The vast Appalachia region stretches across 13 states and is home to more than 23 million people, yet it may be the least understood culture in America. Appalachia has existed for generations as a region apart, isolated physically and culturally by its rugged mountains. The ethnically diverse Appalachian people - including many of the country's first immigrants - played a profound, and often overlooked, part in the nation's history and cultural and economic development. THE APPALACHIANS, introduced by country music star Naomi Judd, is a comprehensive historical and cultural overview of this distinctive region. This three-part series documents the unique legacy, courage, character, arts and culture of the central and southern Appalachian people. The film includes the work of outstanding Appalachian historians and scholars, writers, poets and musicians, including Ricky Skaggs, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Alison Kraus and traditional folk artists from the region.
Appalachia was America's first frontier. The Appalachian mountains include the Alleghenies, the Cumberlands, the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies. It is an ancient range, rugged and beautiful. For centuries, it was home to many Indian tribes, including Shawnee, Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee. In the 17th century, European explorers and traders came into Appalachia; they traded and intermarried with the Indians. By the 1740's, streams of immigrants left England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Wales seeking a better life in the new world. The population in the mountains swelled and it was more difficult to share resources. The British, the Indians and settlers endured decades of combat on the Appalachian frontier, which marked the edge of British territory in the colonies. One of the dominant groups in the mountains was the Scotch-Irish. The early pioneers brought their folkways and their music from the old country. Mountain life was isolated, and traditional culture was preserved. The old ballads and fiddle tunes were greatly beloved, and handed down through generations. The men of Appalachia fought bravely in the American Revolution. Afterwards, they railed at taxes and regulations imposed by the new American government. They found comfort in religion, which was enlivened by a series of evangelical revivals in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Traditional music was mingled with the [56 minutes]
The story of Appalachia is about the struggle over land. In the 1830'sthe growing nation set its sights on land that was still owned by the Indians. President Andrew Jackson, himself a son of Appalachia, ordered the removal of the Cherokee from their mountain homes and marched them to settle in what is now Oklahoma. Slavery and other social and economic differences were widening the gap between the American north and south. There were fewer slaves in the hilly Appalachian region than in plantations farther south, but the mountains would become a fierce Civil War battleground. Members of the same family fought for the Union and for the Confederacy. It was a time of violence and chaos, leaving scars on mountain life for years to come. After the Civil War, industrialization came to Appalachia. Railroads were built, forests were cut, and outside owners bought up the land. During the boom, a conflict between two timbering families, the Hatfields and the McCoys, was called a `blood feud' and turned into legend. Outsiders created the stereotype of a stupid, violent hillbilly, an image that was seriously damaging to the people of Appalachia. But timbering and coal mining brought jobs to the region. Through the early part of the 20th century, men left their farms for a regular wage, but they found their lives controlled by the coal companies. The United Mine Workers tried to organize, but it was resisted by the owners, often with violence. Resentments grew, and exploded in a series of devastating strikes known as the "great coal wars". Through their struggles, the people of Appalachia held on to their love of land and family. Music continued to have great meaning for them, and they often adapted old, traditional ballads into songs that told the story of their lives in America. [56 minutes]
At the turn of the 20th century, the phonograph and the radio exposed the mountain people to new influences, and took mountain music across America. Stars like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family began making records. And it was a radio program at WSM in Nashville, Tennessee, that gave birth to the Grand Ole Opry. But times were hard, and Appalachia fell into an economic depression even before the rest of the country. President Roosevelt's New Deal was a great boon to the region. The TVA brought electricity into the mountain hollers; the WPA and the CCC offered jobs and built infrastructure. Roosevelt was a hero in Appalachia, and many wondered how they would have survived without the New Deal. World War II took many young people from the mountains. After the war, underground mines were mechanized, and miners were laid off. Throughout the 1950's, people flocked to the big cities in search of work. For those who tried to stay home, it became harder to hold on to their land. State and federal governments claimed property for dams; family farmsteads were flooded, and more people moved away. It was one of the largest internal migrations in American history, and left many Appalachian people displaced in an urban world. The War on Poverty in the 1960's again sent federal aid into Appalachia. But television and magazines showed painful images of hunger and poverty, reinforcing the stereotype of the poor hillbilly. The nation still has a need for coal, and methods have been found to produce it more cheaply and efficiently. In the 1950's, it was strip-mining, and for the past thirty years it has been a process that opponents call "mountain-top removal." [56 minutes]