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An Appalachian Reawakening

West Virginia and the Perils of the New Machine Age, 1945-1972

Jerry Bruce Thomas

Publication Year: 2010

As the long boom of post-World War II economic expansion spread across the globe, dreams of white picket fences, democratic ideals, and endless opportunities flourished within the United States. Middle America experienced a period of affluent stability built upon a modern age of industrialization. Yet for the people of Appalachia, this new era brought economic, social, and environmental devastation, preventing many from realizing the American Dream. Some families suffered in silence; some joined a mass exodus from the mountains; while others, trapped by unemployment, poverty, illness, and injury became dependent upon welfare. As the one state most completely Appalachian, West Virginia symbolized the region's dilemma, even as it provided much of the labor and natural resources that fueled the nation's prosperity.

An Appalachian Reawakening: West Virginia and the Perils of the New Machine Age, 1945-1972 recounts the difficulties the state of West Virginia faced during the post-World War II period. While documenting this turmoil, this valuable analysis also traces the efforts of the New Frontier and Great Society programs, which stimulated maximum feasible participation and lead to the ultimate rise of grass roots activities and organizations that improved life and labor in the region and undermined the notion of Appalachian fatalism.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Series: West Virginia and Appalachia


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iv-vi


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p. viii

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pp. ix-x

It is a pleasure to acknowledge those who have helped make this book possible. Grants from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Shepherd University Professional Development Committee helped defray costs for summer research forays, and the Humanities Council is also providing a subsidy to support publication. Shepherd University helped with a sabbatical that released me from teaching duties for a semester. ...

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pp. 1-8

An Appalachian New Deal, my book about the Great Depression in West Virginia, drew part of its inspiration from curiosity about the difficult times my parents’ generation had as they grew to maturity in the state during the 1930s.1 In An Appalachian Reawakening: West Virginia and the Perils of the New Machine Age, I focus on the post–World War II era, especially the 1950s and 1960s, a time in which my own generation came of age in West Virginia. ...

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1 A New Machine Age in the Hills

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pp. 9-39

The nation generally prospered in the 1950s, a decade later described by historians with such superlatives as “amazing” and the “Biggest Boom Yet.”1 Lingering pent-up demand from the war period, technological advances, the development of many new industries, growth of great urban centers, and increasing exports combined to produce a rising prosperity. ...

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2 American Paradox,Appalachian Stereotype

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pp. 40-84

The Appalachian reality ran counter to the ebullient national mood of the 1950s. A “politics of consensus” accompanied the growing national affluence. The Taft-Hartley Act, the Cold War, the Korean War, McCarthyism, and the politics of anticommunism further put a chill on the kind of reform and union activism that had marked the 1930s and the New Deal era. ...

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3 Civil Rights in the New Machine Age

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pp. 85-125

During the 1950s, “the politics of consensus” prevailed, and groups that did not share in the bounty, including the residents of Appalachia, generally suffered in silence. The civil rights movement, however, challenged the consensus and provided one of the great dynamics of American society. ...

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4 Good Intentions: The New Frontier and the War on Poverty

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pp. 126-169

By the end of the 1950s, West Virginia and Appalachia increasingly attracted attention as a region in need of help. Clearly the new machine age, whether because of “fundamental American failure” or as a “result of progress rather than stagnation,” had resulted in massive unemployment, a great migration, and growing poverty. What, if anything, was to be done to address the Appalachian crisis? ...

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5 Raising Hell in the Hills and Hollows: AVs, VISTAs, and Community Action

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pp. 170-215

The Mineral-Hardy community action program, the Council of the Southern Mountains’ program in McDowell County (reminiscent of the settlement house approach of an earlier day), and the ambitious but underachieving Kanawha County program drew much attention in the early months of the War on Poverty, but all fell short of the ideal of “maximum feasible participation” as envisioned by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. ...

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6 From the Silver Bridge to Farmington and Rumblings at the Grassroots

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pp. 216-257

The collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River between Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio, on December 16, 1967, one of the worst bridge disasters in American history, proved to be but a prelude to 1968, an annus horribilis that unfolded with a long succession of disquieting events. ...

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7 An Appalachian Reawakening:The Black Lung Association, Miners for Democracy, and the New Feminism

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pp. 258-285

The election of Richard Milhaus Nixon as president and Arch Alfred Moore Jr. as governor in 1968 signaled a turn to the right and away from the liberal programs of the 1960s, but the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s nevertheless brought about a rare expression of grassroots political and social activism in Appalachia and unusual successes for those who resisted the conventional wisdom and traditional elites and sought to address some of the problems of era. ...

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8 The Strip Mining Dilemma and a Climactic Debate

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pp. 286-314

The development of surface mining or what is commonly called strip mining (as briefly noted in chapter 1) posed one of the transcendent dilemmas in West Virginia and Appalachia brought about by the new machine age in the hills. The fight against strip mining formed an important part of the Appalachian reawakening in the late 1960s and early 1970s as substantial resistance emerged throughout central Appalachia, although in the end, facing insuperable odds, it failed to achieve its goal. ...

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9 Buffalo Creek: Appalachian Apotheosis

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pp. 315-335

The tragedy at Buffalo Creek—the worst flood in West Virginia history1 and another of those horrible moments like Monongah, Hawks Nest, Hominy Falls, and Farmington that periodically call national attention to the dangers of life and labor in Appalachia—occurred as a direct consequence of the transformation worked in the Appalachian Mountains by the new machine age. ...

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Epilogue: Another Reawakening?

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pp. 336-343

In the fall of 1971, John Denver’s recording “Take Me Home, Country Roads” hit the airwaves and became not only a hit in West Virginia but throughout the country. Being the object of so much negative attention for so long, West Virginians welcomed Denver’s song although Denver and his co-writers knew little about the state. ...


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pp. 344-421


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pp. 422-442


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pp. 443-470

E-ISBN-13: 9781933202983
E-ISBN-10: 193320298X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202587
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202580

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 24 b&w
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: West Virginia and Appalachia
Series Editor Byline: Ronald L. Lewis, Ken Fones-Wolf, Kevin Barksdale See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700683
MUSE Marc Record: Download for An Appalachian Reawakening

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Subject Headings

  • West Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
  • West Virginia -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • West Virginia -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • West Virginia -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Social change -- West Virginia -- History -- 20th century.
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