Friday, March 05, 2010
Where I live...the people (origins)
As I mentioned in passing in my introduction the population in this county is very homogeneous. If you define diversity by shades of skin color then we are sorely lacking. I think the census counts have us at anywhere from one to three black people, one Asian, maybe two native Americans and the rest is white, white,

The odd thing is that it wasn't always this way. A century ago this county had 5,000 people or more. There was a thriving black community. There had been slave-holders in this area, and the census records show exactly what families held slaves. After the Civil War there was a sizeable free population that established communities around the county. There were white schools and black schools, like anywhere else in the south.

By the time I moved here there was one black woman left. M remembered just a few of her family members from his childhood. Ruth D. was a close friend of M's family. She always loved to tell how she'd been there at my father-in-laws birth; how she'd been there when they'd chosen the name Jack. She died when she was 90. She was so proud of her age she'd tell you how old she was just about every time you saw her. We still have a woven rag rug, her legacy to M.

I've asked M what happened, why had everyone left? He pointed out that more than half the county had left. I was curious if it was overt racism that had driven people away, or if they'd gained better sense and decided there was better living elsewhere. He really didn't know.

So what we have left are people largely of Scots-Irish descent. You'll find them throughout the Appalachian region. Some of their traditions are carried on today. For example, clogging (clog dancing) is still popular for performances at local events. Sen. James Webb wrote about the Scots-Irish in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America:
The Scots-Irish (sometimes called the Scotch-Irish) are all around you, even though you probably don’t know it. They are a force that shapes our culture, more in the abstract power of emotion than through the argumentative force of law. In their insistent individualism, they are not likely to put an ethnic label on themselves when they debate societal issues. Some of them don’t even know their ethnic label, and some who do don’t particularly care. They don’t go for group-identity politics any more than they like to join a union. Two hundred years ago the mountains built a fierce and uncomplaining self-reliance into an already hardened people. To them, joining a group and putting themselves at the mercy of someone else’s collective judgment makes as much sense as letting the government take their guns. And nobody is going to get their guns.

That's about right. This review of Webb's book reveals more analysis on the Scots-Irish and fairly well describes my friends and neighbors. The county also has a number of folks of German descent, many of whom migrated south from Pennsylvania.

M wants me to point out that there are also occasional folks from Denmark. Like a certain family who fled to America after their father, who was in a high position, was assassinated in a church. Ahem.