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Appalachian Evenings: Tobacco in Southern Appalachia

November 15, 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Mixed Harvest: Tobacco in Southern Appalachia, 1870-1950 with Tom Lee

The 2004 tobacco buyout program and the end of the auction marketing system transformed agriculture in Southern Appalachia. Once a standard feature of the Mountain South’s rural landscape, the ubiquitous tobacco patches have largely vanished. Memories of tobacco linger among those who grew, harvested, and sold the golden weed, but over time the memories have grown sparser, disappearing like the barns, warehouses, and other physical reminders of a time when tobacco was king. The story of tobacco, however, is about more than nostalgia or memory. For well over a century after the American Civil War, tobacco shaped the agriculture and culture of Southern Appalachia as did no other commodity crop. Readily adaptable to the demands of mountain agriculture, tobacco provided the region’s farmers with a reliable and remunerative annual cash income, fueled urban development within the region, and bound town and country to the rituals of tobacco growing. Because of its ties to industrialization and to broader trends in the region’s history, the story of tobacco reflects in fresh ways the story of Southern Appalachia and the intricate dance of forces that resulted in a mixed harvest for the region’s people.

A native of Johnson City, Tennessee, Tom Lee graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from East Tennessee State University, received a master of arts degree from Wake Forest University, and received a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee with a specialization in the history of the U. S. South. He has taught at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Roane State Community College; and Hiwassee College, and is currently an associate professor of history at East Tennessee State University. In addition to the U.S. history survey, the Tennessee history survey, and the department’s historical methods course, he teaches courses on the South, Appalachia, agricultural history, urban history, and public history. From 2006-2012, he served as an advisor and as the public historian for the Tennessee’s First Frontier Teaching American History Project and served as acting secretary for the Society of Appalachian Historians from 2010-2016.

In 2005, the University of Tennessee Press published his book, The Tennessee-Virginia Tri-Cities: Urbanization in Appalachia, 1900-1950. He is currently working on several agriculture-related articles and projects, and he claims to be working on another book, this one focused on the history of tobacco in Southern Appalachia.

Tom lives in Johnson City with his wife Tamitha and their son David. Tom and Tamitha’s two oldest children, Morgan and Andrew, attend Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Appalachian Evenings are free of charge and all are welcome. The event will be held in the Ramsey Center, which is located inside Renfro Library on the campus of Mars Hill University.


November 15, 2018
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
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Ramsey Center
(828) 689-1115


Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies
147 Bailey St
Mars Hill, NC 28754 United States
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