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Authors: Ronald D. Eller

Uneven Ground

BOOK: Uneven Ground
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Praise for
Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

“Appalachia still weighs heavily on America's conscience and consciousness, as Ronald D Eller demonstrates with great insight and eloquence in his much-anticipated new study.
Uneven Ground
offers a clear and compelling portrait of the complexities and contradictions that characterize this vast and increasingly diverse region, burdened at once by growth and stagnation, by both its past and its future. This is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of poverty and progress, of power and powerlessness, in modern Appalachia and the discomforting disparities that still set it apart from the nation as a whole.”—John C. Inscoe, author of
Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South

“Ronald D Eller has written a provocative, compelling, and comprehensive account of the vast transformations in the Appalachian region from 1945 to the present. Against a backdrop of major economic and demographic trends such as deindustrialization, the spread of consumerism, and out-migration, Eller brilliantly analyzes politics and policy making, reform movements and citizen activism, and, above all else, the misplaced faith in economic development that has contributed more to inequality, impoverishment, and environmental ruin in the mountain region than to prosperity and well-being. A must read.”—Dwight B. Billings, Professor of Sociology, University of Kentucky

“The reality and the idea of Appalachia have intrigued and frustrated outside observers for more than a century. Policy makers have long sought to transform—‘modernize'—through social engineering. Eller provides a judicious, informed history. . . . Anyone interested in Appalachia should read this book.”—John B. Boles, William P. Hobby Professor of History

Uneven Ground
is passionate, clear, concise, and at times profound. It represents in many ways the cumulative vision of decades of observation about, experience in, and research on Appalachia. Eller is astute to relate very early in the book how integral Appalachia was to the history of American development.”—Chad Berry, author of
Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles

“Makes important contributions to the fields of Appalachian history and the history of the United States' antipoverty public policy. A sweeping narrative that cuts across a half century of economic, political, and
environmental themes, this book provides a synthesis of scholarship and commentary concerning the politics of economic development directed toward the southern mountains. It is a highly significant work that will serve as the standard reference for the foreseeable future.”—Robert S. Weise, author of
Grasping at Independence: Debt, Male Authority, and Mineral Rights in Appalachian Kentucky, 1850–1915

Uneven Ground
, Ronald D Eller masterfully integrates historical and public-policy analysis into a new and definitive history of modern Appalachia. No other observer has so skillfully located post–World War II Appalachia at the center of debates over social, political, and economic equity in America. Eller shows how competing interpretations of modernization, development, and reform have historically failed to address structural factors in global capitalism that have contributed to persistent class and cultural conflicts in the region.”—John C. Hennen, author of
The Americanization of West Virginia

Uneven Ground
is a cogent, deeply informed narrative of the transformations and traditions that have made Appalachia what it is today. Drawing on an impressive range of historical knowledge as well as his own experiences as an activist, advocate, and policy advisor, Eller examines the often-conflicting ideas, attitudes, motivations, and especially the politics behind post–World War II efforts to ‘modernize' the region—and the deep-seated problems of inequality, social and environmental exploitation, and outside corporate dominance that these efforts either exacerbated or failed to address. . . . The story of Appalachia, Eller makes clear, is an American story: of persistent, now rapidly growing disparities of wealth and political power; of the drive for growth and development at both human and environmental expense; of efforts to ‘solve' poverty without addressing underlying inequities; of the quest to preserve cultural integrity against commercial exploitation. . . . Though transformed by economic development, Appalachia remains grounded in the traditions that continue to shape and inspire another American story: of the enduring struggle for economic and environmental democracy.”—Alice O'Connor, author of
Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History




Ronald D Eller


Copyright © 2008 by Ronald D Eller
Paperback edition 2013

“How America Came to the Mountains,” by Jim Wayne Miller, is reprinted from
The Brier Poems
by permission of Gnomon Press. Copyright © 1997 by The Estate of Jim Wayne Miller.

The University Press of Kentucky

Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University. All rights reserved.

Editorial and Sales Offices:
The University Press of Kentucky 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008

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The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows: Eller, Ronald D, 1948-

Uneven ground : Appalachia since 1945 / Ronald D Eller.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-8131-2523-7 (hardcover : alk. paper)

1. Appalachian Region, Southern—Rural conditions. 2. Appalachian Region, Southern—Economic conditions. 3. Appalachian Region, Southern—Social conditions—20th century. 4. Appalachian Region, Southern—Social conditions—21st century. 5. Rural development—Appalachian Region, Southern—History. 6. Poverty—Appalachian Region, Southern—History. 7. Rural poor—Appalachian Region, Southern—History. I. Title.

HN79.A127E55 2008



ISBN 978-0-8131-4246-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)

This book is printed on acid-free paper meeting the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Member of the Association of
American University Presses

For Jane
and for the memory of our parents,
Elden Carl and Freda Jane Wilson
Oliver D and Virginia Ruth Eller




“How America Came to the Mountains,” by Jim Wayne Miller


1. Rich Land—Poor People

2. The Politics of Poverty

3. Developing the Poor

4. Confronting Development

5. Growth and Development

6. The New Appalachia

Afterword to the Paperback Edition




Illustrations follow page 176



Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People


Alice Lloyd College Outreach Reserves
Appalachian Leadership and Community Outreach


Area Redevelopment Administration


Appalachian Regional Commission


Appalachian Regional Development Act


Appalachian Volunteers


Black Lung Association


community action agency


Christian Appalachian Project


Council of the Southern Mountains


Economic Opportunity Act


empowerment zone


Kentucky Fair Tax Coalition
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth


Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation


Kentucky Un-American Activities Committee


Miners for Democracy


Office of Economic Opportunity


President's Appalachian Regional Commission


Southern Conference Education Fund


Save Our Kentucky


Tennessee Valley Authority


United Mine Workers of America


Volunteers in Service to America


Writing history is like piecing together a quilt. Separately the individual records of the past have little meaning until they are arranged by the historian. The remnants of historical evidence, cut from the context of their own time, are empowered to speak to a new generation by the scholar's pen, but that process of creating meaning from disparate facts is seldom a solitary effort. So it is with this book. The pages that follow are the product of a lifetime of living and learning in the place that I call home, but they are also the result of a growing body of scholarship, expanding archival collections, and the insights of countless students, friends, and teachers who have influenced my thinking over the years. Subsequent writers may rearrange the pieces of the historical record and reach different conclusions, but that is the beauty of books and quilts. They allow each generation to find meaning from the past that speaks again to the present and to the future.

BOOK: Uneven Ground
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