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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Economic standing among families in a small Appalachian community

In this excerpt, Arnow discusses her family's financial situation in relationship to that of other families living in Burnside, Kentucky. Burnside was a lumber mill town and according to Arnow, many of the families were poor. Earlier in the interview she had briefly discussed her father's work in the veneer mill. He had been a teacher, but couldn't support his family on that salary. Later on, Arnow's family inherited the rights to some oil and she explains that although they were still not wealthy, they were better off than many Burnside families. Because of wealth disparities in the town, Arnow describes how the community worked together to help the poor, especially at Christmas time.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MIMI CONWAY:
I remember you mentioned something about your father having inherited oil rights; he got royalties from the mineral rights of land that belonged to his father.
HARRIETTE ARROW:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did that plus his work mean that you were some of the wealthy people in town?
HARRIETTE ARROW:
No. We were only better off than some. But that was the unusual thing about Burnside when I was a child: the children of the mill owners-of course, they were not great mills, but they did earn a lot of money-and the other businesses came to school with the workers. Everybody went to the public school then. And I don't think there were any millionaires in Burnside. There were, though, some very poor people. I remember our church and the other churches did the same: each Christmas we had what we called a white Christmas-the dandelions might be blooming, but we called it that-and each member of each family in the church was to bring, wrapped in white tissue paper, one or two gifts for the poor. I know Mama always sent a lot of preserves and jelly and canned goods, and we bought food or sometimes she'd make clothing for small children. You see, there were no government aids for the poor except I think, I'm not certain, there was a county home-no, I don't believe there was-for the elderly poor. It was the custom, if elderly people needed financial help, the children took care of them. But there may have been one for the poor, because there were people so poor they couldn't take care of themselves, or so I heard. I don't know where the very poor lived.