A! Magazine for the Arts

Tom Lee

Tom Lee

Sunday with Friends hosts Tom Lee at library

February 26, 2023

Tom Lee, an economic historian and professor at East Tennessee University, talks about his book, “The Tennessee-Virginia Tri-Cities: Urbanization in Appalachia, 1900-1950” Sunday, March 5, at 3 p.m. at the Washington County Public Library in Abingdon, Virginia. The event is part of the “Sunday with Friends” annual series.

In 1900, the Appalachian region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia began to change. The inhabitants were dependent on the resources of the rural land, but the arrival of railroads spawned industrialization. Over the next several decades, families moved down from the mountains into the valley of East Tennessee as workers took jobs in the developing urban centers.

Country stores, two-lane roads and cornfields would eventually give way to cities, multi-lane highways and new housing. The Tri-Cities—Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol—were starting to form.

In this carefully documented book, Lee uses archival material, newspapers, memoirs and current scholarship in Appalachian studies to examine the economic changes that took place in the Tri-Cities region from 1900 to 1950. With modernization and urbanization, an urban-industrial strategy of economic development evolved. The entry of extractive industry into the mountains established the power of the urban elite to shape rural life.

Local businessmen saw the route to financial strength in the recruitment of low-wage industry. Workers left struggling farms for factory jobs. This urban-rural relationship supported the Tri-Cities’ manufacturing economy and gave power to the area’s elite.

The New Deal and the Second World War broadened this relationship as federal funding sustained the economy. The advantages of urban centers after decades of development left rural communities on the verge of disappearance and dependent on the jobs, opportunities and economic vision of the cities. By 1950, the power of Appalachia’s elite over the people of the region had extended beyond urban boundaries and brought about the conditions necessary for the creation of the metropolitan Tri-Cities area of today.

Lee is a native East Tennessean. He 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 is working on articles and another book focused on the history of tobacco in Southern Appalachia.

There will be book sales, signings and a reception following House’s presentation.

The Friends of the Washington County Public Library is a voluntary, non-profit organization whose activities have included raising funds to improve library facilities, taking a firm stand in support of intellectual freedom, sponsoring literary and cultural events and providing financial support for special projects.

For more information on the event, call 276-492-2013.