SACO Process

From “Mountain Whites” to “Appalachians (People)”: A Description of the Journey, Concluding with a Brief Sermon
When I first became involved with Appalachian Studies librarianship, I soon became aware of the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) term for the people of our region (I say “our” both because I work in Appalachian Studies and because I am, as a native of the region, one of the discipline’s subjects). This term “Mountain Whites” was universally disliked by those of the region and by scholars who studied it. The people and the scholars alike felt that LC’s assignment of this term was just another example of how Appalachia and her people have been marginalized, economically and socially, from the rest of America.
The term “Mountain Whites,” originated, in large part, with well-meaning outsiders who wished to create a focus for their benevolence distinct from the recently emancipated African Americans who with the rise of legal segregation and an increase in racial violence had become less attractive prospects for northern missionaries and philanthropists. The people of Appalachia disliked the term from the beginning but it stuck–LC adopted it and it was used elsewhere until very recently (e.g., the poorly-compiled HRAF file, “Mountain Whites” published in 1986).
When the training for the Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) certification was opened to all librarians, I jumped at the chance to do something about “Mountain Whites.” Although not a cataloger, I found LC’s free SACO training clear, understandable, and doable. ANSS’s Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee (SBAC) was created at about the same time and I agreed to serve on it. The Committee developed the “Subject Proposal Form” and I completed it as a test (see completed form below). My colleagues encouraged me to proceed with the SACO subject heading change procedure. Everything I needed to complete the SACO documentation I had already compiled in order to complete the ANSS “Subject Proposal Form” (see ANSS webpage for form).
The most difficult part was deciding what term to suggest as a replacement for “Mountain Whites.” The people of the region do not self-identify as a distinct ethnic group and had no common term for themselves (among the most common being “mountain people”). Scholars over the past fifty years have most frequently used the neutral term “Appalachians.” Since SACO requires documentation of popular or scholarly use of a new term and because most reference works and scholarly monographs used “Appalachians” (even the offensive entry in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures), I chose “Appalachians.” LC agreed to the change and accepted my suggestion for its replacement, only they added a qualifier for clarification: the LCSH became “Appalachians (People).” We have now been liberated from the negative baggage associated with the term “Mountain Whites” and from its false implication of a racially homogeneous region.
The great cataloger, Sanford Berman wrote: “. . . in the realm of headings that deal with people and cultures–in short, with humanity–the LC list can only ‘satisfy’ parochial, jingoistic Europeans and North Americans, white-hued, at least nominally Christian (and preferably Protestant) in faith, comfortably situated in the middle- and higher-income brackets, largely domiciled in suburbia, fundamentally loyal to the Established Order, and heavily imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of Western civilization” (Prejudices and Antipathies). In 1971, when Berman wrote these words, it was extraordinarily difficult to change LCSH. Today, it is relatively simple. It is our task as anthropology and sociology librarians to fix LCSH for “peoples and cultures” and I hope all who read this will start looking at LCSH with a more critical eye and in hopes of making it more adequately serve the information needs of social science scholars and the peoples they study.
Proposal form:

  • (*) Your name: Fred J. Hay
  • (*) Your e-mail address:
  • (*) Subject heading/preferred term: Appalachians
  • Cross-reference term: BT: Appalachian people (Southern States)
  • Cross-reference term: BT: Mountain people–Southern States
  • Cross-reference term: BT: Ethnology–Appalachian Region
  • Cross-reference term: UF: Mountain whites (Southern States) [former heading]
  • (*) Citation of publication about this subject (please fill in ALL the information below)
  • Author: Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris, coeditors
  • Title: Encyclopedia of Southern Culture
  • Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
  • Date of publication: 1989
  • If the term you are requesting is not part of the title, please list the page/pages that describe the term and paraphrase or quote the description.
  • Page(s): p. 418
  • Description: Article titled “Appalachians” by sociologist Dwight Billings
  • Citation of reference publications that list the term
  • Author: Timothy J. O’Leary and David Levinson, volume editors
  • Title: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, vol. 1
  • Place of publication: Boston, MA
  • Publisher: G.K. Hall
  • Date of publication: 1991
  • Page(s): pp. 21-23
  • Description: Article titled “Appalachians” by M. Marlene Martin of the Human Relations Area File
  • Citation of reference publications that list the term
  • Author: Stephan Thernstrom, editor
  • Title: Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups
  • Place of publication: Cambridge, MA
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Date of publication: 1980
  • Page(s): pp. 125-128
  • Description: Article titled “Appalachians” by sociologists Dwight Billings and David Walls
  • Citation of reference publications that list the term
  • Author: Phillip J. Obermiller and William W. Philliber, eds.
  • Title: Too Few Tomorrows: Urban Appalachians in the 1980s
  • Place of publication: Boone, NC
  • Publisher: Appalachian Consortium Press
  • Date of publication: 1987
  • Page(s):
  • Description: edited volume sponsored by the Urban Appalachian Council and concerning the native Appalachians who have migrated to urban areas outside of Appalachia.
  • Citation of web sites that list the term
  • url:
  • Description: web site of Appalachian State University’s Center for Appalachian Studies. The Center offers the nation’s only interdisciplinary graduate degree in Appalachian Studies.

Comments/additional reference publications that list the term:

In 1899, the Reverend Robert Campbell wrote: “A great deal of what has been written about ‘the mountain whites of the South’ has excited bitterness and resentment among them. This is due partly to sweeping and indiscriminate statements, partly to the bad odor that always emanates from a class appellation that seems to imply peculiarity, if not inferiority.” And again in 1901, Campbell wrote “because there is something about the name, or its association, that savors of condescension.”

In 1914, Samuel Tyndale Wilson wrote: “A nomenclature that is objectionable to the persons named should, in courtesy, be modified to remove all unnecessary offense. Some writers have gotten into the habit of calling us modern Appalachies “mountain whites,” a term that implies peculiarity and, inferentially, inferiority. We are not deeply in love with that nomenclature. It sounds too much like ‘poor white trash,’ the most opprobrious term known in the South. We do not like this color label process any more than country school boys enjoy being called ‘greenies’ by their city cousins. There are no mountain blacks, or browns, or yellows. Fancy how it would sound to hear the inhabitants of the Buckeye State spoken of as “Ohio whites”!

In 1921, John C. Campbell wrote of the term mountain whites: “This opprobrious term, coined as a term of distinction by well-meaning advocates of the mountaineer, is resented by all who dwell in the Highlands, by whatever name they may be designated.”

Yet, in 1922, H.H.B. Meyer, Chief Bibliographer of the Library of Congress compiled and published his “List of References on the Mountain Whites” and the Library of Congress Subject Headings to this day includes “Mountain Whites” as the appropriate heading by which to designate the light-skinned inhabitants of the southern mountains. Other ethnic groups have successfully lobbied LC to change subject headings which they find offensive or outdated (e.g., from Negro to Afro-American to African American). Mountain Whites is not only offensive to those to whom it is applied but it also implies an ethnic homogeneity that did not exist in 1900 and is certainly not representative of the rapidly diversifying region it is today.

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