IV: Peoples

Southern Whites and Appalachians

            Southern whites and Appalachians have contributed significant levels of migration to the Midwest during much of the twentieth century. This migration consisted primarily of rural southerners and Appalachians moving to urban areas in the Midwest. Migrants from the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia had destinations in Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Youngstown. Areas such as Chicago’s Uptown, Cleveland’s West Side and Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine came to be referred to as “hillbilly ghettos” and have lent themselves to stereotypes of Appalachian migrants. 

             There were two significant waves of migration—the first from the 1920s through the early1950s and the second during the 1960s. Migrants from the south and Appalachia were drawn by economic opportunities and were pushed from their areas of origin by poverty and unemployment. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, migration to the Midwest from the southern Appalachians was typically selective by age and education—they were generally younger adults with better than average educations than average in the area of origin. The perception during that time was that the “hillbillies” came with a large social cost in the form of increased demand on the welfare systems. This was not the case, however. Although they began in marginal positions economically, white Southerners typically did better or returned home.
            Migrants to the Midwest from the southern Appalachians had much in common with other migrant groups. First, they moved in chain migration fashionfrom a rural community to an urban area where other members of their community already lived. A chain migration of over 2000 people linked Columbiana County and the environs of Youngstown, Ohio. Likewise, many people from West Virginia moved to Cleveland and folks from eastern Kentucky ended up in Cincinnati or Chicago. In addition to facilitating the “process” of migration, this “stem” family system also helped with the adjustment of the migrant in the new location. Family members already in the city provided a place to stay as well as information on where to go for jobs.
            Second, white southern Appalachians were drawn primarily by the economic opportunities. Young high school graduates from rural Southern areas migrated to cities to seek their fortunes when they did not perceive opportunity in their home communities. Finally, the large amount of migration from the south and the southern Appalachians as well as the perceived differences of many of the migrants encouraged the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of rural Appalachians in particular. Nevertheless, many of these migrants have made significant contributions to the Midwest and continue to contribute to the diversity of the region.
J. Marvin Pippert
North Georgia College & State University
Bruce Ergood and Bruce Kuhre, eds., Appalachia: Social Context Past and Present (1983); George Hillery, James Brown and Gordon DeJong, “Migration Systems of the Southern Appalachians: Some Demographic Observations,” Rural Sociology 30 (March, 1965); William W.Philliber, Clyde B. McCoy and Harry C. Dillingham, eds., The Invisible Minority: Urban Appalachians (1981); Harry Schwarzweller, James Brown and Joseph Mangalam, Mountain Families in Transition (1971).