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 the first college or university Appalachian Center.
Loyal Jones, who graduated Berea in 1954, 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. The CSM had been based out of Berea since 1928 and its history was a crucial influence on Jones and Berea.
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 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 (Student Taught Basic Literacy Efforts), 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 in 1977. With dozens of books and articles to his credit, and with dozens of his students leaders, teachers, and (now) retirees themselves, Jones is considered one of the deans of Appalachian Studies.
1970 − 1993
In 1970, Jones took over leading the Appalachian Seminar & Tour, a program for Berea faculty and staff dedicated to helping them come to understand Appalachia. And in 1971, the College opened an Appalachian Museum, which merged into the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center in 1999.
In the fall of 1974 the first Celebration of Traditional Music (CTM) was held. This festival occurs every year, and is an integral part of Berea’s commitment to Appalachian programs. The CTM strives to represent homemade music, passed on from person to person in the Appalachian region, and the musicians who play it. Old-time string-band music, blues, traditional gospel singing, ballads, and acoustic instruments are featured in a family-friendly atmosphere.
In 1985, Appalachian Heritage became a part of the Berea College legacy. The publication had been founded by Albert Stewart 12 years earlier at Alice Lloyd College. It was later published at the Hindman Settlement School, before finding a permanent home here at Berea College. The publication highlights the writing and art of the Southern Appalachian region.
The Brushy Fork Institute was started in 1988 to develop leadership in Appalachian communities. They continue this work by hosting an Annual Institute in leadership training and organizational development. They also have a program called the Leading Edge Program that provides technical assistance on a contractual basis.
1993 − 2005
In 1993, Loyal Jones retired after twenty-three years of leadership. Jones devoted his entire professional life to Appalachia, was instrumental in the growth of Appalachian Studies, and raised awareness of the strengths and needs of the southern highlands region and its people.
Berea College President John Stephenson convinced noted scholar and activist Helen Lewis to serve as Interim Director. 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, 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 the Appalachian section of 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, bringing the Appalachian Studies Program, Appalachian Heritage Magazine, Brushy Fork Institute, and the Artifacts & Exhibits Studio (from the old Appalachian Museum) under a single umbrella.
In 2002, Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG) was also added. EPG creates a two-year, learning experience for undergraduate students to practice and implement entrepreneurial leadership in rural communities of Central Appalachia. During the first summer, EPG participants practice pursuing both social and commercial enterprises in a Central Appalachian community that has partnered with EPG for that summer. EPG students return to the program for a second summer to pursue a Directed Field Experience (DFE) over a ten-week period. The DFE allows each student to pursue an internship of their own design. EPG faculty works with each student to create a successful DFE and to find a sponsoring organization in the proposed community.
In 2005, McKinney stepped down as director, and the Center again found itself in transition and entered another year of interim leadership under Christopher Miller while it searched for its new director.
LJAC since 2006
In Spring 2006, Chad Berry was appointed Director of the Appalachian Center and Goode Professor of Appalachian Studies. Berry embraced community programming and outreach, made the Center more student-focused, and continued the integration and strengthening of Berea’s Appalachian programs.
In May 2007, a group of 20 traveled from Berea to New York City to assist the Appalachian Coal Fields Delegation at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Environments. This trip resulted in student organization, Bereans for Appalachia (BFA), that works toward making an impact on contemporary social and environmental issues in Appalachia. BFA focuses on developing and sustaining an inclusive community for people interested in the Appalachia region. They host events and sponsor activities that educate people about the region. They also work to raise awareness about issues in the region, such as health issues, environmental issues, diversity, and economics. They regularly bring regional musicians to campus, and participate in social activism, such as the annual “I Love Mountains Day.”
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. 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.
LJAC continues to grow with the addition of Grow Appalachia in 2009, thanks to funding by John Paul Dejoria, the owner of John Paul Mitchell Systems. Dejoria was interested in addressing the problem of food scarcity with a sustainable solution. Grow Appalachia works to address food security in Appalachia, by bringing gardening back to a place and a people that have traditionally grown their own food. Grow Appalachia provides supplies and education. Participants provide the work and the land. Together they are bringing locally grown food back to rural Appalachia. Food from community gardens feeds not only those who grow it but is supplied to local food banks, is given to neighbors, and in some cases is sold at local farmers markets to provide income for participant families.
In 2011, Chad Berry became Berea’s Dean of Faculty and was replaced by interim director, Silas House. An award winning author of multiple novels and had served (and now continues to) as the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies here at Berea College, House brought a vibrant connection to contemporary mountain literature and music, expanding all of Berea’s conception of Appalachia and social justice.
In 2012, Chris Green—a poet, editor, and scholar—was appointed the new director of the center. Green won the 2009 Weatherford Award for the best non-fiction book about Appalachia with The Social Life of Poetry: Appalachia, Race, and Radical Modernism and served as president of the Appalachian Studies Association in 2012-2013.
The Strategic Initiatives division of Berea College is responsible for overseeing and stewarding relationships with external funding partners that support on-campus programming and capital improvements as well as educational and community development programming in the Appalachian region. Examples of current strategic initiatives include:
- Rural Promise Neighborhood, GEAR UP, and i3 programs to work toward the goal that “All Appalachian students will succeed at school” (Partners for Education)
- Partnering with Appalachian communities through to grow regional leadership in order to create visions and plans to guide local development efforts (Brushy Fork Institute)
- Helping as many Appalachian families grow as much of their own food as possible (Grow Appalachia).
To foster Berea College’s Great Commitment to serve Appalachia, LJAC continues to develop service-oriented leaders for Appalachia by sponsoring and integrating educational programs on and off campus; explore and illuminate the richness of the Appalachian region, people, and cultures; and assist communities, organizations, and citizens in working toward the future they envision.
Most recently, LJAC has focused on collaborating with the new Carter G. Woodson Center to emphasize the importance of diversity in the Appalachian region. As LJAC continues to grow and evolve, we find new projects and purpose, always with the preservation and improvement of the Appalachian region in mind.