Saturday, January 30, 2010

How did NOVA become redneck?

Sitting in Arlington now, it's hard to believe how redneck the DC area used to be. DC has always been a magnet for people looking for better opportunities. Economic downturns are always blunted by government spending. Nowadays, folks come here to work for government contractors, but back in the middle of last century there were a ton of unskilled jobs available and they were primarily related to the federal government.

1950 marked the first census in which a majority of Americans lived in metropolitan areas. The DC area grew during this time from the expansion of the government during the depression and World War II. By 1960 DC joined the top ten metropolitan areas in population. Looking at the population numbers show the explosive growth: Arlington grew from 6430 in 1900 to 135,449 in 1950; Fairfax grew from 18,850 in 1900 to 40,929 in 1950; and Alexandria grew from 14,520 in 1900 to 61,787 in 1950. Meanwhile, Appalachia was experiencing difficult economic times and the people living in that region began migrating to find better jobs. In some cases they ended up as coal miners, but many came to cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and DC. In fact DC was the second largest recipient of Appalachian people. The folks that came were among the poorest in the nation and often came to cities directly competing with African Americans and immigrants for jobs.

These folks were called hillbillies back then and reports show they did not fit into their new communities. People wrote about them being disorderly, clannish, untamed, with an affinity for alcohol and violence. We all know when people arrive in large numbers to a new area, these reports are typical and probably overblown.

The wonderful thing they brought to DC was their music and made the DC area the major hub for Appalachian music which was evolving into Bluegrass and Country. Thank god for that.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting correlation is the influx of Appalacian whites and southern blacks to Baltimore City. Ingrained southern sympathies of the 1800s drew clear social boundaries between the established white and black communities. However, they were both respectively aghast at the new "hillbilly" and "bama" arrivals and their ways when they came looking for work in the 1900s.