My Red America by William Short
My Red America
In 2019 Adams County (1797), population 28,000, was designated the poorest county in Ohio.
Twenty-four percent of the population live below the poverty line.
The median household income is $36,000 ($16,000 less than the state average).
The per capita income for the county was $17,700. Unemployment in 2019 was 7%
Poor economic conditions have led to a 2% decrease in population over the last 5 years.
In 2020 81.3% voted for Trump.
Both sides of my family have lived in Ohio since the towns of Winchester (1815) and West Union (1803) were founded.
The families moved there from Virginia to farm tobacco.
In the 1950s and 60s, both towns were successful, vibrant, farming communities.
My father's father was the postmaster of Winchester and my father's mother was a high school teacher.
My mother's father was the town barber of West Union and a minister on Sundays.
My mother's mother had 11 children plus one adopted. She was sickly and bedridden the whole time I knew her.
Both sides of the family were well known and respected in their communities.
When I was a child I thought both my grandparents were upper-middle class because of
their positions in their communities, even though they were very much working class.
A postmaster was the only local federal government representative,
a barbershop was the hub of news and gossip,
and the church was the central glue and moral voice for the whole community.
In 1947 my parents moved away, wanting a new life in a modern world.
I was born in Cincinnati the year they moved.
I spent most of my summers and holidays there with my grandparents,
dozens of aunts and uncles and nearly 50 cousins.
I loved those two towns. They were magical, safe places for me to explore and grow.
Memorial Day was the most special day for me as a boy.
My family fought in every American war including the Revolutionary War.
My father's father would dress up in his American Legion uniform and lead the legion to the cemetery.
As we would drive to Adams County from Cincinnati my father, a Civil War buff,
would point out the farms that were part of the underground railroad network during slavery.
My great-great grandfather was a Corporal in the Union Army and was wounded September 19,1863 in Virginia.
Looking at Adams County today this seems a great irony to me.
I knew as I got older that my relationship with Adams County would change.
I became more progressive in my politics and Adams county became more conservative.
My grandparents passed away and I became more distant from the rest of the family.
It was the 2016 presidential election that drew me back to Adams County.
I wanted to visually understand how Adams County had changed and
how those changes might have affected the towns I had loved so much in my childhood.
The conservatism was always there but as a child I did not see it.
Like so many rural areas in the US there exists suspicion of the other and a fear of change, and a resentment
because of a feeling of being left out.
As corporate America has taken over family farms the local economies have suffered.
High tech and other industries have not moved in to replace the jobs lost on the farms and local businesses.
Both Winchester and West Union are shells of what they were when I was a child.
Unemployment, poverty, and drugs have taken over.
Storefronts are empty.
Buildings and homes lie in disrepair.
I want to understand the struggles of these communities which were so important to me.
In many ways, my childhood years in Winchester and West Union gave me a moral compass
that still I carry today even though my politics exist light years away.
This is an ongoing project. The photos here were taken in 2016 and 2018.
I plan to return in 2021.