrants in their offices for as a group they migrate in very small numbers to the city and only rarely will rarely be seen seeking financial aid or presenting 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 been made to feel in their new home. A “Rare species” suggests that any migrant from the Southern Appalachians is a rare species apart from the greater humanity — a sub-human being? The often made comments about long and lanky arms, “slouching” figures, out-houses and “Why do you talk different —look different?” surged to the top of my brain. Giffin, now seemed the unsympathetic observer and not an advocate for the welfare of the migrant.

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 — and any of his students. Strange as 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 throughout the world. How do we maintain our identity with dignity and not with our defenses? On reading this section again it seemed valuable to transcribe a section in its entirety. Reading the quote again, I forgave him a little for his use of  “species” which he isolated by quotes around “Southern Mountaineer”

“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 yet giving us a “homeland” and consequently an identity.

The insistence of associating  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 grave concern in the report of the Cincinnati workshop, in this writers view,  is the omission of a full accounting of African-American Appalachians as integral to an understanding of Appalachians, generally.  Irish? Italians? Or? To read the report is to assume that there were not African Americans making the journey to Cincinnati to find work and that the only interaction occurs with “natives” or so-described Anglo-Saxon whites. The African American, Irish, Italian, German and other racial and ethnic populations are also represented as distinct sub-cultures but rarely are they isolated as a “migration” group from some American rural area. African American’s fleeing slavery and poverty in the South seem the most closely aligned to the Appalachian migrant. 

“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. Pulled along as “other,” America’s sub-cultures and sub-groups make up smaller proportions of many regions population, but none of us is exempt from some sub-culture. The ratio of the “other” migrants in the Cincinnati social complex and their social relationship in the urban community is still under construction and discussion. Clearly, these “other” populations were not been seen as integral to a discussion of the whole of the Appalachian migrants in the 1950s. 

All this close analysis of Giffin left me wondering about the isolation of intervention. It left me wondering if a consideration all “others” would have come to fit Giffin’s analysis?  Would those “others” have benefited from the targeted social services that aimed to care for the Appalachian migrants? What were the similarities? What were the differences? Who saw them as not “fitting” the social need?  Would the “other” qualify as a “species” of Appalachian?  Such is the nature of the continuing debate about what constitutes an Appalachian. Clearly, when “other” is used, or “species ” defined, someone is disenfranchised. “Other” builds a wall around people. The term fragments the discussion of what should be universal empathy for the distress of all populations forced to migrate and to immigrate. Social intervention needs to be a human instinct for all people in distress, both here and abroad. Intervention can not be parsed out to species, but only to people. Recognition and empathy for the individual seems to still be out of the reach of our contemporary world which is now even more fractured than in the 1950s ….. and just what is “maximum recognition”?  Empathy does not to be re-packaged.

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 pressures, civil strife, political oppression, war, disease, drought. ocean rise, environmental disaster and a myriad of other impingements on quality of life.

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS

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, says Giffin in his analysis. 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. I suspect Giffin would find many who are sympathetic to this view.

WORDS ARE DIFFERENT

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 is not a re-tooling of Appalachian English but a lessons in listening in the general population.  We all need to listen  — not just to the unique cadence and construction of the language found among Appalachian people, but also to what is being said. We could all benefit from a conversation that doesn’t focus on the “accent” before listening to the message.

SUMMARY

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 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” of my geography.

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 mused about the current state of the nation and measured that against the turmoil I have seen characterized in the political attention paid to Appalachia and Appalachians. I have learned that “going back” is sometimes painful, and sometime joyful. I have learned to question my “Appalachianess” and to treasure it and distance myself from it when it centers on the darker side of human nature.

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 identity? 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, or the even more sinister, fad.  As Appalachin born have we been co-opted? Will the current identity crisis only be a fad defined by the J.D. Vances of the world? Our problem is not in the symbol but in the semiotics.

In giving this coming and going a deep thought, I remembered what I  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 and going and selecting my point of view.

SEE:

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Going and Coming Back I

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH III Place

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Blog: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – III

PINE MOUNTAIN AS PLACE
THE PHYSICAL SPACE OF AN IDEA
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LOG CABIN

Poem by Dora Read Goodale  (1863-1953), from Mountain Dooryards, Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, IA, 1941.

Little bitty ……. hit mought so be,
But it doesn’t look that way to me;
Ever’ log in it once a tree
That aimed at the sky ; the chimley-herth
Once a piece of the living yerth
And old Kentuck; and shutter and sill,
Puncheons, ruf-boards, or what ye will
Hewed and rived by my pap’s pap
When he was young an full of sap
Ther’es Coy’s fiddle — I tell you what! —
Mammy’s churn, and the big black pot
For Monday’s wash; and the shot-gun thar
Over the door, that’s kilt a bar;
Porch out front, and a picket gate
With flowers a-blowin early and late —
Why, ever’ one of em’s dear, so dear,
If I’d done been in Heaven a year
I’d still want out, to get back here.

                  Dora Read Goodale

Dora Read Goodale came to Pine Mountain Settlement School to teach when she was forty-seven years old.  She was born in 1866 in Mount Washington in the Berkshires .  Her arrival at the school in the founding year of 1913 provided her with a unique perspective of the school and community.   She came from a precocious Vermont family of writers and poets and brought those talents to her teaching at the school. Before she had reached adolescence she and her sister, Elaine Goodale [Eastman] had published extensively in national magazines and journals. and Dora, the younger of the two, continued writing poetry for most of her lifetime.  Her last work at age 75  was Mountain Dooryards  compiled while she was in residence at Pleasant Hill mission school, a Tennessee school, not unlike Pine Mountain. She served as the director of the Uplands Sanatorium in the late 1930s through 1941, a treatment center that was part of Pleasant Hill mission school.

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The 1920s view of the Settlement School above, shows the cleared areas and the site of the institution within the steep mountainous terrain. The wide angle view is deceptive, as the closeness of the mountain is missed in this panoramic view. Lower left is Old Log, the oldest building on the site.  The Tool Shed is to the middle left and the Office sits to its right.  Deep in the valley is the Burkham School House II and to its right is Old Laurel House.  The Barn,  sits high on the hill above the Office. The Infirmary (now Hill House)Practice House and Farm House were not yet built, nor were the Swimming Pool and the Draper Industrial Building.  Big Log is hidden in the middle distance of the photograph.  The Chapel is to the far right side and beyond, hidden by the dark knoll is Far House I. What stands out in this photograph is the large swaths of cultivated farm land. 

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Aerial view of Pine Mountain Settlement School c. 1941. Westwind is just under construction as the white patch to the right of the photograph. Again, cultivated fields stand out against the heavily forested area around the school. Today, most of the fields are overgrown with young timber and the cultivated land has been reduced to the central areas of the campus at the middle of the photograph. Photo, Arthur Dodd.

Pine Mountain Settlement School is nestled in the long valley on the north side of the Pine Mountain, a long continuous mountain chain on the Cumberland Plateau in the Southeastern United States.

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View down the Pine Mountain valley from the Westwind hill. c. 1920s.

The Cumberland Plateau encompasses some ten thousand square miles and contains nearly twenty counties in the eastern corner of Kentucky.  Pine Mountain Settlement School is in Harlan County, in the far southeast corner of the state where it borders on Virginia and Tennessee. The mountains in this area represent the most majestic in the state, particularly Big Black Mountain which faces the Pine Mountain range on its South side.

Harlan County was named for Major Silas Harlan, a commander in the Illinois Campaigns of 1779,  and was the sixtieth county added to the state.  It was formed from parts of Knox and Floyd counties. The county was one of the highest, most mountainous, and most remote of  the state’s 124 counties at the time of its formation and it remains remote in many ways, even today.

The history of Harlan County is dominated by a history of coal.  Most all the mountains  in the region contain some coal that was formed when the ancient bog and vegetation of an inland sea was compressed into peat and then into coal over a period of millions of years.  Pine Mountain, one of the mountain chains formed when the earth buckled and thrust upward has coal but is not coal rich as the coal seams are too difficult to mine. due to their quasi-vertical angle.  This long “thrust-fault” mountain chain, some 150 miles long, parallels the tall Cumberland range to the south which is certainly coal-rich.  Within this range is the “Big Black” mountain, at 3,300 feet, the highest mountain in the state.

When the Pine Mountain chain was  formed, it thrust upward along the 150  miles in a continuous line running east to west.  Pine Mountain Settlement School sits on the north side of this east-west thrust-fault and below the watershed point on the mountain for two rivers, the Kentucky and the Cumberland.

An amusing story is told of a local community member who had a unique perspective regarding how the mountain could have come to be so tilted. He asked Alice Cobb, a school worker, if she knew, “Why Pine Mountain was such a “quare” shape with so many big loose rocks scattered around.”  Miss Cobb started to respond with her short interpretation of the geology of a “thrust-fault” when the man continued. “Well people about here thinks that when Christ was crucified the earth trembled and shook so it knocked Pine Mountain plum over on its side. And, that’s why.”  And, “on it’s side,” it is. It is the gentle side, the slope, that forms the backdrop to the Settlement School though the mountains sit so close together, that the long slope is pressed up against everyone who lives in the valley.

As streams pushed their way  through the early plateau, they created multiple steep valleys with meandering creeks and rivers.  These many waterways eventually wound their way to the large tributaries of the Missouri and the Mississippi further west. Harlan County and specifically the Pine Mountain range above the settlement school is the source of three of Kentucky’s major rivers; the Cumberland, the Kentucky and further north, the Big Sandy river.

The Cumberland River runs westward and southward through the length of Harlan county and has its head-waters on the south-side of the Pine Mountain range.  Isaac’s Creek or Isaac’s Run, which runs through the campus of the School is the essential headwater of the The Kentucky River as it begins its journey and runs on the north side of the Pine Mountain.  This small stream soon forms Greasy Creek and then the Middle Fork of the Kentucky and then on to the main Kentucky river.

The Kentucky by state historian, Thomas D. Clark, told the story of the this important state tributary in 1942. Clark asked John A. Spelman, III, an art teacher at Pine Mountain Settlement School, to illustrate the book with his linoleum block prints.  The Kentucky was one in a series of books written for The Rivers of America Books, edited by Stephen Vincent Benet and Carl Cramer.  The Kentucky remains the definitive work on this beautiful river and a rich source for information on rivers and culture in the eastern part of Kentucky. Pine Mountain retains the Spelman original blocks for the prints in this important book.  Further, the linoleum blocks of John A. Spelman III may be found throughout Pine Mountain school publications created in the late 1930’s and the early 1940’s.

Thomas D. Clark says of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky

“… the middle one [stream] scampers along through the Big Laurel to Greasy Creek and then to an arbitrary point where temperamental map makers finally decide to imprint the name “Kentucky.”  Perhaps nowhere else in America does a stream drain a more genuinely rural or isolated area. In some respects the valley of this fork comprises America’s human museum. Here the great westward movement eddied and then stood still.  If it be true, as some sociologists have assured us, here are to be found America’s “contemporary ancestors.” Human life has changed little from what it was when the first settlers forced their way through the great pass at Pound Gap or wandered upstream from the “three forks.”  [Clark, p.9-10]

While Clark’s narrative written in 1942, captured life along the creeks of the north side of Pine Mountain, Spelman’s block prints capture the romantic wildness of the mountains in the area.  Spelman left another remarkable set of prints in which he captured the elegance of mountain cabins and the patterns of the mountain farm in his published work, At Home in the Hills: Glimpses of Harlan County, Kentucky Through the Media of the Linoleum Block and the Woodcut.  Published in the Pine Mountain Print Shop in 1939, this sensitive work caught the attention of Thomas Clark when he went looking for an illustrator for his classic, The Kentucky.

Spelman says in his introduction to At Home in the Hills

Where else can one find houses that so grow out of the soil, chimneys with so much unconscious beauty in their lines, roofs and wall spaces with such “at-oneness”? Time and the weather have done much toward their decay, but so have they colored these houses and barns to a mellowness that it makes them at one with the hills upon which they stand.

The Harlan County region has always been difficult to access and the remote geographic area saw only limited settlement in the early years of pioneer exploration. Further, the area  remained isolated far longer than many other more accessible areas of the Appalachian chain of mountains.  This geographic isolation of the north side of Pine Mountain in Harlan County has been a point of discussion of all who have sought to study the area and even today it continues to challenge visitors as they are asked to assess their visits to the School or are asked “How do you get there?” Whether the isolation of the area brings to mind Shangrila or geographic determinism, it is a topic in most any discussion of Pine Mountain Settlement School.  

Settlement of the region by pioneers,  largely European in origin, came early in the nation’s history.  The first exploration, completed by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750,  rapidly opened the area to settlement.  Immigrants, mostly gleaned from England, Scotland, Ireland and the German Palatinate diaspora, eagerly homesteaded the mountainous area as pioneer farmers joining the Native Americans who were found throughout the area.

bram_ (59) Coal Tipple, c. 1940.  Arthur Dodd, photographer]

When coal was discovered in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, another wave of immigrants came from Europe and then Eastern Europeans joined them to work in the coal-fields. Italians, Austrians, Russians, Hungarians, Rumanians, Czechoslovakians and Polish men entered the mining work-force in Harlan County in large numbers. African Americans shifted from share-cropping and from inner city life to join the coal mining labor force in many of the larger coal camps. Coal accounts for a large population of African Americans in Harlan County, particularly in the International Harvester and United States Steel mining camps of Benham and Lynch.

Kentucky’s eastern coalfields have been both a source of wealth and  a deplorable example of labor exploitation. The region holds land of extraordinary resources and extraordinary environmental degradation.  The history of the settlement school at Pine Mountain, found in its farming, foodways and festivals, a large and important theme for mountain living, but coal always runs as a sub-theme in all that was and is Harlan County. King coal has often stood in,  in contrast to, and sometimes challenged the environmental sensitivity of the School. Today coal mining is both a significant monetary asset and a gross environmental liability for the region. The lack of a diversified economy throughout the Appalachian coal fields has always presented a land of competing values and contrasts.

Authors who have written about the region have all approached the quandary of coal from different perspectives.  Dr. Thomas Walker in his important The Kentucky (1942) devotes one page to the topic.  “Coal” does not show up at all in the index to Henry Shapiro’s Appalachia on Our Mind (1978), one of the most comprehensive overviews of the Appalachian region.  David Whisnant, however, challenges the conundrums head-on in his All That is Native and Fine (1983)  He engages the coal story and citations for coal related subjects are many, including: coalfields  ; coal industry ; coal miners, etc.. Whisnant’s book recounts one of many conflicting stories of coal and its role in the life of eastern Kentucky, but it is a perspective that resonates with many and is important in the debates that surround the role of coal in the development of the early settlement schools of the region.

One story in the Whisnant book describes the early relationship of the coal industry with Hindman Settlement, Miss Pettit’s former home.  He recounts that early in the history of Hindman Settlement School, when Miss Pettit was still with the institution, the secretary, Miss Newman,  secured some $25,000 in preferred stock from the Elkhorn Fuel Company which over the years yielded a continuing revenue stream for the school.  John C. Campbell in a letter to John C. Glenn of the Russell Sage Foundation in 1913 noted that less than a decade after the founding of Hindman Settlement School (1909) some 76% of the school’s endowment was stocks and contributions from the local coal companies.  While this large investment in coal stocks was an early revenue stream for Hindman, Pine Mountain found it difficult to establish similar early ties to coal.  Katherine Pettit, when she came to Pine Mountain, reluctantly pursued both coal companies and logging companies for donations but was rebuffed in her early attempts to wrestle donations from both coal and timber companies working in the area. Her initial efforts to secure contributions from the Kentweva Coal and Lumber Company and its President, Mr. Merritt Wilson, were largely unsuccessful, as were her efforts to stop the Company from running a narrow-gauge rail line through the heart of the campus to haul timber from the region.

Ron Eller’s book, Miner’s, Mules, and Millhands (1986), a well researched classic resource on Appalachian life, also looks closely at coal and its impact on eastern Kentucky and other coal areas.  It provides a balanced, documented and clear assessment of the many sides of mining, mines and miners.  The story of coal and the Pine Mountain valley is a complicated one but the story of Pine Mountain Settlement School yields a history that largely placed the school outside the influence of the coal industry, but not its impact.  Though the initial purchase of land for the school involved a land swap with the coal and lumber company, Kentweva, the competition for land and resources in the narrow valley have steadily waxed, waned and waxed over many cycles at the School. Again, isolation played a key role as the north side of Pine Mountain has no coal and the area is too remote for much change.  It is, as recorded in a Settlement School survey taken in the late 1930’s, “Some Shifting Aspects of Our Problem,”  that the School was “16 miles, 6 hours from [the] Railroad.” Further, it noted that the “mines produce a large shifting element that is perpetually on the move, and therefore a very difficult class to help.” This antipathy toward the populations of coal camps and mining communities shifted during the late 1930’s and 1940’s when the need to help the youth from the large mining population centers became dramatic and youth from mining camps comprised a significant percentage of the School’s population.

For nearly half a century the school moved forward without significant contributions or endorsement from coal companies that came and went in the region.  Dis-entangled from any financial relationship to coal, the school became a voice for individuals, organizations and institutions that began to question the serious environmental issues associated with the coal industry. By the l970’s both the environmental and the social fall-out of the coal industry became a national issue and when Johnson launched his “War on Poverty,” the coal region came under the scrutiny of not just the Nation, but of the whole world.

When Uncle William said that he wanted the School to be a lesson even for those in other lands, he would not have imagined what valuable lessons many of those would be.  Over time, the school slowly became the conscience of the region with regard to mineral and gas extraction and the School began to openly oppose any entity that would damage the environment, the economic security of the region’s people, or the health of both land and the people.  This vocal advocacy which continued from the 1970’s onward was seriously challenged in 2000 when it was clear that the coal industry was quickly beginning to encroach on the rights of the school and was showing little concern for its operational environment and its modeling of environmental education.

The encroaching surface mining in the area threatened the image of the school as an environmental center and threatened the pristine scenic views of the school, its water sheds, and its unique flora and fauna. Fearing an ever-growing coal appetite and a fledgling gas exploration and facing an expanding degradation of environment, Pine Mountain took action and filed a petition on November 13, 2000, with the Kentucky Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to declare the surrounding 5,226 acres around the school as unsuitable for all types of coal mining operations. This so-called “Lands Unsuitable …” petition pointed out that the School had recently received  status as a National Historic Landmark site and that as a national treasure it would suffer irreparable harm from continued mining in the immediate area.

Robin Lambert, Executive Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School (1999 – 2001), said

“As trustees for a National Historic Landmark which provides a unique resident outdoor environmental education experience to over 3,000 school children each year, and which has been a cultural and educational resource to this community for over 85 years, the Board of Trustees of the School believes that the permanent protection of the School property, the spring-fed water supply, and the view-shed, from mining impacts, must be our first priority.”

As reported by the Kentucky Resources Council,  Lambert stated,

“The process for designating lands as unsuitable for mining was intended by Congress to protect those lands where simply mitigating mining impacts on the environment would not be enough.”

The 32 page petition, endorsed by the school’s Board of Trustees, with strong support from environmentalists, historians, and friends, was successful in its effort to curtail proximate mining and to protect both the environmental mission and the physical environment of the institution for future generations.

These actions were specific to the immediate threat to the institution and were not intended as an indictment of the responsible coal industry and the many labor benefits that  responsible mining operations brought to the region. Many of Pine Mountain’s boarding  school children and, later, the children within the community, had strong ties to coal mining and their families were often wholly dependent on the industry for their livelihood. The tensions of these conflicting interests can still be felt in the community, but the School pulled from these experiences one of its most important educational missions, that of raising awareness of the human impact upon the environment.

Today, strong ties to coal is still the reality in Harlan County and the surrounding region.  Coal is “King” and “Black Gold”  rules both the economy and the cultural mind-set of the region. But, as coal again turns its back on the people of the region and as the industry declines — some say its last decline — the people and the state are looking for other economically sustainable livelihoods.

It is the juggling of diverse perspectives, the commitment to civil response and the environmental realism of Pine Mountain Settlement School that makes it so very important to regions such as eastern Kentucky that are being devoured by insensitive corporate interests and by equally insensitive personal greed. This ravenous appetite for mineral and other  resources is now world-wide and the dangers to environment and to people is great.  Conflicting views arising from mineral extraction is an international reality that is being played out in nearly every corner of the world today as resources become scarce, and as industries lose their social compass and populations grow. Clearly, a strong environmental voice, education in our schools regarding our relationship and responsibility to vital resources such as land and water, and civic responsibility, is fundamental to everyone’s survival, not just those who live in eastern Kentucky. Learning how to live as a community of diverse interests but one that shares concern and respect for the common good is vital to the survival of us all.

William Creech reminded Pettit and de Long in his letters that he wanted the school to be a benefit not just to the community, to “their generations as yet unborn,  but to the whole state and nation and to folks across the sea if they can get any benefit out of it.” Pine Mountain still has this international perspective and continues to bring residents from throughout the country to work in the environmental education programs at the school.  Pine Mountain invites foreign visitors to the school to experience the beauty and peace of the valley, while taking from the visitors, their multiple world views. This has always been the history of the institution — that it both shares its lessons and learns from the lessons of others.

As the region continues its struggle with the dominant coal economy and consciousness, and now with the rapid decline of that industry — again —  It is not only Pine Mountain School, but the many social, religious, and educational institutions in the area that are struggling with what James Still, noted Appalachian author, called “a handful of chaos.”

James Still used this phrase in his sensitive portrait of an Appalachian family in River of Earth (1940). Caught in the chaotic transition from a simple life close to the land, many families were challenged to sort out a largely agrarian life-style against all that an evolving industrial economy promised.

In Still’s novel the family obliquely debates their future as they roam in search of the eggs of a guinea fowl in the pennyrile near their home.

 “This would make the finest hayfeed ever was,” Mother said.  “Just going wasting.”

Father kicked the lush growth where it caught the top hooks of his brogan.

“I hain’t started eating grass yet,” he said.

“There’s not a beast on the place to be cutting it for, and it’s the truth.”……”If we had us a cow her udders would be tick-tight,” Mother said.

“It would be a sight the milk and butter we’d get.”

“Won’t have use for a cow at Blackjack,” Father said.  “I hear the mines are going to open for shore. They’re stocking the storehouse, and it must be they got orders down from the big lakes. This time of year they come, if the’re coming a-tall.”

Mother picked up the baby, holding him stiffly in the crook of her elbow.

“Where is the big lakes standing?” Euly [their son] asked.

 “A long way north. It’s on reckoning how far, ” Father said. “There’s ships riding the waters, hauling coal to somewheres farther on.”

 “I had a notion of staying here,” Mother said, her voice small and tight.  “I’m agin raising chaps in a coal camp. Allus getting lice and scratching the itch.  I had a notion you’d walk of a day to the mine.”

“A far walking piece, a good two mile. Better to get a house in the camp.”

  “Can’t move a garden, and growing victuals.”

  “They’ll grow without watching. We’ll keep them picked and dug.”

“I allus had a mind to live on a hill, not sunk in a holler where the fog and dust is damping and blacking. I was raised to like a lonesome place.  Can’t get used to a mess of womenfolks in and out, borrowing a dab and a pinch of this and that, never paying it back.  Men tromping sut on the floors, forever talking brash.”   

 “Notions don’t fill your belly nor kivre your back.” [responded the Father]

Few authors have captured as starkly the lives of families caught up in the economic conflicts of the industrialization of eastern Kentucky, as does Still in this classic novel.  The mining and timber exploitation of a region that was largely agrarian, fractured the lives of the rural families in the region.  James Still heard their stories first-hand for he spent most all his life within the folds of the hills of eastern Kentucky on Wolf Creek in Letcher County. He knew the lives of his neighbors and he heard their voices and sensed their dreams and he listened,  closely.  Very closely.

pmss0008Land cleared for mountain subsistence farming.

Pine Mountain continues to listen, as well.  As Pine Mountain looks back on its one-hundred year history it can take pride in its strong protection of the land; its commitment to the people of the region; and its understanding of the pragmatic life-style, the dreams and the work-ethic associated with labor close to the land.

Farming, food, community celebrations, and a strong commitment to the preservation and conservation of the natural resources of the southeastern Appalachians, eastern Kentucky, and Harlan County,  are integral to the on-going ethos of  Pine Mountain Settlement School. The activities associated with these core elements are part of the “educating for life” that continues to hold a fundamental place in its framework for the future.  As the School has evolved and re-shaped itself to the twenty-first century and as it has adjusted to increasingly rapid cultural surges forward, it shows every evidence of doing so with a solid foundation and values just as solid.

As this narrative, Dancing in the Cabbage Patch,  continues, it shares one story of Pine Mountain Settlement School.  There are many.  The essays are dialogues intended to contribute to and invite dialog regarding the most recent re-visioning processes at the School and more extensively in the eastern Kentucky region.  The narrative seeks to show how re-invention and the processes associated with it pay homage to and derive strength from historical commitments.  Like the warp of a loom, the narrative threads of history at the School continue to be a pragmatic and a demonstrably foundational dialog. The personal narratives continue as an unbroken warp within various communities of interest. The long narrative of the first one-hundred years is foundational to the next one-hundred.   Farming, food, celebration and a profound environmental awareness are shared experiences that are understood at a very basic level by the institution and the community, even as that community continues to grow and change.

In its new form this electronic narrative looks to the past, but it also looks forward with hope that the guiding principles of the school, “… will make a bright and intelligent people …” as Uncle William hoped. Pine Mountain Settlement School is only one-hundred years down the road, but if the first century of the journey is any measure,  the next many centuries will be even more exciting and rewarding if the values and the vision of all stake-holders can be shared and learned. It is ironic that coal sits as a fundamental contributor to the digital revolution.  The coal-fired plant fueled the electronic frontier and continues to do so today.  That Appalachia has been one of the last stops on that frontier, makes the coal relationship even more ironic. It seems fitting that Pine Mountain call these inequities to our attention and that we remind the lords of industry that their empires were built on the backs and resources of this unique region.

Farming, food, various celebrations, and conscious environmentalism, still serve to help sustain the school and its community, but it is the people, seen in many of the images in this web, or more accurately, weft, that give hope for the coming centuries. The resilience, determination, intelligence, and work ethic of the people in both the school and the community suggest that the future is bright and that the people of the valley of the Pine Mountain and beyond will continue to dance in the cabbage patch.

Just how Pine Mountain continues its commitment to community, how it protects and nurtures the land, how it expresses it joys and sorrows and how the people will respond to pressures outside the valley and the region, cannot be known.  But, is is very likely that farming, food, health, celebrations, and environmental education will continue to be integral to the settlement school mission and to the lives of those living in surrounding as well as virtual communities of interest.  It is also clear that those communities of interest are now, not just local, but are expanding rapidly to the global.

Friends & Neighbors - VI-51 - Capturing a snapping turtle

Capturing a snapping turtle, children at Big Laurel, 1960’s. Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 –

Farming, food,  community celebrations, and conscious environmentalism have all become quite complicated by our modern life-styles, but as we all struggle to sort out how we will manage the “new-normal,” it may be instructive to look to the lessons found at Pine Mountain Settlement  School and  to imagine them practiced in a wider context.

 

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Students participating in the Environmental Education program at Pine Mountain, 2010

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Circle dance of students and staff on playground at Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1920’s. pmss001_bas098

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Children dancing on the playground at Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1990s.

How do we manage our resources?  How do we treat our neighbors?  How do we educate our children to respect nature? What lessons are there in working with our hands as well as our minds and hearts?  What is literacy?  Reading? Math? Computer skills? Visual literacy? Civic responsibility? How can we eat healthy? How can we grow responsible crops? How can we exercise, intelligently? How important are aesthetics to our well-being? How can we help to shape our life-style into quality of life? How can we better respect our natural environment? Speak out when our water resources are in peril? Stop the removal of our mountains? What does it mean to have quality of life? These are short questions with life long answers. To seek answers to these questions and more,  is the discovery of “educating for life” found at Pine Mountain School and in the surrounding community.

GO TO:  DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – IV – FARMING THE LAND

BACK: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH I – ABOUT