Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945 Essay
In Uneven Ground, the author Ronald D.
Eller narrates the economic, political, and social change of Appalachia after World War II. He writes “persistent unemployment and poverty set Appalachia off as a social and economic problem area long before social critic Michael Harrington drew attention to the region as part of the “other America” in 1962. ”(pp. 2) Some of the structural problems stated by Eller include problems of land abuse, political corruption, economic shortsightedness, and the loss of community and culture; personally view the economic myopia as being the most daunting.
Arguing flaws in the expansion of Appalachia’s postwar economy, Eller responds this led to “growth without development”. With the coal industry flourishing among soaring markets and technological innovation, our region experienced a weakening out-migration, an increase in absentee land ownership, environmental devastation, agricultural collapse, rising unemployment, and limited non-resource extraction economic development. My interest would be in the loss of community and culture. Growing up in Appalachia I deem myself to be “qualified” in addressing this problem.Knowing we still participate in a lot of what is old tradition and culture, we also accept things as our culture today that was viewed as destructive before. Appalachians still live off the land and are good at making a lot out of a little. But we also rely on the coal industry today and engage in that as part of our regions culture. In Appalachia “unemployment, poverty, and welfare dependence became a way of life in communities throughout the region.
”(pp. 28) With economic and social problems worsening after the years of the depression an estimate of almost 1. 2 million residents moved out of the Appalachian region.This left only about 6 percent of the mountain population employed full-time in agriculture. With not only agricultural jobs declining the coal mines, like today, has been on its own turmoil in unemployment. In the 1920s the total U.
S. miner employment was 784,621. In the 1950s it ranged from 258,616 – 488,206. And today there are about 92,000 employed coal miners. With new technological advances in machinery the average production of a miner is at a continual rise while the employment of the miners is at a downfall. The “players” in our region consist of many people ranging from federal agencies to church organizations.Some of them would include Appalachian Volunteers (AV), President’s Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC), Council of the Southern Mountains (CSM), Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People (AGLSP), Appalachian Leadership and Community Outreach (ALCOR), Area Redevelopment Administration (ARA), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA), Black Lung Association (BLA), Community Action Agency (CAA), Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), and many more dedicated organizations and individuals contributing and fighting for rights and benefits in our region.
These are some of the efforts by our regions “players”. The Kennedy administration’s efforts to abolish poverty trace the rediscovery of Appalachia by federal policymakers as the sign of underdevelopment in what was known as the “other America”. Growing on the internal colony model, and with the work of local activists like Whitesburg, Kentucky, native Harry Caudill, the Kennedy administration launched a federal development program in our region. Collaborating with the Conference of Appalachian Governors, the Kennedy administration started an effort to secure funds for the region from federal financial institutions.
After John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson pledged to continue to support Appalachia’s backbone development and made the region one of the centerpieces of his War on Poverty. With the passage of the Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA) in 1965, the formation of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), and the media’s increasing of interest in the region’s poverty-stricken residents, the development of the federal government’s poverty strategy became apparent across Appalachia.Ronald Eller’s book Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945 is a narrative of all the struggles and discrepancies of the Appalachian region. When addressing the title of his book, it can be seen the appropriateness of word “uneven”.
Whether Eller was implying “uneven” to be figurative or literal, it certainly would pertain to both. Uneven in a literal sense is exactly what our region is. Geographically it’s uneven with its Mountains and off-balance low land. These are the basis for our culture to begin with.
Because the regions ground is so “uneven” it was almost inaccessible making residents become self-reliant, and forcing them to live off their own land. The culture of this is what leads to the underdevelopment of Appalachia and the rest of America to view it as backward and poor. In a figurative sense, Eller addresses the broader view of how Appalachia’s development has been uneven. How unequal the access to good jobs, education, and healthcare are in our region. Appalachia’s future as a region is a question that as a native I would brace myself before hearing the honest answer.Though it seems that at one time Appalachia was forced to be a region of isolation and backwardness due to the “unevenness” of its boundaries, today I feel that we choose to be not under but just less developed.
At least that’s how I like to see it, still living off our land with our gardens and ability to hunt, passing down the secrets of a simpler life from generation to generation. Some people say Appalachia is a dying culture, but maybe with the slow downfall of our Coal Mining Industry our culture isn’t dying but being reborn again.Feeling like our country might be going through an economic crisis as a whole can we agree with Eller when he concludes, “Appalachia was not different from the rest of America; it was in fact a mirror of what the nation was becoming. ” Can this be true today? Maybe that’s what will become of Appalachia; it will become our role-model region.
That might be a possibility, or maybe our culture will soon be forgotten with the everyday improvements in technology, the ongoing competition of companies to expand and become accessible in all regions.Maybe our Appalachia, our home, will become nothing more but that of an overdeveloped, over populated, super dependent, has been culture. There are so many possibilities for what is possible for the future of our region; I’d rather not ponder on the idea too long. When it comes to what changes and who could make changes to improve our region I would say one would be our President. Our community is waiting day to day to see what will happen with our coal mining industry.Though mines can be viewed as destructive and dangerous, it’s also plain to see they keep our economy afloat. Making the decision to eradicate our mining industry would be the same as deciding to shut our region down as a whole.
The Appalachian Regional Commission states that if this was to happen they would create jobs for Appalachian regions. Though I would rather Appalachia stay the same it’s constantly addressed we need to improve our infrastructure. So maybe it’s up to the Appalachia population to improve itself, or maybe we don’t need improvement at all.Eller wrote his book with research over our region, he never fully states his ideas on what can or needs to be done to improve our region. Whether he’s going to attempt that with a third book or he didn’t dare try to guess what is in store for our future I don’t know. Is it really possible to state anything will improve Appalachia without trying things first, no one can be sure? It seems that if improvement of our “uneven ground” is essential or not it’s only sensible to say we will know in the future.