In Literature Appetizer, Ben gives you just a taste of a book. Not meant to replace the full meal, this is meant to whet your appetite. Bon appetit!
What’s the unifying story of Appalachia? What common theme can you find time and time again in these mountains? Many people would answer coal. And while that is a big part of the story, Ramp Hollow: the Ordeal of Appalachia by Steve Stoll showcases an even deeper story: one of the privileged taking from everyone else.
In terms of who has privilege, we often base the conversation around skin color and gender, and understandably so. Many people are denied jobs or pay based entirely on race and gender. But privilege can come in many other forms, and although hardships can be different, often they “rhyme.”
Yes, the First Peoples that collectively lived in Appalachia since time immemorial were demonized and systematically forced off their land. While not nearly on the same scale, the Scot-Irish who fled persecution and ridicule in England were persecuted here as well. That persecution evolved as this nation grew and changed culturally; first it was coastal elites saying they do not contribute anything to society by homesteading, to now when outsiders say they are uneducated and harmful to democracy.
This book does a fantastic job at giving an overview on how homesteaders who just wanted to get away from everyone evolved into the backbone of the coal industry. It talks of a people willing to fight for their rights (since Unions were founded in West Virginia) and at the same time some feel powerlessness against large corporations destroying their heritage.
As someone who is just recognizing his own heritage in Appalachia, this was a fantastic start to understand how life in the mountains has changed over the past few hundred years. I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially if you have heritage in these mountains.