Yes, the podcast is in jest, but it goes to show we only allow some things to be spoken of in mixed company.
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With Vance mentioning the problems we as a culture are trying to hide away, he requires us to answer for them. We have those who are in the midst of the problems and suffering directly because of them. Those who have brought themselves out of the problems. This shuttering away is inhumane. The role that mainstream media has played in making us ashamed of our own difficulties is not to be ignored.
Sawyer is just one of many outsiders exploiting our problems without also showing the world any of our own efforts to combat them. Because our problems of dysfunction, poverty, and addiction are so huge and have been overlooked from within for so long, there are few stories about how we are addressing this problem to report.
To even bring up the problem can draw sighs of disgust from colleagues and those who feel we should be working on highlighting other parts of the Appalachian narrative in order to better the region. One of the most troubling aspects of all the energy folks have put toward criticizing J. Vance is that books that are taking on problems like addiction in a humanizing, beautiful way written by Appalachians like Night Garden by Carrie Mullins have gone somewhat overlooked on the national stage. When possible, solutions stories also present an insight that helps people better understand how complex systems work, and how they can be improved.
It is true about the violence that these things enable. It is true about the generational poverty as a default symptom of the rest. Vance is not wrong, or being stereotypical by bringing up this situation as he experienced it whether or not you agree with his simplistic analysis.
I commend him for it. Now, what are we going to do about it? First, we have to claim the problem and claim the part of it that is cultural, then better explain the part that was a direct result of corporation money gone awry, and failures in public policy. It is a memoir written to be quickly consumed. It was written to be a springboard for deeper conversations as Vance has clearly shown with his numerous interviews with both conservative and progressive media outlets. It is not an academic text. It seems not much as we are consistently waiting on funding from somewhere, waiting on a near to obsolete industry to revive, waiting on the powers that be to notice and take pity… waiting for another day.
It is pointless and distracting from what we should be doing. What we should be doing is getting into the parts of the community that all these national reporters seem to find with exploitative ease and get the real story, claim it, and understand it. This is the conversation that needs to be had, so that we can then take action to redeem it. What is it that the world of Appalachian academics, organizers, politicians, non-profits, social justice proponents, and more not want us or the world to know that J.
Is it that our work to date is making very small dents in a very huge problem made of American steel? Is it fear that funders and conservatives will see us as too far gone to help? Is it shame? Is it romanticism?
I think it is all of these things, but I am not willing to continue hanging dark drapes over clouded windows. Agree with Vance or not in terms of politics and analysis of our culture, but acknowledge the real questions his book brings up. Vance has given voice to things that I and others I know have experienced firsthand. I value his story and the questions it raises.
Category: Appalachia - Kelli Hansel Haywood
I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Vance after I read his book months ago. I have felt the need to add the qualifier, I am a coal miner's daughter, to add credence to my writing or a thought I was hoping to express since the " Trump Digs Coal " slogan and his election, I've done it countless times. As far as I have been able to gather, my family ended up in this far armpit of eastern Kentucky to mine coal on all sides. We've been pioneers of the Appalachian mountains since we came over the big water, and my Cherokee family, well President Andrew Jackson signed the act into law that allowed the Cherokee to be forcibly removed from their homes and lands in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.
Some of my family escaped into the North Carolina mountains and would help form what was later to become the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the rest were relocated to Oklahoma around what is today Sallisaw. The woman pictured below suffered through the separation that my family experienced through this heinous and violent act of the American government. My great great grandmother Arizona was the child of some of the Cherokee that experienced the Trail of Tears firsthand.
Here she's photographed in her backyard with her crutch.
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There she married and she and her husband moved to Hazard, Kentucky so he could mine coal. He lost his life in the mines, and later she remarried a British man she met in Hazard. This is the first coal link in my tree that I am aware of. The next comes with the building of coal towns and the mass advertising campaigns to people of all ethnicities, all over America for real jobs with real wages and real inclusion in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky.
The little dark headed fellow standing next to his dad is my great grandfather John Thomas Hansel Sr. The Hansels moved to Harlan from the Mount Sterling area of Kentucky to mine coal and that is where the very direct experience I have with coal miners begins. They moved to Letcher County during the building of Jenkins, Kentucky which was built by Consolidation Coal Company beginning with the purchase of the land in My great grandmother who was my babysitter all of my young years was their daughter - Golda Ruth Stephens Johnson.
She was born in as the first of eight children. It seems the family came around to Letcher County for coal mining.
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My Mamaw Johnson always told me her daddy was a Blackfoot Indian which seems kind of strange to me considering he or his family would have had to travel a long way in order get to Olive Hill, Kentucky from Montana or Canada even. Who knows though? He's definitely from somewhere. Golda Ruth Goldie married Luther Johnson.
Papaw Johnson was my best friend when I was small and the way we spent our days together was directly influenced by his time as a coal miner. Luther is the tall man in the second row with the pipe hanging from his lips. He was a union miner as most were in those days.
Yet, he realized really fast that being in the mines wasn't going to pay him off in the long run and could potentially take him from his family and this old world. Papaw Johnson had the wit, grit, and wherewithal to find a way to get himself out of the mines and into the business of being his own boss. Weekends at the Isom Stock Sale turned into the Cowshed Trading Post, and there I "helped" him keep shop nearly every day of my childhood.
The Cowshed was a kid paradise. That brings us back to the Hansel men. Pictured below is John Thomas Hansel Sr.
Help convert the Monteith Farmstead to the Appalachian Women’s Museum
Great Papaw Hansel lost his larynx to throat cancer, and as a kid I used to be fascinated that the piece of gauze that flapped over the open hole in his neck was the only thing that kept the outside world from seeping in to his body where it could not be rightfully contained. He didn't like the mechanical voice box to use all the time.
Inconvenience, I suppose. Papaw Hansel became an electrician in the mines and eventually took that skill and became a teacher at the vocational school in Letcher County. So, he too found a way out of the mines, but not the economy dependent upon it. When I was 8, he moved his family to South Carolina where he applied his mining skills working on machinery and such things at a fabric printing plant.
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He passed away of bone cancer in South Carolina just a few years ago. My Pop did what I think a lot of coalfields men did who couldn't see themselves as a coal miner, or didn't believe it could be a secure job for them, he joined the service in the military as soon as he could. He served in Korea and Vietnam. He tried to serve in WWII by lying about his age as a young teen and his mother had to go gather him back home.