By Mike Templeton
On October 7 of this year the great Loyal Jones passed away at the age of 95. Loyal Jones was certainly one of the most important figures in the study of Appalachian life and culture and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition owes a debt of gratitude to his life and legacy. Loyal Jones’s research and life are part of the groundwork for what we do. Over the course of his career, Loyal published 13 books and dozens of articles on Appalachian life and culture, laying the foundation for just about everyone who came after in all fields that pertain to Appalachian life and culture. Jones was the founder and led the Appalachian Center at Berea College for more than 20 years. The center is now named in his honor. Of course, UACC maintains a relationship with the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, and members of UACC, including Michael Maloney, have been directly influenced some of the groundbreaking work of Loyal Jones.
Loyal Jones grew up and was shaped by life in the mountains. His own Appalachian background is precisely what motivated him to represent Appalachia in ways we are still working to sustain. Jones said of his approach to the study of Appalachian life that he “wanted to write about what I thought the real values of the Appalachian people were rather than the negative things, like moonshining and feuds.” Jones was a pioneer in an approach to Appalachian culture that seeks to reveal the depth and complexity of the Appalachian people that would supersede the stereotypes and media-generated images that not only disparage Appalachian people but facilitate the exploitation of Appalachian people. It was this approach to writing about Appalachia that led Jones to focus on things like “the optimism and resiliency of mountain people and their culture,” according to Ron Eller, former director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky.
If we view Appalachian people and culture as a set of complex interconnected, and often contradictory, ideas and forces, it is in large part due to some of the founding insights of Loyal Jones. Following in the line of a great many scholars, artists, poets, and writers, Jones formulated the basis for a modern understanding of Appalachia, one that would not coalesce around simple assumptions and formulas. Yet, Jones was not averse summing up some key insights about mountain people. In his major work, Appalachian Values, Jones says of Appalachian people: “More than most people, we avoided mainstream life and thus became self-reliant. We sought freedom from entanglements and cherished solitude. All of this was both our strength and our undoing.” Loyal Jones was masterful in accentuating what is best about Appalachian people while opening the discussion so that we are able to discuss what still needs work.
Loyal Jones had a direct impact on the work of people from within UACC. Core member Michael Maloney with scholar Phillip J. Obermiller drew on Jones work for their article called “The Uses and Misuses of Appalachian Culture” from 2011. Writing about some of the foundational strategies for the Urban Appalachian Council, Obermiller and Maloney explain that the tools they developed to help shape a positive and productive urban Appalachian identity involved generating a “list of positive cultural traits of a heritage perceived by many as dysfunctional. UAC encouraged people to use lists of positive stereotypes such as the one later developed by Loyal Jones to counter negative stereotypes.” Obermiller and Maloney are here working directly with Loyal Jones’s Appalachian Values. Our work is entwined, and at times dependent, on the work of Loyal Jones. Core member Pauletta Hansel in a recentCincinnati Review essay about Cincinnati’s literary community wrote, “While I hesitate to generalize about cultural groups, scholars have talked about the ‘leveling tendency’ among Appalachians, the desire to be on an equal footing across divisions. Thinking of this sent me back to Loyal Jones’s Appalachian values list; from those, personalism, hospitality, and neighborliness are traits I hope define Cincinnati’s literary community.” A short video of Loyal talking about this work can be viewed here.
Loyal Jones grew up on a mountain farm in Western North Carolina. He got his undergraduate education at Berea College in 1954 and eventually obtained a Master’s Degree in English from the University of North Carolina in 1957. It was after college that Jones began writing in earnest, publishing 13 books, either on his own or co-authored, and a vast number of articles on Appalachian people and culture. The obituary in The Citizen Times from Asheville described Loyal Jones as “a scholar, a gardener, a writer, teacher, student, music-lover, tale-teller, wood-worker, and a loving, generous father and grandfather.” In a previous statement, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition said of Loyal Jones: “In his many decades of leadership in the Appalachian region, through writing, scholarship, and community service, and with his quick wit and humanity, Loyal touched countless thousands of lives.” The legacy and impact of Loyal Jones cannot be overstated.
Part of the legacy of Loyal Jones will continue to shape the lives of Appalachian people as the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College bears his name and will continue his work in developing the voice of Appalachia in the wider world. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition also continues the work of Loyal Jones as we further the positive impact of Appalachian culture as urban Appalachians who shape the textile of cultures that define our urban environment. Perhaps it is best to conclude this with the words of John B. Stephenson, former President of Berea College, who wrote in his preface to Appalachian Values: “If a monument should be erected in honor of anyone who perfectly and selflessly embodies the complex spirit of the southern mountains, let it be for Loyal Jones.”
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the The Chief of Birds: A Memoir. Available from Erratum Press, and Impossible to Believe, forthcoming from Iff Books. Check out his profile in UACC’s Cultural Directory. He lives in West Milton, Ohio with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city and the country snapping photos. She looks up at the grandeur above, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.