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Friday, May 13, 2011

Gallery of Appalachian Heroes

As I find more time to work on this blog, I intend to post a collection of articles about several, perhaps a few dozen, heroes from Appalachia.  Some of them will be people I have known. Some will only be people I wish I had known.  They will include union organizers, artists, musicians, college professors, writers, poets, coal miners, one or two preachers, at least one Supreme Court Justice, and one Indian Chief.  The people in this gallery will be a group of individuals who have accomplished things which have made the world a  better place.  Some will have written books.  Some will have produced works of art.  Some will have put their lives on the line in support of their beliefs.  One part of me wants to list some of the group in this article today.  Another part of me wants to keep you in suspense.  I have decided to post the list, or at least the beginnings of the list.  This group will include several writers and poets: Don West, Albert Stewart, Verna Mae Slone, Loyal Jones, Cratis Williams, Bill Blizzard, Bob Snyder.  One other poet who was not Appalachian but lived and worked in Appalachia for many years will probably also be discussed at length but not included in the gallery of heroes due to his having been born outside the region: William Howard Cohen.  I will also include some articles about those miners and textile workers who gave their lives  in the union struggle in Appalachia. I have already written a small piece about the Battle of Blair Mountain.  But I would like to do something larger for all those people who died in order to gain union representation, fair wages, holidays, and vacations for the workers who live today and benefit from their blood, sweat, and tears without ever knowing, acknowledging, or appreciating the tremendous sacrifices these men and women made.  I cannot say that I really knew Florence and Sam Reese but I did have the pleasure of meeting them and attending a seminar they were involved in once.  For the uninitiated, Florence Reese wrote "Which Side Are You On?", one of the greatest union songs ever written.  I will also write about Cherokee Chief Charles Renatus Hicks, one of the most literate men in America in the 18th century.  Many of my relatives believe we are decended from Chief Charles.  I have never been able to find sufficient proof to make that statement.  But I do know that I would love to be able to prove it.  Chief Charles read and wrote  both Cherokee and English and served as an interpreter for the tribe at many of the most famous treaty conferences.  He also owned one of the largest private libraries in America at a time when most Native Americans were illiterate.  I am on the fence about writing about Sgt. Alvin York, WW I solider and hero.  His military record is generally what brings him mention.  I am more interested in his work to improve education in East Tennessee after he returned from the war.  I have already mentioned at least a dozen men and women who worked to make America a better place. I can't wait to find out who the next dozen will be who pop into my head.  Aha, Jock Yablonski, what gallery of Appalachian heroes could be complete without mention of his name and how he paid the ultimate sacrifice in the UMWA.  There are also all the men and women, boys and girls who died in disasters in Appalachia.  I have always been interested in the way Appalachian people work within our cultural value system to rebound from death, destruction, and disaster.  I would like to write some posts about the events leading up to, during, and after disasters such as the coal mine explosions, the Buffalo Creek Flood, the Floyd County School Bus Wreck, the Silver Bridge Collapse, the Marshall University Airplane Crash, and several more catastrophic events in our history as a region. 
Don West, Poet, Preacher, Teacher, Social Activist
Sgt. Alvin C. York, War Hero
Verna Mae Slone, Writer
William Blizzard, Sr., Union Activist, Blattle of Blair Mountain
Historic Marker For William Blizzard, Sr.
Major General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, Pilot & Military Leader

Albert Stewart, Poet

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