The first known instances of "hillbilly" in print were in The Railroad Trainmen's Journal vol. Scholars argue this duality is reflective of the split ethnic identities in white America. The Appalachian Mountains were settled in the 18th century by settlers primarily from England, lowland Scotland, and the province of Ulster in Ireland. The settlers from Ulster were mainly Protestants who migrated to Ireland, during the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century, from Scotland and Northern England. Many further migrated to the American colonies beginning in the s, and in America became known as the Scots-Irish. Scholars argue that the term "hillbilly" originated from Scottish dialect. The term "hill-folk" referred to people who preferred isolation from the greater society, and "billy" meant "comrade" or "companion".
West Virginia teachers' triumph offers fresh hope for US workers' rights
When used by people living in cities, the two terms—"redneck" in particular—generally point to a sackful of red-state stereotypes: Confederate flags, guns, racism , and a kind of prideful ignorance and a not so subtle reference to another contentious term—"white trash. At their simplest, a "redneck" originally meant someone who has been sunburned from working outdoors, and a "hillbilly" is someone who lives in the hills. But the meanings have twisted over time—when union miners fought the industry that was exploiting them in the early 20th century, they reportedly wore red bandanas on their necks to identify themselves. Today, many proudly self-identify as rednecks not as a nod to that rebellion but to link themselves to a set of cultural and political markers, an entire philosophy of living. But official histories of these terms always fail to convey the shades of meaning that they take on. Sometimes the words can be empowering when they are used by the people they describe , and sometimes they can be cruel when they are used by outsiders. To offer up a more nuanced and varied understanding of these terms, I interviewed people about these words and their meaning during my travels through central Appalachia. The resulting conversations showed how meanings of loaded terms can be in flux, changing based on the speaker and the audience.
Patrick Green, 34, from West Columbia, West Virginia
Recent waves of protests and strikes in West Virginia invoke the memory of a now notorious figure in American history: the redneck. A West Virginian enlisted in the armed forces during the first world war was less likely to die than one working in a coalmine. In , black, white and immigrant mineworkers took up arms to battle the coal companies that controlled and exploited every aspect of their lives. United, they wore red bandannas to identify each other in battle. The West Virginia mine wars were the bloodiest labor conflict in American history. Culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in , more than 10, miners marched from the Kanawha valley toward Mingo to join other striking miners in protest. Chafin commanded a private army of more than 2, mercenaries and multiple airplanes equipped to drop bombs on workers. Siding with Chafin and the coal bosses, President Warren G Harding sent federal troops too, armed with gas and more planes the fourth time that troops had been called in to squash organized miners in the mountain state. The miners proved what we know today: there is nothing more frightening to a coal boss or corrupt politician than a courageous, united, multi-ethnic coalition of working men and women.
Redneck is a derogatory term chiefly but not exclusively applied to white Americans perceived to be crass and unsophisticated, closely associated with rural whites of the Southern United States. This word is usually considered offensive. By the s, the term had become offensive slang, its meaning expanded to include racism, loutishness, and opposition to modern ways. Patrick Huber, in his monograph A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity , emphasized the theme of masculinity in the 20th-century expansion of the term, noting, "The redneck has been stereotyped in the media and popular culture as a poor, dirty, uneducated, and racist Southern white man. The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. A citation from provides a definition as "poorer inhabitants of the rural districts By , "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.