The History of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College
For more than one hundred years, Berea College has served the people of Appalachia primarily through education and through other appropriate services. The work of the Appalachian Center stems from this commitment.
Prior to the creation of its Appalachian Center, Berea College had many programs focused on Appalachia. In the 1870s, Berea faculty first did extension work and evangelism in surrounding counties. This continued into the mid-twentieth century. In the 1910s, College President Frost created an Extension Department. This traveling road show of wagons, tents, magic lantern slides, and orators set up for a week at a time in various locations throughout eastern Kentucky. Berea’s library operated an extension unit for several decades. It sent bookmobiles and shipped boxed classroom libraries throughout the region. In 1914, the College Library formally began saving books about the region in its Mountain Collection. In 1964, it had become the largest collection of Appalachian-related printed matter and was renamed the Weatherford-Hammond Mountain Collection. It created the Southern Appalachian Archives soon after. In the mid-1960s, a group of students formed Campus Action for Mountain Progress (CAMP) to serve local children. This program grew into what is now called Students for Appalachia. In 1969, the College began development of an Appalachian Museum, which opened in 1971. This is just a sampling of the many and varied Appalachian-related programs Berea had during its first 125 years.
In the summer of 1970, Berea College created the Appalachian Center. Early documents state its purpose:
- To give concentrated leadership to Berea’s Appalachian activities
- To stimulate student and scholarly interest
- To bring together existing outreach programs and to guide the creation of new services
- To relate Berea College’s efforts to those of other Appalachian institutions
- To serve the nation as a source of information about the Appalachian Region….
Berea College President Willis D. Weatherford pushed for the Center’s creation at the request of a faculty committee. It was one of the first college or university Appalachian Centers.
Loyal Jones was appointed the Center’s first Director. Jones had worked for the Council of the Southern Mountains for twelve years, three as its Executive Director. Jones built the Appalachian Center essentially from scratch, setting up office space, hiring a secretary and student staff, recruiting faculty to teach Appalachian Studies courses (and teaching many courses himself), and supervising the student-staffed direct-service programs. The three original Appalachian Studies courses were “Introduction to Appalachian Studies,” “History of Appalachian America,” and a course called “Problems I.” “Problems I” was an internship-based course (what we might call service-learning today) taught during the College’s January short term. The original direct-service programs, staffed by students, were “Students for Appalachia” and STABLE, an adult literacy program.
During his tenure as Director of the Appalachian Center, Jones was a tireless and prolific teacher, speaker, writer, and “organizer” for the field of Appalachian Studies. He helped found the Appalachian Studies Association and helped organize its first meeting in Berea. With dozens of books and articles to his credit, and dozens of his students now leaders and teachers themselves, Jones is considered one of the deans of Appalachian Studies.
In 1993, Loyal Jones retired after twenty-three years of leadership. Berea College President John Stephenson convinced noted scholar and activist Dr. Helen Lewis to serve as Interim Director. However, Lewis’s leadership was more than just interim. As a well-known and highly-respected member of the Appalachian Studies community, Lewis expanded the Center’s connections, both on and off campus.
In 1995, Dr. Gordon McKinney was appointed Director of the Appalachian Center and Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies. McKinney is a noted historian of regional politics and the history of Appalachian North Carolina. He brought with him a wealth of teaching experience from Valdosta State College, Western Carolina University, and the University of Maryland. He had also served at the National Endowment for the Humanities and was director of National History Day.
McKinney led the Center through a challenging era. Under President Larry Shinn, the College embarked on a strategic planning process involving the entire campus. This entailed debating many dimensions of the college’s mission, including its commitment to the Appalachian region. McKinney served as a strong voice for the regional commitment and Berea’s Appalachian programs but also urged an updating of Berea’s view of the region. In 1996, the campus and trustees reaffirmed Berea’s commitment to the Appalachian region and approved reorganization and expansion of the Appalachian Center.
In 1999, an enlarged Appalachian Center moved into its newly-renovated home in the Bruce-Trades Building, which brought the Appalachian Studies Program, Appalachian Heritage Magazine, Brushy Fork Institute, and the Artifacts & Exhibits Studio (from the old Appalachian Museum) under a single umbrella. Soon after, the Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG) program was also added. The Appalachian Center also shared the building with the new Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS) and began working closely with that program in the areas of service-learning and direct student service to the region.
In 2005, McKinney stepped down as Center Director to become Chair of Berea’s History Department. The Center again found itself in transition and entered another year of interim leadership while it searched for its new director.
In Spring 2006, Dr. Chad Berry was appointed Director of the Appalachian Center and Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies. Berry is also a historian and scholar of Appalachia and has a strong background in southern African history, international education, and general education. Berry brings to the Center a commitment to making the Center more student-focused and to continuing the integration and strengthening of Berea’s Appalachian programs begun in 1999.
Now three decades into its mission, the Center teaches courses and serves as an umbrella for a group of programs that serve the campus community and the broader Appalachian region.
Most recently, in 2008, the Berea College Board of Trustees passed a resolution to rename the Center the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center in recognition of Loyal Jones’s distinguished career and notable accomplishments as the Center’s founding director. The new plaque commemorating this naming was unveiled at a public ceremony held on May 2, 2009, and reads:
As Director of the Berea College Appalachian Center from 1970 to 1993, Loyal Jones came to embody Appalachia’s history, culture, and values. Native son and scholar, Loyal has long been a passionate voice of this region.
A 1954 Berea College graduate, Jones devoted his entire professional life to Appalachia. As the founding director of Berea’s Appalachian Center—the first in the country—and a founding member of the Appalachian Studies Association, Loyal was instrumental in the growth of Appalachian Studies and raised awareness of the strengths and needs of the southern highlands region and its people.
Endowed with empathy and realism, humor and wisdom, his teaching and leadership led to Loyal’s being called “Mr. Appalachia.”
Jones’s life and work—marked by advocacy for Appalachia, servant leadership, and charismatic activism—are honored in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center.
Last Updated May 2009.