The terrain and the people of Kentucky are so varied, those of us who grew up here never have the same stories to tell. Wonder of wonders, though, I recently met a gentleman who grew up only a handful of miles from where I was born. We were probably there at the same time, walking those same dusty roads, and climbing the very same mountains. Here's a story from our All Across Kentucky Cubit, written by my friend Dave. Please leave a comment for him on the threads that follow, and you are welcome to visit our Cubit.
My mother was a close friend of Harry's too. In 1971, when I was to be admitted to the Kentucky Bar, I had to have a Kentucky lawyer sponsor. Since I had gone to law school in California while in the Marine Corps, I didn't know any Kentucky lawyers well enough to ask them. That didn't stop my mother. She marched right into Harry's office and though Harry and I had never met, he agreed to sponsor me.
One of her prized possessions was a signed copy of "Night Comes to the Cumberlands" where inside the cover Harry had written nearly a full page to her above his signature. After my mother died, that book was the one thing of hers each of us children asked about. I don't know which of my sisters has it, but I'm sure it now is doubly a prized possession.
On a totally different subject, and one which I couldn't work in when I wrote about growing up in Blackey, I should mention that a large part of the movie, "Coal Miner's Daughter" was filmed in Blackey. Loretta Lynn is said to have chosen Blackey because it looked so much like the area where she grew up. Many of the townspeople had non speaking parts in the movie. My mother had been out of town for a few weeks and got back the day after casting had been completed, so she wasn't in it.
The interesting thing about Harry Caudill is that he felt he'd failed in his efforts to bring aid to the area he lived in. His book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, gained a lot of attention from then President Kennedy, followed by Robert Kennedy a bit later. So newsmongers and photographers descended on the area, Whitesburg in particular, along with aid that the government felt appropriate. The attention created bitter feelings. The money was spent improperly. It was not a good situation.
But if people are not aware of their own problems, they don't know what to do with the aid they receive. Caudill was against stripmining, and the condition left by it. But the people needed work and mining was the only industry there. So they took the aid but continued to strip mine. Big companies came in and bought the land for little, but to the people it was money and they took it. The companies mined the coal and provided jobs for the people. More money.
I could go on forever, but the bottom line is that what Caudill tried to do was worthwhile, but the method of getting attention was probably not the best way to help. The people felt exploited by one of their own, and didn't always take kindly to the hand that was held out to them.
My mother taught Diana, Harry Caudill's daughter, in class, sometime during the notorious days of the aid and attention. She was a good student. And my mom liked the family, was friends with Anne, Harry's wife. At any rate, he took his own life when he was only 68. It was a sad time, he was a good man. He'd been diagnosed with Parkinsons, and I think it was in an advanced state.
My brother is a reclamation engineer for mines. He sees to it that the land is reclaimed after the strip mining is done. He also continues to live on the land that was granted to our family in the 1700's, (land grants) just on the outskirts of Whitesburg...our mountain has never been mined. The government can't stop people from selling their land, and once sold, it's most likely going to be stripped in one way or another. My brother tries to see that laws are followed and that the land is not left to erode. The people need to be educated from the inside, not simply told what to do by those who come in from the outside. They have to want to save the environment, they have to want to preserve the mountains.
So Caudill was a good man, though a bit of an anomaly in his own hometown. If the people could have been helped from within, maybe there would be a different ending.
On a happier note, my maiden name is Webb, the same as Loretta Lynn. She was born about 70 miles north of where I grew up. She is related only by a long stretch, it was a different set of Webb's, one that branched off early on. The movie was filmed in Van Lear, Johnson County, near where she grew up, and in Bottom Fork and Jenkins, where I lived, and also in and around Whitesburg which includes Blackey. Blackey and my area are both on the outskirts of Whitesburg, but on opposite sides of it.
They leased the land owned by my cousin Sally Webb, adjacent to my brother's and my land, for parts of the movie. The wooden house that was seen as the one she grew up in in the movie was on Sally's land. The article that I wrote recently in this cubit entitled 'Going Home' shows a photo of Sally's son's new house in the distance. That's the area where that part of the movie was filmed. The filming of that movie was a busy and exciting time for that little part of the area. I do remember seeing Sally's name in the credits at the end of it.
The area has been exploited for many years, yet just like all other places, there's wealth and there's poverty. Caudill tried to get help for schools by saying they were at the lowest rung on the education ladder. That didn't hold much water actually, because he graduated from them, as did a lot of other lawyers, doctors, teachers and other professionals. But they did need funding, and still do. So do other school systems. The same as was true then is true now. Those who do well in the eastern KY schools, continue to do well away from there.
There is just simply no industry there, nowhere to work, except in the mines and in the school system. They are no doubt the biggest employers there, along with the health care facilities, and even so, serious illnesses take patients to Lexington, about 150 miles and a whole world away.
I'm off my soapbox now, and mine are views of an insider looking out, as well as an outsider looking in, if that makes sense.
Here's the picture of the house belonging to Sally's son, the area where a lot of the filming was done for the movie, but not as high on the mountain as I was when I took the photo. I don't think the old house that was used in the film is still standing, don't remember seeing it when I was there in June.
Sharon, Many thanks for your additional insights. It is a complex region; your explanations are very helpful in understanding the reactions and situations [past and present] of people in the region. I hope you and Dave will write more about it and them.
Living sustainably comes with learning to see the world in a new way.
Crooked local government?
Yes, it is and always has been rampant. Back in the 60's when aid was first coming from the federal government, the local politicians got more than those who actually needed it. There doesn't seem to be a one of them who does much for the people. There is no effort made to bring in jobs, but they sure do exploit the people by bringing in negative attention.
The sun shines bright in our old Kentucky homes! Show us your mountains, your lakes, your farms, your architecture. Tell us what you love about our state. There are threads within this forum for all of you. Come join with us as we celebrate Kentucky!