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Appalachia in the Sixties

Appalachia in the Sixties: Decade of Reawakening

David S. Walls
John B. Stephenson
Copyright Date: 1972
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Appalachia in the Sixties
    Book Description:

    InThe Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey, published by the University Press of Kentucky in 1962, Rupert Vance suggested a decennial review of the region's progress. No systematic study comparable to that made at the beginning of the decade is available to answer the question of how far Appalachia has come since then, but David S. Walls and John B. Stephenson have assembled a broad range of firsthand reports which together convey the story of Appalachia in the sixties. These observations of journalists, field workers, local residents, and social scientists have been gathered from a variety of sources ranging from national magazines to county weeklies.

    Focusing mainly on the coalfields of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and north-central Tennessee, the editors first present selections that reflect the "rediscovery" of the region as a problem area in the early sixties and describe the federal programs designed to rehabilitate it and their results. Other sections focus on the politics of the coal industry, the extent and impact of the continued migration from the region, and the persistence of human suffering and environmental devastation. A final section moves into the 1970s with proposals for the future. Although they conclude that there is little ground for claiming success in solving the region's problems, the editors find signs of hope in the scattered movements toward grass-roots organization described by some of the contributors, and in the new tendency to define solutions in terms of reconstruction rather than amelioration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5041-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Environmental Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Part One The Early Sixties

    • Recognition Again

        (pp. 3-10)
        Harry W. Ernst and Charles H. Drake

        The teaching principal, her face lined with the creases of old age, had been called out of retirement to take charge of the three-room school that no one else wanted. She turned to her pupils and said: “Would you like to sing for these gentlemen?”

        With childish embarrassment, they opened their song books. One child suggested they sing “America” and the teacher agreed.

        “My country ’tis of thee; sweet land of liberty....”

        They sang with the detached innocence of childhood. Their voices carried beyond the frame schoolhouse and into the unpainted shacks that blight the bleak hollows of West Virginia’s...

      • IN HAZARD
        (pp. 10-25)
        Dan Wakefield

        I would just as soon forget about Hazard, Kentucky, a desire I share with a number of its unemployed residents, the large U. S. coal companies, the United Mine Workers of America, and the Federal Government. I went there in late March for a large national magazine on an assignment that did not, for innumerable and irrelevant reasons, work out. I was there for four days—rather longer than most visiting journalists, sociology students, or candidates for elective office usually stay before issuing authoritative reports on the place (twenty-four hours is par for this course)—and I have not been...

        (pp. 25-30)
        Robert F. Munn

        Most of us who dwell in Appalachia are by now aware of the widespread national interest in our region. This interest is all the more impressive because it is so sudden. Just a few years ago, the outside world could hardly have cared less. The average citizen barely knew we existed. Even the better educated viewed the region as little more than a setting for moonshining, feuds and Little Abner. The federal government was only dimly aware of the area, while the great private foundations never heard of it. Scholars ignored us and journalists found us dull.

        How things have...

    • Declarations of War & Forecasts of Victory

        (pp. 31-38)
        Jerald Ter Horst

        If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Appalachia redevelopment program may indeed be the forerunner of a new era in Federal public-works spending. Similar programs are already being proposed for the Ozarks, the New England States, and the Upper Great Lakes area, each fashioned in the belief that the gateway to the Great Society is through regional concentration of Federal money instead of scattershot spending in the fifty states.

        In its purest form, the 1965 Appalachia proposal would mean that the states and counties actually could tell Washington where and how to spend Federal tax dollars to...

        (pp. 38-44)
        Rupert B. Vance

        The word is out: There is money in the budget for the Appalachians. This article offers no recipe on how to get it, but it will speculate on what ought to be done with available funds and what may come of the various programs. At last the country is seriously concerned with persistent problems of poverty in the Southern mountains, notably the coal mining areas hard hit by unemployment. Here, at last, is the opportunity for which many of the leaders in the Appalachians have hoped.

        No one at this date is able to tell us for sure how much...

  5. Part Two Between a Rock & a Hard Place

    • The Quality of Life:: Hard Times in God’s Country

        (pp. 47-62)
        Robert Coles

        Hugh McCaslin is unforgettable. He has red hair and, at 43, freckles. He stands six feet four. As he talked to me about his work in the coal mines, I kept wondering what he did with his height down inside the earth.

        Once he must have been an unusually powerful man; even today his arms and legs are solid muscle. The fat he has added in recent years has collected in only one place, his waist, both front and back.

        “I need some padding around my back; it’s hurt, and I don’t think it’ll ever get back right. I broke...

        (pp. 62-68)
        T. N. Bethell, Pat Gish and Tom Gish

        Sen. Robert F. Kennedy came to Eastern Kentucky this week for a firsthand look at some of the poorest counties in all of Appalachia. After two days of touring and talking with residents, he termed many conditions in the Kentucky mountains “intolerable,” “unacceptable,” and “unsatisfactory.” Kennedy looked at poor housing, strip-mined areas, outmoded school buildings and traveled over dusty rutted roads to the heads of hollows to talk with several mountain families who are suffering because they have no jobs and little or no income.

        He talked with poor people at a one-room school at Vortex, Wolf county, looked over...

    • The Politics of Coal

        (pp. 69-76)
        James C. Millstone

        King Coal is back on the throne. Across the coal-rich mountains of eastern Kentucky, the black diamonds are pouring from the earth at a staggering rate. The narrow, snaking highways are clogged with trucks piled high with coal, and with empties returning for another load. The hills rattle with the grinding of the great earth-moving machines stripping away the land to rip out the riches beneath the surface.

        Ever-increasing numbers of mammoth railroad gondolas are hauling away eastern Kentucky’s wealth faster than ever before, more than 1,000,000 tons of coal a week worth more than $4,000,000, most of it headed...

        (pp. 76-91)
        T. N. Bethell

        To most Americans, Consolidation Coal Company is hardly a household word, even though 78 miners lost their lives three months ago in the company’s Mountaineer No. 9 mine in Mannington, West Virginia.

        True, its name did appear in newspaper and television accounts of the explosion, along with the information that Consol (as the company is familiarly known to the industry) is one of the two largest coal companies in the world; that its No. 9 mine was removing 10,000 tons of coal a day; and that the company sold more than 52 million tons of coal in 1967, giving it...

        (pp. 92-108)
        Ben A. Franklin

        “Of the 54 men in the mine, only two who happened to be in some crevices near the mouth of the shaft escaped with life. Nearly all the internal works of the mine were blown to atoms. Such was the force of the explosion that a basket then descending, containing three men, was blown nearly 100 feet into the air. Two fell out and were crushed to death, and a third remained in, and with the basket, was thrown some 70 to So feet from the shaft, breaking both his legs and arms.”

        These sentences matter-of-factly describing the pulverization of...

    • Environmental Pillage

        (pp. 109-116)
        Calvin Trillin

        Once Bethlehem Steel had decided to begin large-scale strip-mining for coal in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, its public-relations men might have been expected to advise picking a spot as far away from Whitesburg as possible. TheMountain Eagle,one of the few county weeklies in the United States that ever print anything that might cause discomfort to anyone with any economic power, is published in Whitesburg; it could be counted on to discuss Bethlehem’s plans editorially in terms of mountains scarred, streams polluted, timber destroyed, and houses being endangered by floods and mud slides. Also, Whitesburg’s best-known citizen is...

        (pp. 116-119)
        T. N. Bethell

        Sie Saylor of Cowfork, Kentucky, makes his living as night watchman for the Round Mountain Coal Company. One Saturday night last fall he was parked as usual in his jeep on the access road to the company’s Leslie county strip mine when four men suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Before he could get a good look at them, they flashed a spotlight in his eyes, grabbed him, tied him up and blindfolded him.

        For nearly four hours, while Sie Saylor sat captive in his own jeep, the men drove it around, stopping frequently, and it wasn’t long before he...

        (pp. 119-129)
        David B. Brooks

        Surface mining for coal is probably the youngest of the many problems in Appalachia. But it is no easier to accept for that. In fact there are times when strip mining so dominates description and discussion as to loom astheproblem. Whether by use of shovels or draglines or augers or one of the new pushbutton miners, surface mining does seem to be the culminating burden on a region already too heavily laden.

        But surface mining is nothing new. In fact, excavating from the surface rather than tunneling underground is the oldest form of mining. Nor is surface mining...

    • Migration:: Take It or Leave It

      • A LOOK AT THE 1970 CENSUS
        (pp. 130-144)
        James S. Brown

        By “Southern Appalachians” here we mean “Appalachia” as delineated by the Appalachian Regional Commission with, however, the Appalachian counties of New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (the “Northern Appalachians”) omitted. The ARC’s definition of “Appalachia” is primarily a political delineation, a collection of counties declared “Appalachian” by the governors of the various states. This is, therefore, not a uniformly determined, carefully worked-out area occupied by persons with homogeneous social, cultural, and economic characteristics nor a group of areas which function as a social or economic system. Instead, it is a loose collection of counties with very diverse characteristics which function in...

        (pp. 144-153)
        Bill Montgomery

        If President Johnson’s Commission on Rural Poverty had elected to dramatize its findings on film rather than issue them in a written report, the camera could have lingered long on a Chicago ghetto called Uptown. Urban and rural poverty, the Commission theorized, are closely linked by migration. Uptown is the urban end that theory tested and proven.

        The Commission in its film might also have cast Anna Bland in a featured role. She knows a lot about migration. Staring through the window of her small, third-floor Uptown apartment, Anna said what could have been her opening lines: “We nearly starved...

        (pp. 153-158)
        James S. Brown

        One of the most important things about the Appalachian family, as far as both the country at large and Appalachian people themselves are concerned, is its role in the process of migration. This isn’t really recognized as it ought to be, though every single one of us has probably observed this process. Let me tell you what I mean. When people go out, when people migrate, they don’t go through the United States Employment Service or some recruiting agency; they go because some relative “out there” has written and told them, or come back and told them, that there are...

  6. Part Three Lessons in Fighting Poverty

    • Organizing at the Grassroots

        (pp. 161-164)
        Thomas Parrish

        In the situation, one wants to remind oneself that politics is the art of the possible. One wants to quote this worn dictum not to suggest the limits of political action but to draw on its underlying implication that in political situations some action is possible. It’s the sort of reassurance this particular situation needs.

        The situation: Ten persons sit in a basement room, down a flight of stairs from a general store—Plummer’s Store, which is also the United States post office for Battle Fork, Kentucky. Battle Fork is down a road off a road up a road, back...

        (pp. 164-176)
        K. W. Lee

        The faces were sallow and white—pale under an early spring sun, but the gazes were defiant. In chant-like unison, they shouted “No, No, No!” They held signs high saying, “Down with the Machine,” “People Want Honest Elections,” “County Court is a Pawn in the Machine.”

        On a crisp morning in late March 1.968, 700 mountain folk packed the street in front of the same courthouse steps where the late John F. Kennedy, on his 1960 vote-getting trail to the White House, had vowed to “do something” for Appalachia’s forgotten people. The crowd—a motley army of disabled miners, pensioners,...

        (pp. 176-183)
        Jeanne M. Rasmussen

        “I sat right there by him for three weeks and watched him slowly die. If I’d had the money to put him in the hospital ... if the union had still let him keep his card ... he might be alive today.”

        Francie Hager’s face is as lined as a washboard and as brown as the muddy waters of the Kentucky River. Her gray hair is pulled tautly into a no-nonsense knot on the back of her head, and when she talks about her coal-miner husband—who died in 1962—her voice becomes as bleak as the scarred Kentucky hills...

    • Local Reactions:: Outside Agitators, Subversives, & Other Helping Hands

        (pp. 184-193)
        Paul Good

        Tourists driving mountain roads in Eastern Kentucky’s Pike county see billboards picturing a proud mare and foal gamboling in blue grass with the slogan: “Kentucky—Great for Family Vacations.” It’s a lovely image. But in recent weeks some ugly Kentucky realities have come to the fore in that vacation paradise where 40 per cent of the nation’s one room schools are found and children have the highest TB rate in the nation. It was in Pike county on August 11 that three anti-poverty workers—one an Appalachian Volunteer—were arrested on sedition charges. Underlying the arrests is a story of...

        (pp. 193-201)
        Calvin Trillin

        On a bright afternoon in September, in 1967, a five-man film crew working in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky stopped to take pictures of some people near a place called Jeremiah. In a narrow valley, a half-dozen dilapidated shacks—each one a tiny square box with one corner cut away to provide a cluttered front porch—stood alongside the county blacktop. Across the road from the shacks, a mountain rose abruptly. In the field that separated them from the mountain behind them, there were a couple of ramshackle privies and some clotheslines tied to trees, and a railroad track and...

        (pp. 201-209)
        K. W. Lee

        You can take the coal camp out of Craig Robinson but you can’t take Craig Robinson out of the coal camp. That’s the way it was for a young man from Buffalo, N. Y. From one coal camp to another, his trails ran deep in the Southern West Virginia coal fields.

        When I caught the first glimpse of him one blustery winter day, Craig Robinson, hatless, overcoatless and shivering, was following, blocks away, marching columns of miners towards the capitol where the state lawmakers were sitting on their black lung bills. “No laws, no work,” chanted the striking miners on...

        (pp. 210-216)
        Don West

        Almost every day we get letters from those wanting to come to Appalachia to “fight poverty.” They’ve read about the Southern Mountaineers. They’ve seen movies, comic strips or TV (Li’l Abner, Beverly Hillbillies). It’s not that there’s no poverty in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and other parts. There is. But Southern Appalachia has that “romantic” appeal.

        Just a few years ago it was the southern Negro, and dedicated (or adventure seeking) young “yankees” came trouping to the South on freedom rides, marches and such. Not that racism, segregation and even riots didn’t exist in the North. They did. But...

  7. Part Four Can We Get There from Here?

    • Education & Youth

        (pp. 219-224)
        Peter Schrag

        Education in the mountain counties of Appalachia is the product of a nearly perfect system. Poverty, politics, and the catatonic consequences of deprivation and exploitation have left most of the mountain schools generations behind the rest of the nation. In their isolation, they educate children for the community and for the futility that surrounds them. In preparing children for the larger world they deal with the irrelevant.

        The symptoms of the disease are easy to enumerate. In virtually every category by which we measure educational achievement the schools of Appalachia represent extremes. Many of them lack the personnel and facilities...

        (pp. 224-231)
        James Branscome

        In Appalachia today more than three-quarters of a million young people sit in the hollows and hills unmotivated, uneducated and unemployed. Poverty, that “most deadly and prevalent of all diseases,” still leaves its crippling marks on the youth of the Region—leaves them, essentially, in young people’s inability to profit from the educational opportunities which are open to them. To see this vital young talent atrophying at home is a loss the Region cannot afford. The threat of creating a future welfare generation is a real one unless the vicious cycle can be broken. A unique and imaginative solution to...

    • Into the 1970s

        (pp. 232-237)
        John Fetterman

        Imagine a prim little old lady all lavender and lace and scented in lilac. She scrupulously deposits dividends from the common stocks of giant corporations she owns and busies herself admirably with adamant letters to her local newspaper complaining of the sickly condition of the petunias around the town square. She is, as her friends would quickly attest, a lover of nature. She has never checked carefully into the source of the dividends which sustain her and her beloved canary. It is well. The dividends may well be her reward for her share of what has been the most staggering...

        (pp. 238-240)
        Philip Young

        Nationalization of America’s natural resources is not the kind of an issue around which concerned people are rallying. It does not move people to action as does racial or economic injustice; it has driven no one out of the country or to jail, as has America’s military injustice. But the damnable thing about many of the social, economic, or military wrongs in this nation is that their current manifestations are more temporarily than permanently relevant to humanity.

        A growing number of Americans, however, representing both the scientific elite and the poorest white mountain resident of Kentucky and West Virginia, are...

        (pp. 240-246)
        Harry M. Caudill

        The decade of the 1960s was a time of rediscovery for Eastern Kentucky. The chronically sick economy of Central Appalachia became the subject of many state and Federal studies and reports. Scores of newspaper and magazine articles and dozens of television documentaries carried the Appalachian dilemma around the world and made it the subject of numberless campus seminars and symposia. Poverty plagued Appalachia rose like a specter to haunt affluent suburbia with its smug assumption that all was well with all of America.

        The attention thus focused on Kentucky’s mountain counties almost invariably dealt with the formidable failures and shortcomings...

        (pp. 246-258)
        Robb Burlage

        On the sixth floor of a modern insurance company building on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D. C., is the ARC [Appalachian Regional Commission] headquarters. Modest offices sprawl through a number of corridors, panels, and floors. Grantsmen, political staffers, federal and state agency professionals, consultants, journalists, and students flow casually in and out. Few of the “people left behind” ever visit or petition these offices directly. Although projects are often informally initiated at the ARC staff level, such distant constituents are always sent back through their development districts and state capitals, which must endorse a project for ARC to consider it...

  8. Biographical Notes
    (pp. 259-261)