COLUMN: RC, who are we?

Revolution Mill by Rita Seymour

 The Roots, Identity, and Culture of Rutherford County

Gayle Clayton, M.A.

The last mill in the county had just closed when I moved here. Despite the brightly lit holiday lights strung throughout the local towns, a strange dampness permeated the darkness. Remnants of hope still shone brightly in a few homes, but there was no one on the street, no homes decorated outside with Christmas lights, and storefronts stood empty.

The mills’ massive brick buildings stood empty as a decaying monument to the passing of an era. The mills once provided a livelihood for hundreds of workers and gave them a way of life. That story is gone with the end. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story for us.
“Without a vision the people will perish.” – Proverbs

The mills no longer define who we are. Many are struggling to find their way in a decade of change. A new vision must be created. In the strangeness of an electronic or digital age, many residents have lost their roots, their story, and their identity. The old life is not going to return. Don’t expect the world to change to meet your expectations. Change so that you evolve to participate in the present.

Life is change. Death is stagnation.

The enormous interest in genealogy may be a search for roots and meaning. What did we inherit from our ancestors? What lies in our DNA that defines us? The quest to answer ‘who are we’ expands beyond the physical to the cultural.

The great melting pot of American awaited for the influx of immigrants who established new lives here. Yet there were others here before them. Here in our lands that were once the frontier, the Native Americans had lived their lives here. And before them, the Little People of Hickory Nut Gorge. Their lives on the land affected a new society.

Hunting was replaced with agriculture. Gold was found in the rivers and hills. Miners, minters, and merchants founded towns and cultural centers. Bluegrass bands formed. Churches were established. For some the answer is to find and adhere to religion. However, religion has failed many today.

We must change. We must create a vision to benefit all. We must find our own story to pass down to other generations.  The new story tells an individual or a group their roots, why they’re here, how life began, why they do the things they do, and who they are. Myths or sacred stories give us roots.

There are three kinds of stories to be created.

  1. First the history of a culture’s heritage… the roots….
  2. There is the story of individual community. How should we relate to one another, how do we address conflict, and how do we overcome problems?
  3. Then there is one’s own individual story within the culture comprised of childhood experiences, education,and responsibility.

Creating a new identity for individuals, culture, or nations require both roots and story. With it a new self-esteem emerges collectively or individually.

It is time for us to change. Leave the past in the past and prepare a new way. Dream of what could be.