While we have an endless supply of stereotypes to choose from, there is one of particular interest to me for this occasion. Though my intentions at the moment are not to explore with any great depth the beginnings or unfolding of this stereotype, I do raise the topic in order to introduce the reader to the experience of the Appalachian migrant outside the rural mountains and inside urban settings during the Great Migration period.
Ron Eller writes, “Appalachian migrants everywhere met with resistance and prejudice from the local population. Pejorative stereotypes of Appalachia as a backward and degenerate place had become part of the national popular conception of the region since the turn of the century and these negative images followed mountain migrants to the cities.” Ever since the “invention of Appalachia,” as some have called it, the Appalachian stereotype has become deeply embedded within the American conscious. By the time of the mountain migrants’ exodus to the cities, the stereotype had already found a home within the urban dweller’s mind. As Eller mentioned, the “negative images followed mountain migrants to the cities.”
What must this experience have been like? Let us speculate for a moment. Many of these families had more than likely never been outside their own indigenous, cultural context before. All those unique cultural traits and characteristics that were possessed and held dear by the Appalachian family would have been so familiar to them as to be in their minds nonexistent or simply the normal way of life. For instance, I never thought of myself as having an accent before moving to the city. I grew up around those who spoke like me so I never perceived any differences in my speech as compared to other English speakers in the nation. Yet, as I soon found out by the continual and repetitive question I would receive after speaking, “Where are you from,” I realized that, yes, my accent is different. This is the point when the fish realizes that he is out of water, so to speak. When one is out of their sphere of familiarity, the differences are exposed and the alien nature of the new context presses in. It is at this juncture where one’s past, identity, and culture stare them directly in the face. For the Appalachian migrant, unfamiliarity with the new culture coupled with ridicule rooted in negative stereotypes from the urban population along with a host of other difficulties led to a daunting situation. One individual explains,
A lot of people that come to Cincinnati, including my parents, worked low-wage jobs; what they could get. They’re proud people; they don’t want to go on welfare. But you was pushed from one culture into another culture; I call it shock, shock probation, shock whatever you want to call it. It was very hard to make that adjustment, especially as kids. Now that I’m older, I know that for my mom and dad probably it had to be a bigger adjustment than what I had to make because it was the pride thing.
Stereotypes: True or False?
We have already determined a working definition for the word stereotype but going one step further we must ask, “Are stereotypes true or are they false?” David C. Hsiung answers our question: “Every stereotype has some basis in truth, but the danger comes when stereotypes make it easy to generalize and paint everyone with the same brush.” Therefore, stereotypes have some basis in truth. The stereotype may rightfully describe a few within a given culture or group but that rightful description of the few does not legitimize a broad brush stroke across an entire culture or group. Hsiung expounds,
Do examples of poverty, violence, illiteracy, inbreeding, and laziness exist in Appalachia? Certainly, but that does not mean the entire region should be characterized by such terms…The analytical study of stereotypes teaches us that no people or place can be described uniformly. The details—the specifics of who, what, when, and where—do matter. Stereotypes deceive us into seeing the world as black and white when we should be looking not only for the many shades of gray but also the entire palette of other colors.
At least two mediums were utilized to depict the broadly held Appalachian stereotype. The first was printed material. Concerning this effort, Anthony Harkins, author of Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon, notes, “A growing regional concern in Midwestern cities since at least the 1930s, the southern migrant ‘problem’ was first announced on a national stage in a series of late 1950s articles in nationally circulated social commentary magazines.” One of those magazines was Harper’s. In 1958, the magazine contained an article written by Albert N. Votaw entitled, “The Hillbillies Invade Chicago.” With a slurry of verbal assaults, Votaw begins, “The city’s toughest integration problem has nothing to do with Negroes…It involves a small army of white, Protestant, Early American migrants from the South—who are usually proud, poor, primitive, and fast with a knife.” One municipal court judge even commented, “I can’t say this publicly, but you’ll never improve the neighborhood until you get rid of them.” For a final example (although there are others) from Votaw’s generalization-filled article, he says, “Clannish, proud, disorderly, untamed to urban ways, these country cousins confound all notions of racial, religious, and cultural purity.” Votaw was not the only one in on the fun poking. The Chicago Tribune also had a part to play. One source recalls that “during the 1950s, the Tribune dispatched tough, oddball investigative reporter and Radcliffe grad Norma Lee Browning to Uptown for a series beginning with ‘Girl Reporter Visits Jungles of Hillbillies.’” The article quotes her initial piece extensively,
Most authorities rate them at the bottom of the heap, socially, morally, mentally—and at the top of those migrant “undesirables” contributing to the city's increased crime rate.
“The average Chicagoan doesn't realize it, but it isn't our own people committing the crimes—it's the migrants taking over, forcing our own long time residents to move out,” said Lt. Michael Delaney, head of the police juvenile section.
“It's a dangerous situation, one that we have to wake up to and face. These migrants are United States citizens, free to roam anywhere they wish. But they have turned the streets of Chicago into a lawless free-for-all with their primitive jungle tactics” [said Walter Devereux, chief investigator for the Chicago Crime commission].
Authorities are reluctant to point a finger at any one segment of the population or nationality group, but they agree that the southern hillbilly migrants, who have descended on Chicago like a plague of locusts in the last few years, have the lowest standard of living and moral code [if any] of all, the biggest capacity for liquor, and the most savage and vicious tactics when drunk, which is most of the time.
In 1981, authors Clyde B. McCoy and Virginia McCoy Watkins listed what they saw as two harmful social implications of the ethnic humor targeting urban Appalachians. First, ethnic humor “reinforces the singularly negative stereotype of the referents.” They maintained that “ethnic humor permits few, if any, redeeming qualities of the referents to be portrayed.” Second, the jokes “present a way of establishing stereotypes about a group where none existed, or giv[e] rise to more entrenched attitudes than were held before being involved in an ethnic humor session.” Ultimately, these jokes failed to appreciate or even understand the many positive and praiseworthy traits of the migrants and, more often than not, denigrated the group to the bottom rung of the social ladder.
Not About Race But Class
Interestingly, the experience of the Appalachian migrant was in many ways similar to the experience of other urban minorities, with a slight difference.
Though black migrants from the South experienced discrimination in part because of race and class, the predominately white Appalachian migrants suffered discrimination primarily because of cultural differences—or at least what were perceived to be differences—that were rooted in class. Speech patterns, clothing, diet, religious practices, and even the closeness of the Appalachian family seemed to set the migrants apart from other urbanites.
The greatest concern about these migrants was not simply their poverty or social customs, but that they were impoverished whites at a time when many middle-class whites felt that only blacks and other minorities were “supposed” to be poor. Northern whites, who had long associated poverty, laziness, drunkenness, and violence with blacks and other people of color, now found such racial demarcations threatened by what they saw as similar habits among Protestant Anglo-Saxons living in (in a racially freighted label) “hillbilly jungle[s].”
A short study such as the one above has the potential to spark many emotions; emotions such as pity for the mountain migrant or hatred towards city dwellers, for example. But I believe another response is more fitting. McCoy and Watkins, who pointed out the negative impact of ethnic jokes (above), also pointed out a positive social implication of the jokes: an increased sense of group solidarity. The group solidarity achieved through these “hillbilly” jokes is, I would argue, a proper and necessary response to the stereotype faced by the Appalachian inside or outside the region even today. This response of group solidarity is not one of superiority or group-centrism, but one of humility. Humility in the knowledge that it is the providential hand of God who has created and directed the formation of all cultures, and it is in his Son we find our value, not in the opinions and false stereotypes held by others.
 Ronald D. Eller, Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945 (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 24-25.
 Alessandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 266.
 Portelli, They Say in Harlan County, 262.
 Ibid., 263.
 David C. Hsiung, “Stereotypes,” in High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place, eds. Richard A. Straw and H. Tyler Blethen (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004),102.
 Hsiung, “Stereotypes,” 102.
 Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
 See “Chapter 2: Stereotypes of Appalachian Migrants” in The Invisible Minority: Urban Appalachians for a more detailed and complete look into the most common ethnic jokes.
 Eller, Uneven Ground, 25.
 Clyde B. McCoy and Virginia McCoy Watkins, “Stereotypes of Appalachian Migrants,” in The Invisible Minority: Urban Appalachians, eds. William W. Philliber and Clyde B. McCoy (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1981), 26.
 McCoy and Watkins, “Stereotypes of Appalachian Migrants,” 27.
 Eller, 25.
 Harkins, Hillbilly, 177.