Appalachia, Blood in West Virginia, Brandon Kirk, Coal Iron and Slaves, ethnicity, feud, Harts, Historian Laureate of West Virginia, history, industrialization, Kentucky, labor, Ronald L. Lewis, timbering, Transforming the Appalachian Countryside, West Virginia, West Virginia University, writing
I proudly announce Dr. Ronald L. Lewis’ endorsement of my book, Blood in West Virginia: Brumfield v. McCoy. Dr. Lewis, professor emeritus of history at West Virginia University and Historian Laureate of West Virginia, ranks as one of Appalachia’s most distinguished and recognized historians. Best known for his award-winning book, Transforming the Appalachian Countryside (1998), an unsurpassed study of the timber industry in West Virginia, Dr. Lewis is author of five books, beginning with Coal, Iron, and Slaves (1979), as well as numerous articles. Throughout his long career in academia, he has consistently offered top-notch scholarship on the subjects of ethnicity, labor, industrialization, and social change, particularly as they apply to West Virginia and Appalachian history. While I would recommend any one of Dr. Lewis’ writings, his Transforming the Appalachian Countryside remains a personal favorite. Receiving praise from such an outstanding scholar (and personal hero) means a great deal to me.
Here is Dr. Lewis’ endorsement of Blood in West Virginia:
“The family feud is indelibly linked with Appalachia in American popular culture. As portrayed by sensationalist reporters and local color writers of the late 19th century, feuding was evidence of the genetic and/or cultural degeneracy of a people whose lack of social institutions and isolation had arrested their culture in a frontier state as American progress bypassed the region on its way westward. Appalachia was ‘a strange land with peculiar people’ and ‘a place where time stood still.’ Unfortunately, there is not a shred of evidence for this social construction of the region or the ‘hillbilly’ stereotype: that Appalachians were governed by an irrational predisposition to violence. Since the 1980s, scholars have rejected the popular-culture view of drunken hillbillies ready to shoot at the drop of a hat to protect family honor. Brandon Kirk’s Blood in West Virginia is one of the modern community studies that obliterate the stereotype; his intensive research of the Brumfield-McCoy feud that occurred in 1889-90 at Hart, West Virginia, reinforces the revisionist view that feuds occurred as the result of industrial capitalism, rather than the lack of it. Most Appalachian feuds occurred in the mountain counties of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky during the last two decades of the 19th century when railroad, timber, and coal development virtually transformed the region’s economy from its traditional agricultural economy into a rural-industrial one. Kirk clearly demonstrates that the Brumfield-McCoy feud was a struggle between rival factions to control the area’s economic and political development. Family ties among the feudists were incidental. Motives for the feud were, therefore, not peculiar to Appalachian culture; after all, violence for economic and political control in industrializing America was as American as apple pie. Blood in West Virginia is an exciting story well-told; fortunately, it is one that preserves the truth rather than perpetuates the stereotypes.”