Appalachian Affinities: Political Roots


For those who live in the Appalachian culture, geography and heritage and are perplexed by the sharp, invisible blue versus red divide between close-lying areas as well as for those from outside who don’t at all know what to make of the politics of America’s southern mountain outback, I’d recommend this recent piece from Moderate Voice: Canvassing for Obama in Southern Appalachia excerpt below.

Appalachia is a land of contradictions. It’s a crossroads of peoples, and it’s an isolated pocket of cultural residue. It is a place and it is a mentality. Appalachia conjures up the most beautiful mountains and valleys, and the most environmentally denuded places in the country.

Its signature music – bluegrass – perfectly encapsulates these contradictions. The standard songs come from 19th century Tin Pan Alley standards, Gospel hymns, 17th century Scots-Irish reels, 1960s folk anthems and African American blues. The instruments – the Spanish guitar, the Hawaiian (by way of a Slovak manufacturer) Dobro, the Scottish-Irish-English fiddle, the Italian mandolin, the African banjo – all reflect the varied influences on a music most Americans think of as “traditional” – even if only 50 years old.

Appalachia is a land of contradictions. And so is its politics.

One can drive through Floyd County this week and see these divides in the yard posters, one community to the next; and if truth were known, those biases hark back to deep divide of the Civil War.

Forget, hell.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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