Letter writer: Appalachian culture lives on in Asheville

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Our ancestors’ cultural footprints created here in the mountains over a century ago remain with us. … Many of us are unaware of these invisible, forgotten forces. I was one of these unaware individuals until I dove into some North Carolina history that later manifested into a book.

Martyr of Loray Mill: Ella May and the 1929 Textile Workers’ Strike in Gastonia, NC was published by McFarland Publishing on July 1. This book is a biography about my great-grandmother Ella May Wiggins [See “Working Class Hero: a Q&A with Author Kristina Horton on ‘The Martyr of Loray Mill,’ “Jan. 15, Xpress (http://avl.mx/264)]. …

I see evidence of the Appalachian culture that influenced my great-grandmother alive and well in the mountains I reside in today. …

Mountain folk tend to embrace being humble. … [O]verall, accepting different types of people is the norm, and accepting their various viewpoints is more than tolerated here. It is expected, encouraged, and the high number of protests held here in such places as the Vance Monument in Asheville is a badge of pride for those of us living here.

A live-and-let-live philosophy permeates the area. Christians and atheists, socialists and anarchists, businessmen and roaming homeless mingle within the streets and shops within the community without a disapproving stare or even a raise of an eyebrow. This acceptance is rooted in necessity from long ago. Cooperation was a matter of survival back then. … This sense of community outreach is present today in well-organized, long-lasting community aid organizations such as Eliada. It is also present in spontaneous ways by local individuals reaching out to support fellow community members, such as those found on community Facebook pages such as WAX. …

There is an independent, entrepreneurial spirit that thrives. Decades ago, it existed on independent farms; today it exists in independent breweries, restaurants and shops. …

Naysayers will say that mountain culture of long ago no longer exists, especially inside the tourist city of Asheville. … However, many of the values that make mountain culture unique are still with us, even here in Asheville. Appalachian values have indeed withstood the test of time. Like the ballads of old, they have been passed down, transformed by the circumstances that surround them, yet the essence of them remains.

Mountain culture is what I believe makes Asheville feel like home to me. The region carries the same cultural spirit my great-grandmother Ella May experienced in these mountains over a hundred years ago. This cultural heritage is the root of who we are, the vein of our very existence, and here in the mountains, it runs deep.

— Kristina Horton


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One thought on “Letter writer: Appalachian culture lives on in Asheville

  1. henry

    If you read the history of coal mining counties of East Kentucky and Southwest Virginia, you will understand the influence that outside industrialization had on the culture of those Appalachian people. Having lived in SW Virginia for 30 years before moving to Asheville, I became well aware of the world outlook of people who were victimized by the coal barons that paid pennies per acre for mineral rights. The long history of victimization that lead to destroyed health and early death changed people’s world view. The result was and still remains a need to be wary of outsiders and strangers. In that region, when meeting someone unfamiliar, the process of “placing” occurs, in which an effort is made to fit the person into a known circle of relatives or close friends. The closeness of social circles is demonstrated by being able to place where someone lives by their last names, such as “Are you related to the Keenes that live up Stony Holler”? These are protective beneficial processes that draw local people closer together. But it also makes it more difficult for new people to assimilate. These processes are still intact in those areas, and also in other more isolated rural areas elsewhere in this country.

    The culture of Asheville Appalachian people has been heavily influenced by greater exposure to different and outside of the area people, known as tourists. Exposure to new and different people over time results in a more open acceptance of new ideas, different religions and ethnic groups. These processes are common to more urbanized areas. The values and common personality characteristics of any area are influenced by historic economic pressures and the effects of outside influences, whether positive or negative.

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