A splendid synthesis by Kentuckian Drake (History/Berea Coll.), who has devoted his career to the study of Appalachia.
In the author’s definition, “Appalachia” comprises territory from New York to Alabama. He begins this swift, sweeping study not with the geological story (a questionable omission), but with the history of the earliest humans—Indians who lived in what is now northern Alabama about 8,000 years ago. (Earlier Indian groups had hunted in the region but did not remain.) Drake then considers the Europeans immigrants and identifies among them a mentality that remains today—what he calls a “yeomanesque aspiration for land.” The first Europeans to arrive (circa 1650) were the fur traders, followed by a major influx of Scotch-Irish (about 250,000 of them between 1715 and the American Revolution) and a sizeable number of Germans. Drake then explores the effects of war on the region. He examines the harsh treatment of Indians, especially the notorious relocation of the Cherokee in 1838–39 (the shameful “Trail of Tears” from Tennessee to Oklahoma resulted in the deaths of some 5,000 Cherokees). Drake traces the roots of the deep divisions in the region between those with money and power and those without, and he maintains a reasonable balance between passionate advocacy and dispassionate scholarship in his analysis of the effects on the region of the coal, chemical, and hydroelectric power industries. Along the way, he discusses people and policies long associated with Appalachia—from Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett to the Tennessee Valley Authority to the War on Poverty. He shines some light on the little known regional histories of African-Americans (sometimes called “Afrilachian”) and of the “Melungeons” (a mysterious multi-racial people whose full story remains to be told). He also briefly surveys the development of literature, art, and music in the region.
An essential text that establishes the facts, tells the stories, identifies the heroes and villains, explodes the stereotypes, and demystifies and celebrates the region. (16 pp. b&w photos; 8 maps)