“Tell It to the Banjo” is a backwoods bluegrass banjo hymn composed by Angel Jose Ruiz Perez, which provides the soundscape for this video about rural poverty in Appalachia.
The chronic poverty of Appalachia is the outcome of economic domination and racism. In the 1930s, southern politicians prevented farm workers and domestic servants from qualifying for Social Security because they knew that the small Social Security check would support families and would change the labor market in the South. In the early days of coal mining, coal operators prevented workers from unionizing and demanding fair wages. In the face of bitter competition among the coal companies, operators controlled everything about workers’ lives to keep their labor costs down. By preventing education and community participation the operators forced workers into submission. President Lyndon B. Johnsons War on Poverty instituted national legislation, but the dynamics of exploitation in Appalachia prevented distribution of its opportunities and benefits. To this day, impoverishment in Appalachia persists.