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  • People of the Upper Cumberland: Achievements and Contradictions ed. by Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson
  • Edward Salo
People of the Upper Cumberland: Achievements and Contradictions. Edited by Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 434. $54.95, ISBN 978-1-62190-109-9.)

More than a decade ago, Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson edited a seventeen-essay collection, Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland (Lexington, Ky., 2004), which examined popular music, movies, architecture, folklore, religion, and literature of the Upper Cumberland, a region usually thought of as distinct from the rest of the nation. Even though that work received excellent reviews, Birdwell later mentioned in an interview that many of the reviews discussed the book that the authors did not write, rather than the book they did. With critics' suggestions in hand, Birdwell and Dickinson present this new volume to address the perceived holes in the first book. What they have produced is another important addition to the historiography of the region and to southern history.

After an introduction by the editors that provides the reader with an overview of the region, the book is divided into five sections: "Regional Overview," "Politicians and Politics," "Lawyers and Law Breakers," "Medical Men and Women," and "African Americans and Race Relations." However, unlike in many similar works, the editors do not provide a summary of the essays in this book. The section "Regional Overview" offers one of the more enjoyable essays in the book because of the newly researched material being examined; archaeologist Randal D. Williams explores the relatively unknown history of Native Americans in the Upper Cumberland. Next, Michael Allen examines how the Cumberland River was used for both work and play, although much of this essay discusses areas outside the Upper Cumberland region. Finally, Ann [End Page 487] Toplovich pens an exciting essay on the changing roles of women in the region, which fits nicely with other important work being done on Tennessee and other regional historiographies.

The section on "Politicians and Politics" contains a chapter by Al Cross and David Cross on Republican politics in the Kentucky portion of the region and an essay by Mark Dudney on Cordell Hull and John Gore, law partners who took different political paths. Finally, Mary A. Evins's fascinating essay on Tennessee congressman Joe L. Evins, a post–World War II Democrat, examines the forces that were in play in rural areas of the South during the 1950s and 1960s. In the section "Lawyers and Law Breakers," Birdwell and John Nisbet III look at the career of John Catron, the Andrew Jackson–appointed Supreme Court justice from the Upper Cumberland who was instrumental in the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857. Also, Troy D. Smith showcases Champ Ferguson, a Confederate guerrilla, and Birdwell explores moonshine and its place in the region's heritage.

The next three essays on the development of medicine in the Upper Cumberland are arguably the strongest and most interesting in the collection. Opless Walker, a pharmacist, explores the early medical practices of the region and how traditional healers treated common ailments. While Walker examines traditional healers, Janey Dudney and W. Calvin Dickinson highlight early medical doctors of the region. Finally, Dickinson tells the story of Dr. May Cravath Wharton, one of the first female physicians in the area, who was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals and clinics in Cumberland County, Tennessee.

The final three essays examine race relations in the Upper Cumberland, a subject that was often not investigated in the previous volume. Wali R. Kharif provides an overview of African American lifeways in the region, and Laura Clemons studies the relationship between the white composer Charles Faulkner Bryan and his African American student J. Robert Bradley. Finally, Birdwell presents the story of John's Place, an African American bar and honky-tonk where music and entertainment aided in the integration of the races.

One of the strengths of this collected work is that rather than rely solely on academic historians, Birdwell and Dickinson have enlisted authors from outside the academy, including a lawyer and a pharmacist, to examine topics through...


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