I have always loved history. There is something to be said for understanding the events that shaped your area. Furthermore, I find that history’s true stories are much more compelling than the Hollywood writer’s fiction.
I am particularly interested in what some might consider the small or inconsequential history. These are the stories of real people trying to improve their situation, preserve their way of life, or simply get by. It seems that I’m often drawn to the stories of those who live in the rural South. There’s a lot of good material there – eccentricities, faith, resourcefulness, sass, determination and the occasional blood feud. All of those facets seem to be wrapped up in the history of South Carolina’s “Dark Corner,” an area of the state that was celebrated at the Dark Corner Evening event that I attended at the Upcountry History Museum on January 26.
In addition to a screening of the Dark Corner documentary, the evening featured sampling of moonshine from the Dark Corner Distillery and brief talk from distillery co-owner Joe Fenten. Dean Campbell, Squire of the Dark Corner, was on hand to introduce the film and talk about why preserving (and protecting) the area’s history was vitally important to him. I could drone on about all that I learned, but instead I am simply going to list a few things that really struck a cord with me.
- So many families in the Dark Corner and other parts of Appalachia wouldn’t have survived without the money they earned from moonshining. I loved the passion that Joe Fenten has about the moonshine that they’re making down at Dark Corner. Even in his brief remarks, it was clear that he wants to preserve this art for generations to come. He’s also eager to tie his business to local farmers by buying their grains and repurposing the spent grain for feed. It’s great to see someone who has such a love for what they’re doing.
- I know that for many people the caricature of the Southern hillbilly and the reality of people living in Appalachia cannot be separated. Dean Campbell proudly accepted the name hillbilly but reminded us all that it’s not the same as white trash. I think that many people don’t see a difference. I think it’s time to abandon the idea of mountain people being uneducated, backwards, and often lazy. Mountain folks, or hillbillies, are far more likely to be hardworking, resourceful people doing everything in their power to provide for their families. They are also a people with a deep and abiding faith. They might speak plainly or slowly, but often it’s because they put a lot of thought into what they have to say. I think most of us could learn a lot from a hillbilly.
- I appreciate the filmmakers who wanted to unlock the mystery of the Dark Corner. The stories of common people are often overlooked or lost through the years but they’re so interesting. I’m glad to know more about the families who lived in that elusive area, just a little further up the road.
- I thank the Upstate History Museum for having fun with history. Just like the encampment at Cowpens, it’s this kind of thing that will spark a love of history in generations to come.
If you can get your hands on a copy of the documentary, I encourage you to do so. It is available from the Greenville Library. For those of you not in the area, consider looking into a lesser known facet of your local history. You’re bound to learn a lot and have a good time in the process.