The real division in Kentucky


The Kentucky State Capitol dome breaks through the morning fog in Frankfort, Ky. on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by Martha McHaney | Staff

Brooklyn Kelley

Moving to Lexington to attend the University of Kentucky might as well have been like moving to a whole other part of America, even though I only live a few counties away, and I grew up coming here to shop on occasion.

I was surprised when I spoke in my classes and almost everyone in the room had a confused look on their face because they couldn’t understand my eastern Kentucky drawl.

While many people – including the Kentucky Kernel’s staff – debate whether the Bluegrass State is Northern, Southern or even Midwestern, I think the argument is much more complex than that, and there isn’t even a real answer.

In short: it depends on where in Kentucky you mean when you ask the question — is Kentucky a Southern state or not?

If you go to my home in Appalachia, the culture is far different than it is at my home in Lexington. We have Sunday afternoon dinners after church, many people make a living working the land, and we have a plethora of Southern expressions and a language in the mountains that I’ve never heard in somewhere more urban, like Lexington.

I can speak from experience: Appalachian regions embody many ideas of Southern culture in the minds of a lot of people.

Since I’ve been a student here at UK, I’ve been surprised to learn that a lot of people don’t realize what people further South, West or East of Lexington sound like. I’ve been asked many times where I’m from and asked to repeat things several times, or even spell them out, because fellow Kentuckians can’t understand my accent.

The fact that people who were also from Kentucky couldn’t understand me led me to realize that this is a very diverse state as far as cultures and accents go.

If you visit somewhere like Louisville or Lexington, city culture is evident, accents aren’t as abundant, and most of the expressions I hear at home are foreign to almost everyone.

Culture across Kentucky varies so much that it’s less of a matter of whether the state can be considered Southern and more of a matter of whether the county can be.

Western Kentuckians, southern Kentuckians and eastern Kentuckians have more similar cultures, expressions and accents than northern and central Kentuckians. This makes me think that the state is divided almost horizontally as far as what is typically thought of as the South in a cultural sense.

When people argue whether Kentucky is considered the South, a popular argument to bring up is the state’s neutrality in the Civil War. The state was divided in opinions and sides, so it was considered a border state.

I think of the Bluegrass State very similarly today. Kentucky is divided in culture. However, today, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get along with Kentuckians from other parts of the state.

One of my favorite parts about attending college in my home state is learning about other people from the state. I have found that meeting people from northern and central Kentucky is akin to meeting people from other states for me. We learn from each other and are exposed to a new kind of thinking and living.

So, maybe Kentucky as a state is neither Southern nor Northern nor Midwestern, but rather it’s the state that holds a bit of everyone and everything.