By Christine Arena

Dispatch from the Library

This year marks a milestone in American history: The centennial of the passage of national Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. In just 106 words, the 18th Amendment to the constitution ushered in an era of profound change, one that encompassed greed and glitz, godliness and gluttony. Over the course of 13 years, the nation went from boom to bust, from the Roaring Twenties to the beginning of the Great Depression. It was the time of women’s suffrage, the literary movements of the Lost Generation and Harlem Renaissance, changes in music, fashion and the arts, and debates over morality, individual freedom and the will of government.

In January, Franklin County kicked off a commemoration of the passage of Prohibition by holding public screenings of “Prohibition,” the acclaimed PBS documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The library partnered with the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College, Westlake Cinema, and the Franklin County Tourism Office to host the screenings. Commemorative events will continue through this year and conceivably over the next 13 years up to the 100th anniversary of the end of Prohibition.

Franklin County’s place in the national Prohibition and moonshining story is well-known. In fact, April is designated Franklin County Moonshine Heritage Month. This April, a vast array of businesses and nonprofit organizations will hold events themed around the county’s moonshining heritage, which is far more complex than the making of alcohol. As noted by scholars like Charles D. Thompson, author of “Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World,” the local heritage is about trying to beat the odds in impoverished, rural communities. It’s about the survival of families and farms. It’s about mountain life, the settlers and traditions of Appalachia and geography. And it’s about the fast cars of bootleggers and the other well-known aspects of moonshining. Franklin County is proof there’s more to moonshine than meets the eye.

Among other events in April, the library will host the new exhibit, “Moonshining the Arts: Reflections on Canvas,” from April 4 to 25. We’ve teamed up with wildlife artist Carol Yopp, a member of Bald Knob Artists and coordinator of the Franklin County Artisan Studio and Harvest Tour, to organize the exhibit. Artists from near and far — in other words, not just from Franklin County — are invited to create original paintings for the exhibit, which will be the first of its kind in Southwest Virginia and beyond.

“Moonshining the Arts: Reflections on Canvas” encourages artists to look back in history, to consider the lessons and legacies of the Prohibition era on present day and to interpret Franklin County’s role in the American moonshining story.

Information on how to enter the exhibit is available at We look forward to shining a light on a singular time and place in the heritage of America.

Arena is programming and outreach coordinator for the Franklin County Public Library.

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