Student Submission: The Appalachian Way
When you hear the word “Appalachian,” the words “redneck” or “hillbilly”, often follow or are considered synonymous. In most portrayals, we Appalachians are depicted as helpless, mindless individuals who need someone who is “better” than us to survive. This inaccurate depiction has set a stereotype that we are globally viewed by; that is not who we are. What the news and media doesn't show is our true, strong nature. They fail to capture the morals that most of us Appalachian folk dedicate our lives to, the very basis of our existence. The way we fight to survive and thrive in our home the way everyone else does in theirs. What makes us different? What absurd traits make us any less valuable than another? The truth is, we do not have the many luxuries that the rest of the nation has. We have built our own legacy with our own hands that nobody ever gets to see. Few other places will you see people pull to the side of the road out of respect for a passing funeral. Few other places will you find the friendliness of complete strangers at every step you take. I dare you to take a trip into these hills and hollers and compare what you find to what you see on TV. See the difference for yourselves.
Joe Ison captures the values of hard work well. He is 78, yet almost every time you see him he is on a tractor. He has no children or grandchildren, and was never married. His only family is his brother, John. They live in the same house, which was once a store the pair ran back in the day, in the small community of Linefork. They don't have much, yet you always see him bushhogging a garden or plowing a field, all at no charge, to help a neighbor in need. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
Teenager Cassie Chambers reads an excerpt from the book of Psalms, as her father, Adam, looks on and listens closely with ukulele in hand. They have been on the corner of the plaza in Whitesburg for hours, singing and reading scripture in hopes that someone would come to Christ. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
L&N retiree Norman Jones stands next to a large collection of artifacts gathered from his former job. Papers and documents, knives and belt buckles, all keepsakes and memories of his years on the railroad. He has no children of his own, only a few nieces and nephews. This is the last he would see these items, as in his own words: “They won’t do me any good when I'm gone.” He passes them down to a young rail enthusiast, myself, all at no charge. Just happy to see a youngster appreciate a few slips of paper that he dedicated his life to. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
The duo behind the Appalachian Youtube channel “The Ignited Coyote” spends the majority of their free time exploring and recording the many sights and sounds of our great region. Their channel, which has thousands of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views, highlights the small town life and the kindness each individual displays toward one another, an aspect the media gets wrong. Their channel and this article shares a similar goal: to shine a light on our true morals and values. So much effort goes into each and every video to assure that goal is achieved. You will never find anyone as kind and they are both quick to do anything they can to help someone else. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
Bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne speaks to a crowd of all ages who have packed their chairs to a covered pavilion for the Osborne Brothers Bluegrass Festival. They would spend the day rocking back and forth as the variety of bands and groups stepped up to play a few tunes. Some would stand up and dance a jig to the sounds of the banjos, guitars and mandolins harmonizing together. He wouldn't be paid as much as he would in Nashville, yet it was his hometown and community that brought him back home. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
Mine rescue trainer Tim Turner maps out his team's report as they talk back and forth on the radio. Every year the town of Cumberland hosts the Harlan County Safety Days, a three day event where mine rescue teams from Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas come to compete through a series of field problems simulating an actual mine disaster. He is one of dozens of men who have decided to put their own life at risk to save another in the case of an emergency. Twelve years prior, he alongside several others raced to the scene of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia and traveled back into the depths of the death tomb to help recover the last 9 bodies of fellow miners who had lost their lives. He has worked many nights underground and in the toughest conditions imaginable to make a living for his family. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
High school senior Seth Terry sprints around curve number 2 in the 4x8 relay race during the Harlan county track regionals meet. In a little under 3 months, he would graduate and head off for college, beginning some of the final steps of the childhood experience before venturing out into the world to live his own life. Likely he will look back 30 or 40 years from now and reflect on his high school memories, passing them down to his children and grandchildren who will listen in awe and wonder at the tales from long ago. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
Pastor Cecil Howard stares into the lens of the camera for a portrait following a flood interview about his church. He is in his late 70s and spends the majority of his time in scripture. He accepts no pay for the job, as he believes that isn't why a pastor truly tends to his flock. He prays each day and night that God will save the soul nearest to Hell, listening closely to the Lord's response and sharing those revelations with his congregation. By God’s grace, the only damage the catastrophic 100 year flood dealt to the building was to the carpet, though the water was several feet above the doorway. He praises the Lord even though destruction and death sweep his way. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
Teenager Christian Lowe stares through the lens of his camera as he records the passing freight train ahead of him. He has grown up with a passion for the railroad, documenting every step he takes and every train that passes in hopes of becoming a historian one day and being able to share his vast knowledge with others. He has big dreams and big goals to accomplish. At a young age, he chases after his future in the railroad industry, but until then he remains trackside with a camera and a strong influence, demonstrating that Appalachians can indeed be successful. Why? Because this is the Appalachian way.
This is but a mere glimpse at the way of life for many hardworking Appalachians. Hundreds of thousands of people live within the hills and hollers that surround our home, each and every one with a different personality and a different trait. We all stick together, we all work to survive, we all have a role to play in the community. We aren’t the dumb and ignorant peasants that we are made out to be. You can search the world over, and I will guarantee you will never find the culture that is present here anywhere else. Yes, I am proud to be an Appalachian. Yes, I am proud of my home and where I have grown up. Yes, we are all collectively Appalachians. And yes, we do matter.
This essay was submitted as part of a collaboration with the Digital Media class at Letcher Central High School in Letcher County, KY.
Micah Turner is a senior at Letcher County Central. Micah is a photographer, videographer and historian, operating his Facebook photography page “Micah Turner Photography” and Youtube channel “RailfanMicahTurner.” Micah is also an author, publishing his first book, “Down The Mine,” on Amazon in April of 2022. Micah thoroughly enjoys trains and anything to do with the railroad, and plans to continue with these passions and hobbies for the foreseeable future.