Today, I’m going to post a story from my wife Shirley’s family. Her family were the first settlers of Wyoming County in southern West Virginia so all of her people are from down that way. The story I’m going to share with you is about her father whose name was Neely, her uncle and a cousin back in the 1960’s when they left southern WV in search of work.
Left to right: Neely, his older brother Charles and their cousin Kennis, photo taken in Coon Branch abt 1945.
Neely was looked up to by his cohorts as a fellow who knew his way around the world. He was a little older than most of them and he had been in the Korean War so he knew his way around outside of southern WV. Aside from Neely, none of his close friends had ever lived anywhere besides Coon Branch.
Neely around the time of the infamous job search. Photo taken in Coon Branch.
In the 1960’s, times were really hard and work could not be found anywhere so Neely suggested to some men that they go to other states to look for work. They did. First, they started in Virginia but everywhere they went, nobody would hire them because they were from West Virginia. They then went on down through the Carolinas where they received the same treatment. This was a problem for many men of that time since West Virginians had the reputation for working just long enough to earn enough money to return back home. Everywhere Neely and his two kinfolk went, they always heard the same response, “we don’t need anyone right now” or “we just hired someone for this position” when the employers found out where they were from.
Home for Christmas. Neely in Coon Branch in the 1960's
Neely caught on really fast to this ploy and told his two kinfolk, “the next job we interview for, when they ask us where we are from tell them we are from anyplace except West Virginia”. The men felt really good about this plan and sure enough the next day they found a place in Florida that needed three able bodied men for immediate openings. In the interview, which was conducted at the same time for all three men, the boss eventually got to the inevitable question, “So, where are you boys from?”
Before Neely could answer with the white lie, his cousin who was fresh out of the holler piped up and responded, “Coon Branch”.
At this point in the story, years later Neely would recount, “Needless to say, we didn’t get the job. I should have told them to say we were from any other STATE than West Virginia.”
Soon thereafter, the three men gave up and came back home and Neely went on alone to find work in Chicago. He did very well for himself there until the mines opened back up and he was able to come back home to Coon Branch, where he lived out the rest of his days.
Neely and oldest son, Ricky, on the streets of Chicago.
Neely’s life in Chicago in detailed in the book, Appalachian Odyssey: Historical Perspectives on the Great Outmigration edited by Phillip J. Obermiller.