These mountain people are Americans — Americans in descent and sentiment

Posted by | October 31, 2012

“Our study of the situation at Rabun Gap [GA] gives us the keenest interest in Mr. Ritchie, principal of the Rabun Gap Industrial School, himself a mountain boy and struggling to place the school on a firm financial basis,” report the United Daughters of the Confederacy to members in their 1908 Minutes of the Annual Convention.

Student making a cake, Rabun Gap Industrial School, Rabun County, Georgia, 1905

Student making a cake, Rabun Gap Industrial School, Rabun County, Georgia, 1905

“He needs a fifty thousand endowment fund. We would like to widen our circle of influence by individually interesting others to help Mr. Ritchie raise this essential endowment fund.”

The UDC’s 15th annual convention was held in Atlanta that year, and the Mr. Ritchie alluded to was Andrew J. Ritchie. Like the founders/presidents of private schools both then and now he had to continually go round with hat in hand to well heeled organizations and individuals willing to donate to his fledgling school. Heading for face time with moneyed backers in Atlanta would have made perfect sense.

Ritchie’s Rabun Gap Industrial School was still brand spanking new at the time, having been built between 1903-05. In 1906 Ritchie published a pitch brochure to help solicit additional donors; it’s a good bet this prospectus made its way into the hands of the UDC’s board of directors. In selling his school to a wide circle of possible contributors, Ritchie made a strong case for the value of mountain culture and why it should be nurtured.

And what was the argument Ritchie made to influential Atlantans for his obscure school, tucked away as it was in the far away and forgotten corner of NE Georgia?

“The county in which the work has been projected is the county in which I was born and reared,” he begins in The Rabun Industrial School and Mountain School Extension Work Among the Mountain Whites (by one of them). “These mountain people are my own people. I know their great potential worth, and the privations and destitutions by which they are surrounded. The disadvantages under which they labor are so great that no material improvement of their educational status is possible in this generation unless they shall have assistance from the outside, and unless some one shall undertake to secure this assistance for them by enlisting the interest of the outside world in their condition.

“These isolated mountain people are not only lacking in education but are lacking in social and economic efficiency. They are without community spirit and incentive to community action. They have no large social life, and are to a sad degree without wholesome moral and social standards. Their religious life is in a dormant and decadent condition. Their industrial and economic life is notably inefficient and improvident.

Students preparing recipes in home economics class, Rabun Gap, Rabun County, Georgia, not before 1905

Students preparing recipes in home economics class, Rabun Gap, Rabun County, Georgia, not before 1905

“They need not only education which will develop their latent intellect and talent, but also education which will develop their industrial and social activities. They need to learn how to live and how to work, not only to own their homes as most of them do, but to make them more comfortable and wholesome, and to cultivate their mountain farms in a scientific and intensive way. They need to learn the value of time, to acquire skill and efficiency, to cultivate thrift and frugality, and to make the most of their resources.

“The work is one of educational missions. It seeks to supply educational means and educational endeavor in a vast isolated field in which these are lacking. It is a mission work which undertakes to help people help themselves. The mountain people are to be used as far as possible in working out their welfare. The work has not been thrust upon them, but has been projected as their own. Outside aid is solicited on condition that they do what they can themselves. This they are being brought to do to a remarkable degree.

“The educational problem of the South is a white problem as well as a negro problem. It is the problem of the illiterate whites of the mountains as well as the illiterate negroes of the lowlands. It is a white problem as to what shall be done through the education of the white man for the proper solution of the problem of the negro, as well as to what shall be done through the education of the white man for himself.

Student at work at shop at Rabun Gap Industrial School, Rabun Gap, Rabun County, Georgia, not before 1905

Student at work at shop at Rabun Gap Industrial School, Rabun Gap, Rabun County, Georgia, not before 1905

“The solution of the educational and economic problem of the negro is being found in education which provides industrial training, and much is being done, by both North and South, for the uplift of the negro in this direction. I plead for a like provision for the vast armies of unschooled and untrained whites in the isolated mountain districts about whose condition little is known and for whom little provision is being made.

“Of the 210 counties in the South in which upwards of 20 per cent of the white voters are unable to read and write, the greater number are found grouped together in the heart of this mountain region in which the population is almost entirely white.

“In the area centering about the converging corners of the state, of which it forms a part of a map of 140 contiguous counties, … more than 90 per cent of voters are white, and more than 20 per cent of these are unable to read and write.

“The Southern mountain region, lying in the heart of the South and comprising in one body the entire mountainous areas of the South east of the Mississippi, is the home of three and a half millions of white people. In its isolated position it has for a hundred years formed the neglected backyards of the states of which it forms a part. In the meantime it has furnished a sturdy American yeomanry which has rendered conspicuous service throughout our national history. Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln are types of the men it has produced.

“This great region forms today a middle territory between the two sections recently divided by the Civil War. It likewise forms an intermediate territory of national integration between these two sections. These mountain people are Americans — Americans in descent and sentiment. They have always stood for the integrity of the nation.

“Their patriotism has always been national rather than sectional. They were foremost among the nation’s founders, and have been foremost among its defenders. They form today the largest and most distinct body of original American stock on the Continent. It is from the great reserve of this virile stock which they constitute that the purest American blood is to be transmitted to future generations. Shall it not be likewise that in their inherent patriotism and in their development by education are to be found the best reinforcements for the solution of the problems which concern alike the South and the Nation, and for the preservation of the highest American ideals?”

sources: Minutes of the Annual Convention, Volumes 13-15
By United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1908

The Rabun industrial school and mountain school extension work among the mountain whites (by one of them), self-published by Andrew J. Ritchie, 1906

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