Monday, March 31, 2008

Photos From Wise County, Virginia

Last week I was all over Virginia - Gate City, Wise, Norton, Big Stone Gap, Coeburn, St. Paul, Hansonville, Abingdon, Emory, Meadowview, Marion, Wytheville, Pulaski, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Radford, Christiansburg, Salem, Roanoke, Floyd, and Pearisburg. I was doing all sorts of things to get ready for my wife to start her PhD at Virginia Tech and for me to start teaching in Wise this fall, not to mention visit Emory & Henry to celebrate its 172nd year since establishment (go blue and gold), get in some camping, and of course fulfill my ongoing love of downtown architectures. Well, I took my camera to get pictures for Sarah (who has never been to Wise) but, right on par with my standard memory, I forgot the charger, limiting my total photo count. That said, I got a couple of decent (note decent is not equal to awesome) shots in Norton, Big Stone Gap, Wise, and Coeburn before the camera's battery went to be with its maker, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Appalachia in the Press

There have been a couple of good articles come out of Knoxville this week. First, the Knoxville News-Sentinel continues to add to its "Songs of Appalachia" series with a profile of the Five Star Jubilee Singers, a traditional gospel band out of Harriman, Tenn. that has been working for more than fifty years. The series has an impresive video component that you won't want to miss.

Also, in this week's Metro Pulse cover story, Mike Gibson takes a look at the Museum of Appalachia through its founder, John Rice Irwin. Turns out, the Museum of Appalachia, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, is facing serious financial difficulty that is compromising any future growth prospects it may have. MOA is a treasure for anyone interested in the history and culture of Southern Appalachia. It would be nothing short of tragic for the museum not to thrive in the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Scottsboro Boys

On March 25, 1931, local authorities in Paint Rock, AL arrested nine black youths on a freight train after receiving word about a fight between blacks and whites on the train. They discovered two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, dressed in men's overalls on the same train and subsequently charged the nine young men with rape.

The doctor who examined the girls found proof that they had been having sexual intercourse but no reason to conclude that they had been roughly handled, except for a small bruise on one of them which might well have been caused by riding on gravel. This was not Victoria Price’s version of the story: "There were six to me and three to her....It took three of them to hold me," she recalled under oath. "One was holding my legs and the other had a knife to my throat while the other one ravished me."

Four of the "Scottsboro Boys," Roy and Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Heywood Patterson, had grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the Wrights were the sons of Ada Wright, a widow and a domestic servant in Chattanooga. Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, and Willie Roberson came from different towns in Georgia and encountered the others for the first time on the train. Olen Montgomery was completely blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other; Willie Roberson suffered from untreated syphilis and could hardly walk.

Scottsboro Boys with their lawyer in jailPresiding judge Alfred E. Hawkins assigned all seven members of the Scottsboro bar to defend the young men, but all of them found excuses not to involve themselves except for seventy-year-old Milo C. Moody.

In Chattanooga, sixty miles away, members of the local Interdenominational Colored Ministers' Alliance raised funds to retain Stephen R. Roddy, a white lawyer from Chattanooga. "I was scared before, but it wasn't nothing to how I felt now," said defendant Norris as the trials got under way. "I knew if a white woman accused a black man of rape, he was as good as dead."

On April 9, 1931, after four separate trials conducted over a four-day period before four different all-white juries in the mountain town of Scottsboro, eight of the defendants were found guilty as charged.

Judge Hawkins promptly sentenced them to death. The case of the ninth defendant-thirteen-year-old Roy Wright-ended in a mistrial after a majority of the jury refused to accept the prosecution's recommendation that he be spared the death penalty because of his extreme youth.

"I was sitting in a chair and one of those girls was testifying," Wright was quoted as saying in a March 10, 1933 New York Times article. "One of the deputy sheriffs leaned over to me and asked if I was going to turn state's evidence, and I said no, because I didn't know anything about this case.

"Then the trial stopped awhile and the deputy sheriff beckoned to me to come out into another room-- the room back of the place where the judge was sitting-- and I went. They whipped me and it seemed like they were going to kill me. All the time they kept saying, "Now will you tell?" and finally it seemed to me like I couldn't stand it no more and I said yes."

Soon after the guilty verdicts, the NAACP and the International Labor Defense came to the defense of the "Scottsboro Boys," contending the trials were unconstitutional. Three more rounds of trials ensued. Ultimately, charges against four of the defendants were dropped, but by that time they had spent over 6 years in prison on death row without trial.

Alabama’s Governor Graves had planned to pardon all of the defendants before he left office in 1938. However, during the customary pre-pardon interview, Graves was angered by the men’s hostility towards him and refusal to admit their guilt, so he did not issue pardons.


Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hotshot Freight Train

The Hotshot Freight Train
(Image from their MySpace page)

So here I sat, in my favorite chair, recovering from airports, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and psyching up for Wise, Abingdon, Emory, Blacksburg, and Radford, when in walks Zac (he doesn't really believe in knocking). A witty conversation naturally ensues, I make fun of him, he returns the favor, we discuss sports uniforms, paintings, and our trivia team (all true, I'm afraid), and then he turns to roll out. Then, right before he walks out the door, he says wait, I want you to check out this band - they're awesome, they're from Knoxville, and they have this kick@$% song called "Appalachia." Well, you know me, I'm a sucker for that sorta' lead-in. So I type (clickity-clack) and pull up their MySpace page - which, coincidently, is right here . . . and, yeah, they pretty much rock. If you like rock and roll of a bluegrass - gospel infusion that really screams of its intellectual underpinnings and cultural complexity of the modern Appalachian music-scape, well, you'll probably be an instant convert to the madness that is The Hotshot Freight Train - that's right, that's their name - you're already predisposed to like'm, ain't you?

Now, I couldn't find a true homepage that was active, but I did find a couple of other links for you - specifically the Knoxville News Sentinel's page on 'm (which includes a downloadable mp3) and this description:

While the music is distinct and perhaps a personal best for the individuals in the lineup, which has been a constant for well over a year, it often draws comparisons to national acts such as And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Afghan Whigs, but much of this can be attributed to the throaty vocals of Tipton combined with the dark, but not-yet-overdone, feel of his musical backdrop.

Also, dig on this article by Steve Wildsmith (good name, by the way) in The Daily Times.

Oh, and their next show is in Knoxville this evening, at 8PM, if you're interested, at the Longbranch Saloon on the Strip (Cumberland Avenue), near campus. Should be a doozy.

Support local music. (I'm planning on ordering the CD, stat, myself. Dammit.)

Podcast Appalachia: "Daniel Boone"

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is available for download! In this episode I provide a biography of frontiersman Daniel Boone, an early explorer of Appalachia and one of the most famous people in American history. You can find Podcast Appalachia on iTunes, or you can listen to this episode directly here. A transcript is also available here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

CCL Breaks Out (almost)

Chatham County Line

The first track on Chatham County Line's latest record, IV, seems to serve as a kind of statement song. "Chip of a Star" begins with a lazy banjo roll and slowly proceeds though an anything-but-traditional-bluegrass arrangement, topped off with (gasp!) pedal steal guitar and dreamy ode-to-lover lyrics. It's a good start, and you start to think that this difficult-to-label North Carolina quartet has taken a definitive step away from traditional bluegrass.

Then with the second track, CCL reels itself back in a bit. One of the strongest tunes on the album, "The Carolina," with its refrain "She's in Richmond with my heart," smacks more of the Old School. From there the album bobs and weaves, dodging label and pigeonhole with a wide breadth of style and arrangement that betrays the band's first incarnation as a rock and roll outfit. On the whole, with its emotion and introspection, this is one of the more pop-inclined bluegrass records you're likely to find this side of the Pickin' On... series.

The intended centerpiece of the album seems to be the civil rights era ballad, "Birmingham Jail." As a live number, this tune packs a punch and seizes any audience. It doesn't quite live up to that promise as a recorded take, but the effort is a noble one. The real highlight is the moderately-paced instrumental "Paige," a mandolin-heavy number that sashays easy with a classical feel.

never fully takes off and joins the ranks of the band's nontraditional counterparts on the western side of the continent. That's not to say that the album isn't good, because it's actually quite excellent. But the whole of the album proves that the opening track is more of a head fake, and that IV's statement is more of a confounding non-statement. Truth is, you've never heard it quite like this before.

Our National Psychology and Stereotype

In the current issue of Oxford American, author David Payne presents a fantastic essay that tries to account for the standing of Southern literature in the whole of American letters. Payne begins with this quote from George B. Tindall:

Even today the Northern visitor hankers to see eroded hills and rednecks…to sniff the effluvium of backwoods-and-sandhill subhumanity and to see at least one barn burn at midnight. So he looks at me with crafty misgivings, as if to say, “Well, you do talk rather glibly about Kierkegaard and Sartre…but after all, you’re only fooling, aren’t you? Don’t you, sometimes, go out secretly by owl-light to drink swampwater and feed on sowbelly and collard greens?”
To account for the diminished standing of Southern lit in the context of American writing, Payne goes on to examine Northern notions of the South and Southerners, and a few passages speak directly to HS's recent ruminations on stereotyping. Payne speaks not to Appalachia per se, but to the South as a whole. Still, it is relevant:
The Southern Redneck Stereotype arises from the condescension of an urban and industrial/mercantile people toward a rural, agricultural one; of an uprooted, migratory people toward a static, place-bound one; of a modernizing, tradition-breaking people toward a fiercely tradition-keeping one. And it’s no coincidence that many of the qualities attributed to the Southern Redneck—primitivism, violence, excess emotionalism, even musicality—are similar if not identical to those projected onto African Americans.
The whole thing is well worth reading.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rainy Smoky Mountains

US 441 in the Smokies

Cross posted at Appalachian Scribe

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Yankees Are Coming!

Today marks a first in the history of collegiate sport in Southwest Virginia. The New York Yankees will leave the comfort of their tropical Spring Training base camp and fly to the hills of the New River Valley to take on the Virginia Tech Baseball team in an exhibition game at 3pm. We here in Blacksburg have seen our share of overly hyped football and basketball games through the years but this is the first time that the attraction of a baseball game will force people to be turned away at the (temporary) gates if they don’t have a ticket. Those tickets were hard find unless you were a student or employee of Virginia Tech. Even then, you had to win a lottery drawing to claim one of the 4,000 seats.

Update: Here are a few articles reviewing the Yankees' trip to Appalachia...

Podcast Appalachia

The second episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available. In this episode, I discuss the first explorers and settlers to enter the Appalachian region. You can listen here or view a transcript here. It's also available on iTunes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moonshine Bust

Legendary moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton has been arrested. Sutton has been making 'shine for over three decades, and was featured in the History Channel special Hillbilly: The Real Story. Leave him be, I say.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Where is Appalachia?"

The first real episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available for download. You can find it on iTunes or download it directly here. In this episode, I attempt to define the geographic boundaries of Appalachia and examine how these boundaries have changed over the years. Please, take a listen and let me know what you think! You can also find a transcript (and the rss feed for subscribing via iPods and mp3 players) here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Podcast Appalachia

I have decided to start a new podcast devoted to the history, culture, and issues facing the Appalachian region which I have dubbed "Podcast Appalachia." I recorded a "pilot episode" that lays out my vision. You may listen to it here or view a transcript here.

If you have any comments, questions, criticisms, or suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me. My address is

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Art of Gary Bowling

"History of West Virginia" By Gary Bowling
(Image from Tamarack)

Growing up in Bluefield, there was always one local artist who I was delighted to come across - I remember him speaking at my elementary school to a rapt audience and staring for hours at a t-shirt featuring one of his works on it. His name is Gary Bowling, and I found myself thinking about him the other day.

The reason I found myself thinking of Mr. Bowling lay is a little complicated. I was sitting in my favorite chair, a pile of art history books on my lap, looking for inspiration for my own work. Well, eventually I come to my two volumes on the work on the late, great Keith Haring. I flip through the images, always with my mouth a little agape, and the phone rings - it is a buddy of mine from Bluefield, asking what I'm doing. I tell him I'm looking at a collection of Keith Haring paintings - he doesn't know who that is, so I start trying to describe his work.

"Um, it is like pop art versions of hieroglyphics or cave art - you know, very symbolist and imagistic, bold lines, like cartoony religious icons."

"I'll take your word."

He didn't get it, and I paused, thought, and then (essentially yelling in the phone), "DUDE, you remember Garyglyphics, right? Like that, sorta'." My buddy understood what I was talking about then, by cracky.

Okay, Gary Bowling does not = Keith Haring. His work is very different, very unique, but it has that same drama of figure and icon - his work both makes fun of and delights in the hyper-stylized. I can't tell you the hours I spent as a kid emulating him, and though it has been years since I've seen his work in person I still can see elements of his influence in my own work, unconsciously trickling out of my pen and ink. Ah, but you aren't interested in all that. So on to the links and with them, the images. Enjoy - I know you will.

First - YouTube. That is correct - there are two Bowling-related links - first, one of his Garyglyphic lectures (this one on the rise of the monotheistic religions, entitled "So It Was Written" - absolutely true, as you can tell from the part about Protestants and BBQ), and second a collection of images from Mr. Bowling's home during a Christmas party - you'll see a lot of his work therein, and you really get a sense of the fun he has with his art.

Also, as for samples of work, check out the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts website - he designed their 2000 poster, as well as his page on the get sm'ART (I think that is the right way to write it) page - there are only a few works, but they're worth a look, especially (in my opinion) the "Paper Doll" series. Oh yeah - and if you're interested in one of his tees (I'm thinking of getting one myself, actually), check him out at the Tamarack site ($15 ain't bad for a nice shirt, these days).

And Gary, if you post some more art online, let us know - I'd love to post some more links. Support local art.