Saturday, May 31, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Appalachian Abolitionism"

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! It's a little known fact that Appalachians, both in the North and the South, played a major role in the early movement to abolish slavery. In this episode I look at this history and examine the role Appalachians played in expanding human liberty. You can listen here or view a transcript here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

God shines on Appalachia

A few pictures from a Memorial Day trek into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The rest of the set will be up at the Our Appalachia photo group at Flickr.

Friday, May 23, 2008

University of Appalachia School of Pharmacy Awards Degrees

Robin M. Absher, Raven Virginia
becomes the first graduate from
the Unversity of Appalachia
College of Pharmacy

On May 18, 2008 the University of Appalachia College of Pharmacy awarded its first degree to Robin M. Absher of Raven, Virginia. Ms. Absher received her doctorate of pharmacy degree from Frank M. Kilgore, Chairman of the University's Board of Trustees, and Dr. Eleanor Sue Cantrell, President of the University and Dean of the College of Pharmacy. Ms. Absher joined 66 of her classmates who were also awarded degrees during the momentous ceremony. Every member of the inaugural class had received at least one offer of employment at the time of graduation, and Mr. Kilgore estimates that over 80% of the graduating class will accept positions working in medically underserved communuties in Central Appalachia. Most graduating class members have already accepted employment offers, or will further their training in residency programs.

According to Mr. Kilgore, who was instrumental in the founding of the University of Appalachia, the graduation ceremony was the fulfillment of a dream and was a "watershed event that will be of be of huge importance to generations to come as the history of our school is written". Mr. Kilgore also expressed thanks to others who had worked toward the dream's fulfillment: associate deans Dr. Susan Mayhew, Dr. Chuck Bresse, and Whitney Caudill; and Dean of Institutional Development Terry Kilgore. These individuals deserved special thanks, according to Chaiman (Frank) Kilgore, due to their "sustained and skillful efforts toward program development, accreditation, recruitment, teaching, event organizing and fundraising" for the new school.

The University of Appalachia School of Pharmacy is located in Oakwood, Virginia. If you would like to learn more, visit the School's website here.

Photo by Eric McCarty, courtesy of the University of Appalachia

Busted not for selling babies, but for the abortion clinic

From 1951 to 1965 Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks began to quietly offer babies for adoption from his Hicks Community Clinic in McCaysville, GA. Quietly, because the clinic he’d been running since the mid-1940s was not a licensed adoption agency. Hicks cared for the mundane health issues of local farmers and townspeople in the front of the clinic, while performing abortions, which were illegal during that period, in the back rooms.

Law or no law, he advertised his abortion services on phone booths, bus stations and bridges. Women came by bus, car and train to pay $100 to "fix their problem." A small airstrip was built in nearby Ducktown so the prominent could fly their daughters in from Atlanta and Chattanooga for an abortion.

fetal ultrasound imageHis black market baby-selling ring, which may have ‘moved’ as many as 200 babies with no questions asked, relied on young, poor women from North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. They’d come to him for an abortion, and he persuaded some to carry the babies to full term. The women would reside in the clinic for a few months, or the good doctor would provide a room for them at his farm, or in the New York Hotel in adjoing Copperhill, TN, or in his apartments in the telephone company building.

Hicks knew he could count on word of mouth to bring in the baby buyers. The Fannin County Courthouse records list 49 babies, for example, who went to Summit County in Ohio. All the fathers who bought them worked in the Akron tire companies, except for a Cuyahoga Falls doctor who bought two babies. All the sales were arranged by a West Akron Goodrich employee who bought four babies for herself. All of them paid up to $1,000 for a baby no one could trace back to its mother.

Hicks made sure the birth certificates listed the people adopting as birth parents. The doctor kept no known records of the birth mothers, who discreetly vanished.

Thomas Hicks was no stranger to shady dealings. After getting his medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta in 1917, he moved to Copperhill, TN, but lost his medical license and served time in federal prison for selling narcotic pain killers to a veteran working undercover for the FBI.

While incarcerated, he studied a lung disease that kept copper miners from living past the age of 40.

Once out, he was hired by the Tennessee Copper Co. to treat miners. The only problem was, he filed more claims than there were miners with the disease.

After he was fired from that job, he opened up the Hicks Community Clinic in McCaysville.

Once a baby was available, Hicks wasted neither time nor words with his prospective buyers. "You have 24 hours to come or I call the next person on the list," he's reported to have said to more than one client.

Hicks warned his baby buyers not to be picky. If you told Hicks you only wanted a boy or you wanted a girl, you could forget about getting a baby.

It may never be known how many illegal adoptions were conducted by Dr. Hicks, who was stripped of his medical license in 1964, but never jailed. He was, after all, a member of the Copperhill Kiwanis and the Adams Bible Class of the First Baptist Church (to which he donated a Wurlitzer organ). He was known to give free medicine to the very poorest in town. He made house calls to those who couldn't otherwise get to his clinic.

Dr. Thomas Hicks' abortion clinic was an open secret tolerated by a town that appreciated the bulk of his medical contributions. "He didn't perform any services that anyone didn't request,'' noted local resident Marlene Matham Hardiman, who once rented an apartment from Hicks.

The court papers disbarring him made no mention of the black-market babies. The abortion charges against him were dropped, and he continued practicing for a time thereafter.

Thomas Hicks died of leukemia in 1972 at age 83. His lawyer, nurses, wife and son are dead. His only living relative, a daughter, lives in seclusion in North Carolina.,,20124848,00.html

Originally blogged at Appalachian History

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


In the current edition of Knoxville Voice, Lisa Slade takes a look at the current state of moonshine in Appalachia. There's a lot of pretty well-known history, especially for those familiar with the region, but the assessments of moonshine's current cultural role is worth a quick read.

Meanwhile, I want to bring your attention to a home brew of a different sort. WUTK, the University of Tennessee's student-run radio station, is offering up a very special collection of music. As a means of generating some much-needed funds, WUTK has produced Redistilled: 25 Years of Knoxville Rock. Basically, it's a great collection of current Knoxville music luminaries covering tunes from local bands of yesteryear. Knoxville has always had a thriving yet under-appreciated music scene, and this disc celebrates it as much anything you can find in one place.

If you want a copy, order it from either, or get it at The Disc Exchange. For a closer look at WUTK, check out Mike Gibson's article "College Radio Blues" at Metro Pulse.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cherokee, NC

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Shooting on the Appalachian Trail

Wapiti Shelter, Giles County, Virginia

Luckily for two men in Southwestern Virginia, history did not repeat itself.

The Giles County Sheriff's Office conducted an investigation today into a double shooting that occurred Tuesday night. Both men survived the shooting despite wounds to the face and chest of one, and the back and neck of the second. The shooting occurred along the Appalachian Trail between Giles and Bland counties around the Dismal Creek area. Virginia State Police arrested Randall Lee Smith after he flipped a truck belonging to one of the victims not far from the shooting site.

In 1982, Smith pleaded guilty to the 1981 murders of two hikers on the Appalachian Trail. He shot Robert Mountford Jr. three times, stabbed Laura Susan Ramsay more than a dozen times as they slept in Wapiti Shelter and left their bodies in shallow, leaf-covered graves. He was given two consecutive 15-year sentences. A plea agreement halted the case just before it went to trial in Giles County. Smith was released from prison in 1996 and returned to Giles County to live with his mother, who later died in 2000. In late March, Smith was reported missing by a neighbor after he disappeared.

Smith's earlier case was the subject of a novel by Jess Carr, Murder on the Appalachian Trail.

Investigators say Appalachian Trail Killer tries to strike again

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "King Coal"

The latest episode of Podcast Appalachia is now available! In this episode I look at coal. No rock has been more influential or more controversial in Appalachian society than coal; while helping fuel unprecedented economic growth in America and employment for generations of mountain people, it is also very dangerous to mine and has done much damage to the environment. In this episode I present a history of coal mining, as well as discuss the advantages and disadvantages associated with it. You may listen here or view a transcript here.