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Friday, June 17, 2011

Appalachian Values As Discussed By Loyal Jones

Appalachian Values And Loyal Jones

Retired Berea College Professor Loyal Jones has had a lasting impact on public perceptions of Appalachian people with his book "Appalachian Values".  It is the first book I recommend to people who know little or nothing about Appalachians and express a desire to learn about us.  I believe it is the first book anyone should read who wants to know the truth about Appalachia and Appalachians.  It has done more to dispell the negative stereotypes of Appalachians than any other piece of written material and has been the basis of some of my own academic writing as well as the writing of hundreds of other authors both unknown and well known.  The links at the bottom of this blog will take the reader to two articles which I published with co-author Dr. Heather Ambrose, Ph. D., during the time I was working on my masters degree at Lindsey Wilson College.  We delivered one of those articles, "Culturally Appropriate Supervision of Counselors In Appalachia" at the 2005 National Conferece of The American Counseling Association and it was included in the book, "Vistas 2005: Compelling Perspectives On Counseling".  I have only spoken to Loyal Jones on one or two occasions and cannot say that  we are friends.  But I owe a debt of gratitude to Loyal Jones and so does every other native Appalachian who fights to diminish and dispell the stereotypes which persist today. 


Jones wrote the book, which was originally an article in a Texas magazine published by the Texas Tech Press,  in response to the debilitating portrayal of Appalachian people by Jack Weller in his best seller "Yesterday's People".  Weller's book is the last or next to last book you should ever read about Appalachia. (The last book you should read is "Night Comes To The Cumberlands" by Harry M. Caudill.)   Weller was an outsider, a Presbyterian minister, and had come to the Eastern Kentucky area to preach and do community organizing.  Like many, if not most, of the missionaries who came and still come to Appalachia, Weller knew little of the people he wrote so devastatingly about.  Weller also failed to learn much while he was here. Jones is a native Appalachian who has spent his life in Appalachia writing about his own kind and working to lift the Appalachian people up and to fight the stereotypes.  Some other Appalachian writers of note have taken issue with Jones' work including Bob Snyder, a close friend and mentor of mine.  However, I have been greatly influenced by both and believe both are correct in major areas of their work.  Their disagreement was between them and should not influence any reader to view either of them negatively. 

"Appalachian Values" was co-authored with Berea photographer Warren Brunner who actually was not an Appalachian.  His photos illustrate the work and actually take up more pages than the text. But, to my knowledge, Brunner did none of the writing and his photography is stupendous. The book is often mistaken for a coffee table picture book which is a major disservice to both the book and the people it depicts.  It is a masterful work of major cultural and political importance and is so deceptive in its simplicity that it is frequently ignored or avoided by academics.  It falls into a group of great little books like "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch and "Night" by Elie Wiesel.  These books are so small that they tend to be misleading to the average reader.  All write about groups of people who are unique and prone to be ignored, misinterpreted, pilloried, and even massacred. All three contain truths which are far more important than  the miniscule package in which they are contained. 

Jones discussed ten core values of Appalachians: Love of Place; Independence, Self Reliance, and Pride; Neighborliness; Familism; Humility and Modesty; Sense of Beauty;  Patriotism; Religion; Personalism; and, Sense of Humor. Jones has discussed these values in more depth in his other work, especially the book, "Faith and Meaning In The Southern Uplands".  Although that work is primarily about religion, it also serves to expand some of Jones' thinking on the other values. Jones may be best known for his work on Appalachian Humor, including several joke books with Billy Ed Wheeler.  Jones has also been a well known dinner circuit speaker because of his humor.  But he is first and foremost an Appalachian academic and writer. 

Later, as time allows, I will expand or expound, in ten individual postings on this blog, on my own perception of these core cultural vaules.  But, at this point, the most important sentences any reader should remember from the book are these:

"All work in Appalachia must be based on the genuine needs as expressed by mountain people themselves.  Whatever work is done must be done with the recognition that Appalachian culture is real and functioning." Loyal Jones, "Appalachian Values" p. 10.

What this boils down to in layman's terms is that the missionaries have never saved us and they never will.  They will persist in coming.  We Appalachians must persist in being ourselves and resisting the efforts at forced assimilation, both blatant and subtle.  I will also, as time permits, write a major posting on cultural assimilation and ways Appalachian people can best resist it and work to preserve Appalachian Culture.

 Go to this link to read updated reflections from both Loyal Jones and I  about his book "Appalachian Values" forty years after it was published.  Reflections On Appalachian Values by Loyal Jones

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