top of page
  • Writer's

Appalachia, Part 1 Of 2


June 11, 2022

Embarrassingly ignorant. That's the phrase I would use to describe my knowledge of Appalachia. This fact hit me like a 2x4 when I was in southern Kentucky/southwest Virginia. I was surprised by what I saw -- communities that I would describe as typically rural. I wondered when I would see the Appalachia I had in my mind -- think the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou." There maybe pockets that resemble that but that is not what defines Appalachia. I was embarrassed reading this article from Wikipedia about how large an area Appalachia covers and how many cities -- major cities -- are included in the area.

Consider me humbled.

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York State to northern Alabama and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, Appalachia typically refers only to the cultural region of the central and southern portions of the range, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia southwest to the Great Smoky Mountains. In 2019, the region was home to an estimated 25.7 million people, of which roughly 81% are white.

Since its recognition as a distinctive region in the late 19th century, Appalachia has been a source of enduring myths and distortions regarding the isolation, temperament, and behavior of its inhabitants. Early 20th century writers often engaged in yellow journalism (yellow journalism, the use of lurid features and sensationalized news in newspaper publishing to attract readers and increase circulation. The phrase was coined in the 1890s to describe the tactics employed in the furious competition between two New York City newspapers, the World and the Journal.) focused on sensationalistic aspects of the region's culture, such as moonshining and clan feuding, and often portrayed the region's inhabitants as uneducated and prone to impulsive acts of violence. Sociological studies in the 1960s and 1970s helped to re-examine and dispel these stereotypes. Stereotypes about Appalachian people being ignorant, anti-progress, and racist are still grappled in the region by portrayals in media and press publications.

While endowed with abundant natural resources, Appalachia has long struggled economically and been associated with poverty. In the early 20th century, large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s the region had failed to capitalize on any long-term benefits from these two industries. Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government sought to alleviate poverty in the Appalachian region with a series of New Deal initiatives, specifically the Tennessee Valley Authority. This was responsible for the construction of hydroelectric dams that provide a vast amount of electricity and that support programs for better farming practices, regional planning, and economic development. On March 9, 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission was created to further alleviate poverty in the region, mainly by diversifying the region's economy and helping to provide better health care and educational opportunities to the region's inhabitants. By 1990, Appalachia had largely joined the economic mainstream but still lagged behind the rest of the nation in most economic indicators.

Defining the Appalachian region

William G. Frost, an American Greek scholar who was credited with coining the phrase "Appalachian American."

Since Appalachia lacks definite physiographical or topographical boundaries, there has been some disagreement over what exactly the region encompasses. The most commonly used modern definition of Appalachia is the one initially defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965 and expanded over subsequent decades. The region defined by the Commission currently includes 420 counties and eight independent cities in 13 states, including all of West Virginia, 14 counties in New York, 52 in Pennsylvania, 32 in Ohio, 3 in Maryland, 54 in Kentucky, 25 counties and 8 cities in Virginia, 29 in North Carolina, 52 in Tennessee, 6 in South Carolina, 37 in Georgia, 37 in Alabama, and 24 in Mississippi. When the Commission was established, counties were added based on economic need, however, rather than any cultural parameters.

The first major attempt to map Appalachia as a distinctive cultural region came in the 1890s with the efforts of Berea College president William Goodell Frost, whose "Appalachian America" included 194 counties in 8 states. In 1921, John C. Campbell published The Southern Highlander and His Homeland in which he modified Frost's map to include 254 counties in 9 states. A landmark survey of the region in the following decade by the United States Department of Agriculture defined the region as consisting of 206 counties in 6 states. In 1984, Karl Raitz and Richard Ulack expanded the ARC's definition to include 445 counties in 13 states, although they removed all counties in Mississippi and added two in New Jersey. Historian John Alexander Williams, in his 2002 book Appalachia: A History, distinguished between a "core" Appalachian region consisting of 164 counties in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, and a greater region defined by the ARC.

In the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (2006), Appalachian State University historian Howard Dorgan suggested the term "Old Appalachia" for the region's cultural boundaries, noting an academic tendency to ignore the southwestern and northeastern extremes of the ARC's pragmatic definition. Sean Trende, senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics, defines "Greater Appalachia" in his 2012 book The Lost Majority as including both the Appalachian Mountains region (western Virginia and North Carolina, the Piedmont region in western South Carolina, West Virginia, southern Ohio, the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee, northern Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi) and the Upland South (southern Indiana and Illinois, the Bluegrass, Mississippi Plateau, Western Coal Field, and Jackson Purchase regions in central and western Kentucky, Middle and West Tennessee, Missouri, the Ozarks in Arkansas, Little Dixie and Southwestern Oklahoma, North and East Texas, and the Texas Hill Country) following Ulster Protestant migrations to the Southern and Midwestern United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Toponymy and pronunciation

While exploring inland along the northern coast of Florida in 1528, the members of the Narváez expedition, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, found a village of indigenous peoples near present-day Tallahassee, Florida, whose name they transcribed as Apalchen or Apalachen (IPA: [aˈpal(a)tʃen]). The name was soon altered by the Spanish to Apalache (Apalachee) and used as a name for the tribe and region spreading well inland to the north. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition first entered Apalachee territory on June 15, 1528, and applied the name. Now spelled "Appalachian", it is the fourth oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S.[13] After the de Soto expedition in 1540, Spanish cartographers began to apply the name of the tribe to the mountains themselves. The first cartographic appearance of Apalchen is on Diego Gutiérrez's map of 1562; the first use for the mountain range is the map of Jacques le Moyne de Morgues in 1565.[14] Le Moyne was also the first European to apply "Apalachen" specifically to a mountain range as opposed to a village, native tribe, or a southeastern region of North America.

The name was not commonly used for the whole mountain range until the late 19th century. A competing and often more popular name was the "Allegheny Mountains", "Alleghenies", and even "Alleghania". In the early 19th century, Washington Irving proposed renaming the United States either "Appalachia" or "Alleghania".

In northern U.S. dialects, the mountains are pronounced /æpəˈleɪtʃənz/ or /æpəˈleɪʃənz/. The cultural region of Appalachia is pronounced /æpəˈleɪʃ(i)ə/, also /æpəˈleɪtʃ(i)ə/, all with a third syllable like "lay". In southern U.S. dialects, the mountains are called the /æpəˈlætʃənz/, and the cultural region of Appalachia is pronounced /ˈæpəˈlætʃ(i)ə/, both with a third syllable like the "la" in "latch". This pronunciation is favored in the "core" region in central and southern parts of the Appalachian range. The occasional use of the "sh" sound for the "ch" in the last syllable in northern dialects was popularized by Appalachian Trail organizations in New England in the early 20th century.


Early history

Native American hunter-gatherers first arrived in what is now Appalachia over 16,000 years ago. The earliest discovered site is the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Washington County, Pennsylvania, which some scientists claim is pre-Clovis culture. Several other Archaic period (8000–1000 BC) archaeological sites have been identified in the region, such as the St. Albans site in West Virginia and the Icehouse Bottom site in Tennessee. The presence of Africans in the Appalachian Mountains dates back to the sixteenth century with the arrival of European colonists. Enslaved Africans were first brought to America during the 16th century Spanish expeditions to the mountainous regions of the South. In 1526 enslaved Africans were brought to the Pedee River region of western North Carolina by Spanish explorer, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllõn. Enslaved Africans also accompanied the expeditions of Fernando de Soto in 1540 and Juan Pardo, in 1566 who both traveled through Appalachia.[19]

In the 16th century, the de Soto and Juan Pardo expeditions explored the mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, and encountered complex agrarian societies consisting of Muskogean-speaking inhabitants. De Soto indicated that much of the region west of the mountains was part of the domain of Coosa, a paramount chiefdom centered around a village complex in northern Georgia.[20] By the time English explorers arrived in Appalachia in the late 17th century, the central part of the region was controlled by Algonquian tribes (namely the Shawnee) and the southern part of the region was controlled by the Cherokee. The French based in modern-day Quebec also made inroads into the northern areas of the region in modern-day New York state and Pennsylvania. By the mid 18th century the French had outposts such as Fort Duquesne and Fort Le Boeuf controlling the access points of the Allegheny River valley and upper Ohio valley after exploration by Celeron de Bienville.

European migration into Appalachia began in the 18th century. As lands in eastern Pennsylvania, the Tidewater region of Virginia and the Carolinas filled up, immigrants began pushing further and further westward into the Appalachian Mountains. A relatively large proportion of the early backcountry immigrants were Ulster Scots—later known as "Scotch-Irish", a group mostly originating from southern Scotland and northern England, many of whom had settled in Ulster Ireland prior to migrating to America[21][22][23][24] — who were seeking cheaper land and freedom from Quaker leaders, many of whom considered the Scotch-Irish "savages". Others included Germans from the Palatinate region and English settlers from the Anglo-Scottish border country. Between 1730 and 1763, immigrants trickled into western Pennsylvania, the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia, and western Maryland. Thomas Walker's discovery of the Cumberland Gap in 1750 and the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 lured settlers deeper into the mountains, namely to upper east Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and central Kentucky.

During the 18th century, enslaved Africans were brought to Appalachia by European settlers of trans-Appalachia Kentucky and the upper Blue Ridge Valley. According to the first census of 1790, more than 3,000 enslaved Africans were transported across the mountains into East Tennessee and more than 12,000 into the Kentucky mountains.[25] Between 1790 and 1840, a series of treaties with the Cherokee and other Native American tribes opened up lands in north Georgia, north Alabama, the Tennessee Valley, the Cumberland Plateau regions, and the Great Smoky Mountains along what is now the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The last of these treaties culminated in the removal of the bulk of the Cherokee population (as well as Choctaw, Chickasaw and others) from the region via the Trail of Tears from 1831 until 1838.

The Appalachian frontier

Appalachian frontiersmen have long been romanticized for their ruggedness and self-sufficiency. A typical depiction of an Appalachian pioneer involves a hunter wearing a coonskin cap and buckskin clothing, and sporting a long rifle and shoulder-strapped powder horn. Perhaps no single figure symbolizes the Appalachian pioneer more than Daniel Boone (1734–1820), a long hunter and surveyor instrumental in the early settlement of Kentucky and Tennessee. Like Boone, Appalachian pioneers moved into areas largely separated from "civilization" by high mountain ridges, and had to fend for themselves against the elements. As many of these early settlers were living on Native American lands, attacks from Native American tribes were a continuous threat until the 19th century.

As early as the 18th century, Appalachia (then known simply as the "backcountry") began to distinguish itself from its wealthier lowland and coastal neighbors to the east. Frontiersmen often bickered with lowland and tidewater "elites" over taxes, sometimes to the point of armed revolts such as the Regulator Movement (1767–1771) in North Carolina.   In 1778, at the height of the American Revolution, backwoodsmen from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and what is now Kentucky took part in George Rogers Clark's Illinois campaign. Two years later, a group of Appalachian frontiersmen known as the Overmountain Men routed British forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain after rejecting a call by the British to disarm. After the war, residents throughout the Appalachian backcountry—especially the Monongahela region in western Pennsylvania, and antebellum northwestern Virginia (now the north-central part of West Virginia) — refused to pay a tax placed on whiskey by the new American government, leading to what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion.[10]: 118–19  The resulting tighter Federal controls in the Monongahela valley resulted in many whiskey/bourbon makers migrating via the Ohio River to Kentucky and Tennessee where the industry could flourish.

Early 19th century

In the early 19th century, the rift between the yeoman farmers of Appalachia and their wealthier lowland counterparts continued to grow, especially as the latter dominated most state legislatures. People in Appalachia began to feel slighted over what they considered unfair taxation methods and lack of state funding for improvements (especially for roads). In the northern half of the region, the lowland "elites" consisted largely of industrial and business interests, whereas in the parts of the region south of the Mason–Dixon line, the lowland elites consisted of large-scale land-owning planters. The Whig Party, formed in the 1830s, drew widespread support from disaffected Appalachians.

Tensions between the mountain counties and state governments sometimes reached the point of mountain counties threatening to break off and form separate states. In 1832, bickering between western Virginia and eastern Virginia over the state's constitution led to calls on both sides for the state's separation into two states. In 1841, Tennessee state senator (and later U.S. president) Andrew Johnson introduced legislation in the Tennessee Senate calling for the creation of a separate state in East Tennessee. The proposed state would have been known as "Frankland" and would have invited like-minded mountain counties in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama to join it.

The U.S. Civil War

By 1860, the Whig Party had disintegrated. Sentiments in northern Appalachia had shifted to the pro-abolitionist Republican Party. In southern Appalachia, abolitionists still constituted a radical minority, although several smaller opposition parties (most of which were both pro-Union and pro-slavery) were formed to oppose the planter-dominated Southern Democrats. As states in the southern United States moved toward secession, a majority of Southern Appalachians still supported the Union.[29] In 1861, a Minnesota newspaper identified 161 counties in Southern Appalachia—which the paper called "Alleghenia"—where Union support remained strong, and which might provide crucial support for the defeat of the Confederacy. However, many of these Unionists—especially in the mountain areas of North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama—were "conditional" Unionists in that they opposed secession, but also opposed violence to prevent secession, and thus when their respective state legislatures voted to secede, their support shifted to the Confederacy.

Kentucky sought to remain neutral at the outset of the conflict, opting not to supply troops to either side. After Virginia voted to secede, several mountain counties in northwestern Virginia rejected the ordinance and with the help of the Union Army established a separate state, admitted to the Union as West Virginia in 1863. However, half the counties included in the new state, comprising two-thirds of its territory, were secessionist and pro-Confederate.

This caused great difficulty for the new Unionist state government in Wheeling, both during and after the war. A similar effort occurred in East Tennessee, but the initiative failed after Tennessee's governor ordered the Confederate Army to occupy the region, forcing East Tennessee's Unionists to flee to the north or go into hiding. The one exception was the so-called Free and Independent State of Scott.

Both central and southern Appalachia suffered tremendous violence and turmoil during the Civil War. While there were two major theaters of operation in the region—namely the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (and present-day West Virginia) and the Chattanooga area along the Tennessee-Georgia border—much of the violence was caused by bushwhackers and guerrilla war. The northernmost battles of the entire war were fought in Appalachia with the Battle of Buffington Island and the Battle of Salineville resulting from Morgan's Raid. Large numbers of livestock were killed (grazing was an important part of Appalachia's economy), and numerous farms were destroyed, pillaged, or neglected.[29] The actions of both Union and Confederate armies left many inhabitants in the region resentful of government authority and suspicious of outsiders for decades after the war.

Late 19th and early 20th centuries

Economic boom

After the war, northern parts of Appalachia experienced an economic boom, while economies in the southern parts of the region stagnated, especially as Southern Democrats regained control of their respective state legislatures at the end of Reconstruction.[29] Pittsburgh as well as Knoxville grew into major industrial centers, especially regarding iron and steel production. By 1900, the Chattanooga area and north Georgia and northern Alabama had experienced similar changes due to manufacturing booms in Atlanta and Birmingham at the edge of the Appalachian region. Railroad construction between the 1880s and early 20th century gave the greater nation access to the vast coalfields in central Appalachia, making the economy in that part of the region practically synonymous with coal mining. As the nationwide demand for lumber skyrocketed, lumber firms turned to the virgin forests of southern Appalachia, using sawmill and logging railroad innovations to reach remote timber stands. The Tri-Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia and the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia became major petrochemical production centers.


The late 19th and early 20th centuries also saw the development of various regional stereotypes. Attempts by President Rutherford B. Hayes to enforce the whiskey tax in the late 1870s led to an explosion in violence between Appalachian "moonshiners" and federal "revenuers" that lasted through the Prohibition period in the 1920s. The breakdown of authority and law enforcement during the Civil War may have contributed to an increase in clan feuding, which by the 1880s was reported to be a problem across most of Kentucky's Cumberland region as well as Carter County in Tennessee, Carroll County in Virginia, and Mingo and Logan counties in West Virginia.  Regional writers from this period such as Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart liked to focus on such sensational aspects of mountain culture, leading readers outside the region to believe they were more widespread than in reality. In an 1899 article in The Atlantic, Berea College president William G. Frost attempted to redefine the inhabitants of Appalachia as "noble mountaineers"—relics of the nation's pioneer period whose isolation had left them unaffected by modern times.

Today, residents of Appalachia are viewed by many Americans as uneducated and unrefined, resulting in culture-based stereotyping and discrimination in many areas, including employment and housing. Such discrimination has prompted some to seek redress under prevailing federal and state civil rights laws.


Appalachia, and especially Kentucky, became nationally known for its violent feuds, especially in the remote mountain districts. They pitted the men in extended clans against each other for decades, often using assassination and arson as weapons, along with ambushes, gunfights, and pre-arranged shootouts. The infamous Hatfield-McCoy Feud of the 19th century was the best known of these family feuds. Some of the feuds were continuations of violent local Civil War episodes.[34] Journalists often wrote about the violence, using stereotypes that "city folks" had developed about Appalachia; they interpreted the feuds as the natural products of profound ignorance, poverty, and isolation, and perhaps even inbreeding. In reality, the leading participants were typically well-to-do local elites with networks of clients who, like the Northeast and Chicago political machines, fought for their own power over local and regional politics.

Modern Appalachia

Logging firms' rapid devastation of the forests of the Appalachians sparked a movement among conservationists to preserve what remained and allow the land to "heal". In 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act, giving the federal government authority to create national forests east of the Mississippi River and control timber harvesting. Regional writers and business interests led a movement to create national parks in the eastern United States similar to Yosemite and Yellowstone in the west, culminating in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, and the Blue Ridge Parkway (connecting the two) in the 1930s. During the same period, New England forester Benton MacKaye led the movement to build the 2,175-mile (3,500 km) Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine.

Several significant moments of investment by the United States government into areas of science and technology were established in the mid-20th century, notably with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, crucial with the design of Apollo program launch vehicles and propulsion of the Space Shuttle program,[36] and at adjacent facilities Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with the Manhattan Project and advancements in supercomputing and nuclear power.

By the 1950s, poor farming techniques and the loss of jobs to mechanization in the mining industry had left much of central and southern Appalachia poverty-stricken. The lack of jobs also led to widespread difficulties with outmigration. Beginning in the 1930s, federal agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority began investing in the Appalachian region. Sociologists such as James Brown and Cratis Williams and authors such as Harry Caudill and Michael Harrington brought attention to the region's plight in the 1960s, prompting Congress to create the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965. The commission's efforts helped to stem the tide of outmigration and diversify the region's economies. Although there have been drastic improvements in the region's economic conditions since the commission's founding, the ARC still listed 80 counties as "distressed" in 2020, with nearly half of them (38) in Kentucky.

Since the 1980s, population growth in the Southern Appalachian section of the region has brought about concerns of farmland loss and hazards to the local environment. Regarding housing development, exurban development, characterized by its low-density housing, has violated the habitats of native species and contributed significantly to the decline in agricultural land-use in larger Appalachia.

There are growing IT sectors in many parts of the region. Summit, the fastest supercomputer in the world as of 2019, is currently housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tennessee.

Political history since 1964

Sean Trende, senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics, states that the typical narrative articulated by political scientists about the realignment of the Southern United States to the Republican Party begins with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, and Trende cites journalist Steve Kornacki as expressing the view that this was motivated exclusively by racial attitudes in the populace of these states, and that political scientists who argue in favor of a political realignment theory often express this view as well. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt also argues for 1964 as the starting point for the Southern realignment. Trende argues these narratives are deeply flawed.

In point of fact, of the 77 members of the 84th U.S. Congress who were non-signatories to the 1956 Southern Manifesto from the 17 former Confederate and border states where racial segregation of public schools was legally required prior to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, 65 non-signatories were from the states Trende identifies as part of the "Greater Appalachia" region (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas).Likewise, 31 of the 42 Southern votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, 46 of the 58 Southern votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, 29 of the 41 Southern votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 48 of the 70 Southern votes in favor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 11 of the 15 Southern votes in favor of the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court, and 46 of the 65 Southern votes in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 came from U.S. Senators and U.S. House Representatives representing states from Trende's "Greater Appalachia."

Additionally, Trende notes that the Appalachian Mountains region within the Southern United States actually leaned toward the Republican Party in the 19th century because it was the region within the Southern United States where Unionist sentiment was strongest. In the 1964 presidential election, Trende argues Lyndon Johnson did not win with the New Deal coalition because unlike Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, Johnson ran behind his national averages in the Southern United States, the Mountain states, and the Great Plains, while over-performing in New England. Instead of representing the zenith of the New Deal coalition, Trende argues that Lyndon Johnson's 1964 election victory instead served as a harbinger for the future of the Democratic Party voter coalition which included continued support from Greater Appalachia.[58] From 1962 until 1988, the Republican share of the congressional vote in the Southern United States as a whole never fell below 31.5 percent (1964) but never exceeded 43.2 percent (1988), and it was not until 1988 that a majority of Southerners self-identified as Republicans.

In the 1976 presidential election, Jimmy Carter won West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, and in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, Bill Clinton won all of the same states twice except for Texas, and in 1996, Clinton won the popular vote in the Southern United States as a whole by one-tenth of a percentage point (only the second time a Democrat won the popular vote in the South since 1964).[60][61] When Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years following the 1994 midterms, 8 of their gains came in Greater Appalachia while 9 came from the Deep South. Republican support among Southern whites improved from 52 to 65 percent from 1992 to 1994, and five Southern Democrats in the House (Nathan Deal of Georgia, Jimmy Hayes and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, Michael Parker of Mississippi, and Greg Laughlin of Texas) switched parties. As part of the Republicans gaining a Senate majority, Republicans gained seats in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee with Mike DeWine, Jim Inhofe, and Bill Frist respectively, with Fred Thompson winning a special election to the Senate in Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama switching parties.

In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush won 42 percent of the vote in Greater Appalachia, and in the 2004 presidential election, he won 51 percent. Trende notes that neither Al Gore nor John Kerry won West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas. Of counties that leaned Democrat in every election from 1952 through 1988 and 99 percent of which Bill Clinton had carried, Gore carried only 61 percent and Kerry carried only 56 percent. Trende concludes "Put simply: If either Kerry or Gore had been able to maintain Clinton's strength in Greater Appalachia, they would have won the presidency." Nonetheless, as Trende notes, Democrats fared well in Appalachia in the 2006 midterms by regaining support from the 1990s Clinton voter coalition, and the Democrats success there played a role in their gaining a majority in the Senate, with victories in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia with Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey Jr. and Jim Webb respectively. The Indiana House delegation flipped from majority Republican to majority Democratic by Democrats gaining two seats in Southern Indiana, and Democrats gained seats in western North Carolina, southern Ohio, and in the Bluegrass region of central Kentucky.

In the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, a schism emerged between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voter coalitions, with Obama's support coming exclusively from progressives, minorities, and upscale suburban voters while Hillary Clinton's support came from blue-collar workers and rural Appalachian whites. Even after Obama clinched the nomination by May 6, 2008, the Greater Appalachia states of West Virginia and Kentucky were won in the following weeks by Hillary Clinton in landslides. Hillary Clinton won all of the Greater Appalachia states except Missouri in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. Trende notes that Obama's weakness among Democrats in this region would presage weakness among independents in the region as they shared a similar demographic profile and lacked party loyalty. Of the counties that leaned Democrat in every election from 1952 through 1988 and 99 percent of which Bill Clinton had carried, Obama carried only 39 percent. Like Gore and Kerry, Obama would not carry West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, or Arkansas.

Trende argues that to the extent that there was a political realignment in 2008, it was the absence of movement of Greater Appalachia towards the Democratic Party, and as these counties cast several million votes, they likely made the difference between a seven-point Obama victory and a double-digit Obama victory. Trende concludes that as the Democratic Party's presidential nominees became more urban, more Northern, and more progressive during the 2000s, the Democrats support from Greater Appalachia weakened.[67] By the 2010 midterms, the greatest losses for the Democratic Party came in Greater Appalachia as part of the national wave giving the Republican Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and six additional U.S. Senate seats (including John Boozman in Arkansas, Mark Kirk in Illinois, and Dan Coats in Indiana). The Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia House delegations flipped from majority Democratic to majority Republican.

In the 2012 presidential election, Obama lost West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas again, the House delegations of Arkansas and Oklahoma became exclusively Republican, and despite a net loss in House seats nationally, Republicans gained seats in western North Carolina, north Georgia, central Kentucky, and East Texas. In the 2014 midterms, the West Virginia House delegation became exclusively Republican, and as part of the Republicans gaining a Senate majority, Republicans won Senate seats in Arkansas and West Virginia with Tom Cotton and Shelley Moore Capito respectively. Despite winning Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton lost all of the Greater Appalachia states in the 2016 general election to Donald Trump, who won West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. In the 2018 United States Senate elections, Republicans gained Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana with Josh Hawley and Mike Braun respectively.


Due to topographic considerations, several cities which are themselves or are in metropolitan areas that are near or part of the Appalachian region are not included in most definitions of Appalachia. These include Cleveland, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia. Pittsburgh is the largest city by population to be wholly within the Appalachian region. Notable cities with at least 40,000 residents within Appalachia include:

  • Altoona, Pennsylvania

  • Asheville, North Carolina

  • Binghamton, New York

  • Birmingham, Alabama

  • Charleston, West Virginia

  • Chattanooga, Tennessee

  • Cleveland, Tennessee

  • Erie, Pennsylvania

  • Greenville, South Carolina

  • Hagerstown, Maryland

  • Huntington, West Virginia

  • Huntsville, Alabama

  • Johnson City, Tennessee

  • Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Roanoke, Virginia

  • Scranton, Pennsylvania

  • State College, Pennsylvania

  • Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Ethnic groups

An estimated 90% of Appalachia's earliest European settlers originated from the Anglo-Scottish border country—namely the English counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland, County Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the Lowland Scottish counties of Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire and Wigtownshire. Most of these were from families who had been resettled in the Ulster Plantation in northern Ireland in the 17th century, but some came directly from the Anglo-Scottish border region. In America, these people are often grouped under the single name "Scotch-Irish" or "Scots-Irish". While various 20th century writers tried to associate Appalachia with Scottish highlanders, Highland Scots were a relatively insignificant percentage of the region's early European immigrants.

Although Swedes and Finns formed only a tiny portion of the Appalachian settlers it was Swedish and Finnish settlers of New Sweden who brought the northern European woodsman skills such as log cabin construction which formed the basis of backwoods Appalachian material culture.

Germans were a major pioneer group to migrate to Appalachia, settling mainly in western Pennsylvania and southwest Virginia. Smaller numbers of Germans were also among the initial wave of migrants to the southern mountains.   In the 19th century, Welsh immigrants were brought into the region for their mining and metallurgical expertise, and by 1900 over 100,000 Welsh immigrants were living in western Pennsylvania alone. Thousands of German-speaking Swiss migrated to Appalachia in the second half of the 19th century, and their descendants remain in places such as East Bernstadt, Kentucky, and Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee. The coal mining and manufacturing boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought large numbers of Italians and Eastern Europeans to Appalachia, although most of these families left the region when the Great Depression shattered the economy in the 1930s. African Americans have been present in the region since the 18th century, and currently make up 8% of the ARC-designated region, mostly concentrated in urban areas and former mining and manufacturing towns; the African-American component of Appalachia is sometimes termed Affrilachia.

Native Americans, the region's original inhabitants, are now only a small percentage of the region's present population, their most notable concentration being the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. The Melungeons, a group of mixed African, European, and Native American ancestry, are scattered across northeastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia.

According to the American Factfinder's 2013 data, the Southern Apalachia has a white majority, comprising 84% of the population. African Americans are 7% and Hispanics or Latinos are 6% of the population. Asians and Pacific Islanders are 1.5% of the population. Although the counties have great differences among themselves, in terms of racial and ethnic diversity.


Christianity has long been the main religion in Appalachia. Religion in Appalachia is characterized by a sense of independence and a distrust of religious hierarchies, both rooted in the evangelical tendencies of the region's pioneers, many of whom had been influenced by the "New Light" movement in England. Many of the denominations brought from Europe underwent modifications or factioning during the Second Great Awakening (especially the Holiness movement) in the early 19th century. A number of 18th and 19th-century religious traditions are still practiced in parts of Appalachia, including natural water (or "creek") baptism, rhythmically chanted preaching, congregational shouting, snake handling, and foot washing. While most church-goers in Appalachia attend fairly well organized churches affiliated with regional or national bodies, small unaffiliated congregations are not uncommon in rural mountain areas.

Protestantism is the most dominant denomination in Appalachia, although there is a significant Roman Catholic presence in the northern half of the region and in urban areas, like Pittsburgh and Scranton. The region's early Lowland and Ulster Scot immigrants brought Presbyterianism to Appalachia, eventually organizing into bodies such as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. English Baptists—most of whom had been influenced by the Separate Baptist and Regular Baptist movements—were also common on the Appalachian frontier, and today are represented in the region by groups such as the Free Will Baptists, the Southern Baptists, Missionary Baptists, and "old-time" groups such as the United Baptists and Primitive Baptists. Circuit riders such as Francis Asbury helped spread Methodism to Appalachia in the early 19th century, and today 9.2% of the region's population is Methodist, represented by such bodies as the United Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Pentecostal movements within the region include the Church of God (based in Cleveland, Tennessee) and the Assemblies of God. Scattered Mennonite colonies exist throughout the region.

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Charlottesville February 27, 2024 I never learned.

bottom of page