This article appeared in the Volume 3, Issue 2 Fall 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.
By Gene Hyde
Fred J. Hay, Librarian of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University, retired earlier this spring after 28 years at ASU. Raised in the Georgia mountains, Hay obtained his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Florida and Master’s in Library Science from Florida State. After working five years in the anthropology library at Harvard University, Hay returned to Appalachia in 1994 when he was hired by Appalachian State as Librarian of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, a position he held until his retirement in April.
In 1994 the Eury Appalachian Collection at ASU included 5,000 books, several hundred LPs, and a few manuscript collections. During Hay’s tenure he and collection reference librarian Dean Williams followed a comprehensive collection development policy, and built the collection to contain over 54,000 books, 1,800 musical scores, nearly 9000 LPs, 4,600 maps, 1,580 manuscript collections, nearly 15,000 microforms, and over 4,600 CDs and audio recordings related to Appalachia. As Hay said in 2018, the Eury Collection is “a repository of all sorts of documentation: all formats, topics, and age levels; both scholarly and popular; both good and bad—everything Appalachian and concerning Appalachia.”
When Hay arrived at ASU the Eury Collection was located on the second floor of University Hall, a former office building off the main campus that was not designed to hold library and archival holdings. When Hay and Dean Williams realized the flooring in University Hall was straining under the weight of the collection, they scrambled to relocate the Collection from University Hall to the main library on the ASU campus. When the new Belk Library was built at ASU in 2005 the Eury Collection was moved to the beautiful location where it now resides on the top floor of Belk Library. According to Hay’s colleague Pat Beaver, who directed the Appalachian Studies program at ASU for several decades, under Hay’s leadership the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection became “the center of the Appalachian Studies universe, as far as I was concerned.”
Hay was Professor of Appalachian Studies and was an active part of the Appalachian Studies program at ASU, revamping the required MA course on Bibliography and Research to better reflect the diversity of Appalachia. (See Trevor McKenzie’s interview in this earlier issue of the Appalachian Curator for more about Hay’s Bibliography course). Hay taught scores of Appalachian Studies students not only how to research and write, but also about the basic documentary roots of Appalachian history and culture. “Fred introduced the MA students in his class to a broader perspective on the region, widening the network of inclusion in the program. Fred trained and nurtured students to dig deep,” remarked Pat Beaver. Fred was heavily involved in the Appalachian Studies curricula, serving on numerous MA thesis committees and comprehensive exam committees.
Hay was, and is, passionate about telling the truth about Appalachia’s diversity, and he demonstrated this throughout his career. Taking exception to the Library of Congress Subject Heading “Mountain Whites,” Hay successfully persuaded the Library of Congress the change the heading to “Appalachians (People),” as he described in an article on ANSSWeb:
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
Hay is an acknowledged expert on both Delta blues music and the history of Black musicians in Appalachia. Hay’s love of the blues was ignited when he was an undergraduate at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). There he studied under noted folklorist John Quincy Wolf, Jr., who required his students to record an interview with a local musician. Hay recorded interviews with many Memphis blues musicians such as Bukka White, Furry Lewis, and Lillie Mae Glover. Hay later turned those interviews into his 2001 book “Goin’ Back to Sweet Memphis”: Conversations With The Blues.
In 2003-04 Hay edited several special issues of Black Music Research Journal dedicated to Black music in Appalachia. In addition to his editorial role, he also contributed the article “Music Box Meets the Tocca Band: The Godfather of Soul in Appalachia,” which documented the little-known history of James Brown and the Fabulous Flames and their beginnings in the north Georgia mountains in the early 1950s. As Hay later said, “there are plenty of people that say James Brown isn’t an Appalachian musician. But he’s from Appalachia. What makes a person Appalachian? To be from Appalachia.”
He’s also an expert on the history and evolution of Appalachian bibliographies, a critical tool in understanding available resources for studying the region and collecting materials related to the region. His review of The Bibliography of Appalachia: More than 4,700 Books, Articles, Monographs and Dissertations, Topically Arranged, and Indexed in the September 2009 issue of College & Research Libraries contains an excellent one paragraph history of Appalachian bibliography that concisely summarizes an entire field of research, and is a model of how a book review can succinctly illuminate a larger topic in the context of discussing one book.
Hay was an active editor and consultant, serving on the editorial boards of Journal of PanAfrican Studies, Choice, African American History in Context, and College and Research Libraries. He served on the Advisory Board of Appalachian Journal for several decades. Sandy Ballard, Editor of the Appalachian Journal said of Fred: “Fred’s knowledge and connections all over the place have exponentially increased what’s available for Appalachian Studies students and scholars. He’s supported me personally and professionally, by occasionally writing for the Journal, contributing to Roundtable discussions, introducing me to visitors to the Collection, and pointing me toward scholars and writers I needed to know about. He’s written successful grant proposals to the National Endowment for the Humanities (more than one), represented us at international conferences, taught Bibliography & Research classes for our Appalachian Studies M.A. students, and directed masters’ theses.”
During Hay’s time at Appalachian State, the Appalachian Studies program developed three strong, compatible elements: the academic program directed by Pat Beaver, the Eury Collection directed by Fred Hay, and the Appalachian Journal. To quote Pat Beaver: “I was always aware of just how fortunate I was to be in an academic program connected to the best library and archives anywhere on Appalachia, led by the most informed librarian, and the best academic journal, the Appalachian Journal, where Jerry Williamson was the first editor and now Sandy Ballard. This trio was, indeed, dizzying. When I would get discouraged by administrative machinations, I would remind myself of how very lucky we were to be part of this constellation. I felt awed at times.”
While working with the Appalachian Consortium in the 1990s, Hay was active in creating a network of librarians who met together and shared knowledge in the days before the internet provide new ways and methods to share information. Along with other archivists and librarians, he worked with the Appalachian Consortium’s Special Collections Committee to provide advice to smaller collections through workshops and a newsletter called The Curator – the intellectual precursor to the Appalachian Curator.
On a personal note, Fred has long been a friend and resource. He served on my thesis committee in library school, providing excellent advice and commentary for my study of Appalachian Special Collections. When I was Appalachian Collection Librarian at Radford University I sought his advice on collection development and general logistics of how to build an Appalachian Studies presence in the library. Since I came to UNC Asheville in 2013 I’ve taken many trips to Boone, both professional and personal, and often got together with Fred for lunch. His shadow looms long in the Appalachian archives world, and I know that I’m a better Appalachian advocate and archivist thanks to the work of Fred Hay. Here’s to your retirement, Fred.
Thanks to Pat Beaver, Sandy Ballard, Trevor McKenzie, and Greta Browning for their help with this article.