Guest Editorial: History of self-determination illuminates region’s path forward


by Fred McClellan

Regionalism is a frequent topic of discussion within our greater Tri-Cities Region. Too often, that discussion is limited by the boundaries that separate us. We must define who we are and share those truths with the world. Among those truths, is that centered within the Tri-Cities Region of Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol we have a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). But, we lost that designation in 2003, after the 2000 U.S. Census. By current estimates, the population of the Tri-Cities Region is about 500,000 people. The loss of that MSA designation has had a detrimental economic impact and is a misrepresentation of the region.

Appalachia has faced overwhelming odds against overcoming adversity, since the region was settled by our Scots-Irish ancestors. This rugged territory represented the first western frontier as settlers migrated from the eastern Atlantic Coastal and Piedmont regions. These early settlers faced those hardships that were obstacles to their path of success and building a sustainable life. In 1769, Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Trail from Abingdon and Bristol to the Cumberland Gap. This discovery would open the gateway west for a young nation. But, it was not accomplished without confronting the rugged mountain terrain and the Native American Indian nations that inhabited the region.

The Battle of Kings Mountain, in 1780, was a military engagement between Patriot and Loyalist militias during the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. The surprising victory of the American patriot militia over the Loyalists came after a string of defeats to the hands of Lord Cornwallis. After battling British Major Ferguson’s troops in South Carolina, Colonel Shelby retreated his Overmountain Men with Ferguson in hot pursuit. They reached safe territory at Sycamore Shoals, now known as Elizabethton. There, Colonels Shelby, John Sevier, and Charles McDowell and their 600 Overmountain Men combined forces with Col. William Campbell and his 400 Virginia men. Campbell’s cousin would bring 200 more Virginians, and they would also be joined by 160 North Carolina militiamen led by Charles McDowell. The Patriots returned to South Carolina to find Ferguson and his troops. They caught the Loyalists by surprise. The Patriots soundly defeated Ferguson, also taking his life in the battle. The battle was a pivotal moment in the history of the American Revolution. The destruction of Ferguson’s command and the looming threat of Patriot militia in the mountains caused Lord Cornwallis to decide not to invade North Carolina and retreat to South Carolina.

These historical accounts confirm the deep belief of self-determination at the core of the Appalachian culture. They are stories of strength and a willingness to sacrifice for a better life and liberty. I believe those character traits remain today, and have been driven forward by being passed down from generation to generation.

So, I ask, can we look at our greater region’s history and see how determined the path to our future can be? The character and strength of our people is not defined by the boundaries that divide us. Rather, it is defined by our history that has united us. Indeed, our greatest resource has always been our “human” resource. Overcoming adversity and insurmountable challenges has continued to tell the story of who we are. That self-determination is the grit of our fierce independence and self-sufficiency. I contend that spirit is alive and still part of our Appalachian DNA.

I implore everyone to unite for the greater good of all throughout the Northeast Tennessee – Southwest Virginia region. All rural areas in the United States are economically challenged. So are we.

Combined efforts are needed to rally support to reestablish the MSA designation, as we prepare for the 2020 U.S. Census. I call on elected officials, industry leaders, the business community, and all individual stakeholders to raise your voice for change. Our success will enhance economic growth and promise an impact that will send waves of benefit and opportunity throughout the region and beyond.

As we approach this crossroads of time and history, let’s pause for a moment. Let’s take a glance back to reflect from where we came. We are a very strong people that have continued to survive against all odds. That awareness should embolden and guide us to the pathway of our future. Self- determination should be the continuation of our past with our future.

Fred McClellan, ABR, GRI, is a commercial realtor with Callebs Realty. He is licensed in Tennessee and Virginia.

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