Appalachian 1940’s – 1980’s

Appalachians were called “mountaineers” or “mountain people” when they first began arriving in Cincinnati in the 1940s. At first, it seemed that it would be simpler for them to become urban citizens than it was for former immigrants who had come with different languages, religions, and skin color. However, the struggle to embrace this large wave of American-born immigrants has gone through several approaches and changes of attitudes.

Since the first families from Appalachia clustered in Over-the-Rhine, they provided a study group for city planners and social workers that resulted in new ways to absorb immigrants. Instead of molding them into Americanized urban residents, it was felt that immigrant citizens should help define their own culture. However, this proved difficult for families who had left their homes in the hills where their ancestors had lived an isolated existence for three hundred years.

Appalachians were given opportunities to participate in planning decisions and were taught how to benefit from the city’s social programs. At the same time, they were encouraged to preserve their history, music, and cultural values. In the 1970s, the Urban Appalachian Council and the Appalachian Festival were founded in Cincinnati to help celebrate their heritage. By the 1980s, Appalachians had their own published journal that gave voice to a society that was formerly silent and invisible.


Cincinnati’s Appalachian Committee defines an Appalachian as anyone who was born in the Appalachian region whose ancestors were born there. Under this definition an Appalachian can be a Negro, an American Indian, Italian American, or of any other racial origin (Fig. 1). Anyone who shares in the regional subculture which evolved in the eastern mountains can be called an Appalachian. (Maloney, 1974)

In the 1940s, sections of Over-the-Rhine deteriorated greatly, leaving streets of rundown tenements as the only affordable housing for Appalachian migrants (Fig. 2). Adults did take great pride in their children’s school records, but because they sometimes felt ashamed of their own education, they did not pressure their children to attend and they viewed the school authorities as threatening. (Grace)

. . . Cincinnatians discovered mountain people in their midst, defined them as a social problem, and proposed solutions (Fig. 3). Another commentator worried in 1943 about the problems posed for race relations in Cincinnati by recent arrivals from the mountains. The next year, six pastors from the West End issued a joint statement calling on parishioners to proactive a “Christ-like neighborliness toward both the mountaineer and Negro neighbors who are moving into our part of the West End.” (Miller)

. . . The 1950s comprised another stage of its [Over-the-Rhine’s] past. During this decade, “the area began to experience an influx of southern Appalachian immigrants.” Garner [John Garner, Jr. was executive director of the Miami Purchase Association for Historic Preservation] characterized these immigrants . . . as “hard-working people” who escaped from the economically depressed southern coal country to search for better jobs in Cincinnati (Fig. 4). In the city they found no general demand for unskilled labor, which “forced” many “onto welfare and into inexpensive housing in the Over-the-Rhine area,” where they “retained their own set of values based on a strong regard for personal freedom,” an attribute “that tended to isolate them from the rest of the community.” (Tucker)

As Italian Americans prospered, acculturated [fit in] and moved from the basin, the Institute [The Italian Educational and Industrial Institute –later the Santa Maria Community Services, organized by the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati] turned its attention to Cincinnati’s newer “immigrants,” blacks and Appalachians. In 1966 Santa Maria moved to Lower Price Hill. It has become a neighborhood organization, working with residents and city social service agencies to develop local leadership and improve the community. (Giglierano)

The term Appalachian is not synonymous [the same] with poverty. The vast majority of Appalachians in the metropolitan area are not poor, not on welfare, and are not high school dropouts. Most own their own homes and have relatively stable families. They are a predominantly pink [nurses and waitresses] and blue [factory workers] collar group. About 10 percent hold managerial and professional jobs. (Maloney, 1997) 

Literature Sources

1) Giglierano, Geoff and Deborah Overmyer. The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988.

2) Grace, Kevin. Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

3) Maloney, Mike. The Social Areas of Cincinnati, 1970. Cincinnati: The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, 1974.

4) Maloney, Mike and Janet Buelow. The Social Areas of Cincinnati, 1990. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, 1997.

5) Miller, Zane. “Planning and Politics of Ethnic Identity.” Henry D. Shapiro and Jonathan D. Sarna. Ethnic Diversity and Civic Identity: Patterns of Conflict and Cohesion in Cincinnati since 1820. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

6) Tucker, Bruce. “Toward a New Ethnicity: Urban Appalachian Ethnic Consciousness in Cincinnati, 1950-87,” Henry D. Shapiro and Jonathan D. Sarna. Ethnic Diversity and Civic Identity: Patterns of Conflict and Cohesion in Cincinnati since 1820. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.


Fig. 1 Klumpe, Jack. Eye Witness on History. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Post, 1985.

Fig. 2, Fig. 3, Fig. 4 Ransohoff, Daniel J. There Is In Every Human Countenance Either a History or a Prophecy . . . Cincinnati: Hennegan Company, 1988.

Fig. 5 Courtesy of The Appalachian Community Development Association,