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Authors: Thomas Kiffmeyer

Reformers to Radicals

BOOK: Reformers to Radicals
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Reformers to Radicals

Reformers to Radicals

The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty







Copyright © 2008 by The University Press of Kentucky

Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth,
serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre
College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University,
The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College,
Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University,
Morehead State University, Murray State University,
Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University,
University of Kentucky, University of Louisville,
and Western Kentucky University.

All rights reserved.

Editorial and Sales Offices:
The University Press of Kentucky

663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008

12  11  10  09  08    5  4  3  2  1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kiffmeyer, Thomas, 1963-

Reformers to radicals : the Appalachian Volunteers and the war on poverty / Thomas Kiffmeyer.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-8131-2509-1 (hardcover : alk. paper)

1. Appalachian Region—Social conditions. 2. Appalachian Region—Economic conditions. 3. Social reformers—Appalachian Region. I. Title.

HN79.A127K45 2008



This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

  Member of the Association of American University Presses

To Laura and Theresa angels always




A Time for Change

1. On the Brink of War

The Council of the Southern Mountains and the Origins of the War on Poverty in Appalachia

2. The Shot Heard Round the World

The Battle for Mill Creek, Kentucky, and the Culture of Poverty

3. A Splendid Little War

Helping People Help Themselves, 1964

4. The War to End All Wars

A National Quest to End Appalachian Poverty, 1965–1966

5. The New Model Army

The Appalachian Volunteers Splits from the Council of the Southern Mountains

6. Operation Rolling Thunder

The Political Education of Mountaineers and Appalachian Volunteers

7. Peace without Victory

Three Strikes and a Red Scare in the Mountains


Live to Fight Another Day




Illustrations follow page


During the “long strange trip” that led to this book, I accumulated many, many debts. Though this brief statement will not come close to repaying those intellectual, financial, and emotional obligations, it brings me great pleasure to acknowledge those generous individuals who were instrumental in bringing this project to completion.

Quite a few years ago, Nancy Forderhase of Eastern Kentucky University related to me, a young graduate student, that Berea College housed a virtually untouched collection of papers generated by a certain organization—the Appalachian Volunteers—that operated out of Berea in the 1960s. This collection, she rightly contended, would make the basis for a wonderful study. Thus it was Nancy who started me on this strange trip. Despite our frequent debates on the merits, or lack thereof, of the Volunteers, her guidance was, without a doubt, critical to my development as a historian. I do hope that I have lived up to the faith in me that she demonstrated. Others at EKU, especially Bill Ellis, David Sefton, Gene Forderhase, and Walter Odum, also contributed as both advisers and friends.

The second stop along the road was Berea College. Though I do not remember the exact day I first walked into the special collections department in Berea's Hutchins Library, which was then crammed into a tiny space on the second floor, I do remember the two men, Gerald Roberts and Shannon Wilson, that I met. Shannon, the college archivist at Berea, has been a part of this project since the beginning (Gerald retired some years ago). I have known Shannon for more than twenty years now, and it is impossible to overstate how important and how special he is to me as a colleague and friend. I know he realizes that, given the complexity of the War on Poverty, the Appalachian Volunteers, the Council of the Southern Mountains, and the Appalachian region itself, I will be in “my chair” in the reading room for years and years to come. I also want to thank Steve Gowler, who took over as head of the Hutchins Library's special collections after Gerald's retirement. Also a special thanks to the staff, especially Jim Pritchard, at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives.

As the journey continued, I incurred more debts at the University of Kentucky. Ron Eller, Theda Perdue (now at the University of North Carolina–Chapel
Hill), and David Hamilton all went beyond the call of duty, pushing me not merely to graduate but to produce the best work possible. While Ron offered probing insights into Appalachian history, David never let me forget that the War on Poverty was also a 1960s story. Professor Hamilton still gives me thorough,
comments whenever I ask him to review a piece I am working on. Theda is in a class by herself. She did everything, from overpaying me to clean her gutters to boosting my confidence when I needed it. She is a very special, unique person. In addition, I want to thank Mike Green of UNC, who could teach a student a lot in the time it took to drink a twelve-ounce beer, and George Herring of UK. George is both an inspiration and a great friend. I also owe a special debt of gratitude to Robert Hodges and Andy McIntire, great friends and great historians.

The next stop along the road, Morehead State University in Kentucky, also blessed me with a talented group of colleagues. John Ernst, John Hennen, Steve Parkansky, Yvonne Baldwin, Alana Scott, Adrian Mandzy, Kris Durocher, and Jason Holcomb are the core of the best department at MSU. I wish to extend a special thanks to Jason (he knows why) and to Gregory Goldey. The tragic loss of “Big Daddy” Goldey to cancer in late 2007 left a void that will never be filled.

The last stop on the journey was, of course, the University Press of Kentucky. Without the guidance, help, and faith of individuals such as press director Steve Wrinn, acquisitions editor Anne Dean Watkins, and editing supervisor David Cobb, this study would never have come to fruition. Thanks also to copyeditor Joseph Brown, who gave me more than a few grammar lessons.

Still, the road is not all of the journey, so, before I slip my bicycle into its rack, I need to remember the people who assisted me in unexpected ways and made the trip worth taking. Paul D. Newman of the University of Pittsburgh–Johnstown is a brilliant historian, great friend, and relentless task master (I mean that positively). Thanks, Paul, for keeping the fire. Also at UPJ is Dan Santoro, who, along with Paul, gave me the opportunity to present my ideas to his classes. My students at Morehead State University, especially Jessica Pugh, Holly Beach, Tony Curtis, Phil Howard, and Valerie Edgeworth, provided the inspiration to keeping plugging away even while we discussed the Jacksonian era. Chad Berry, director of Berea College's
Appalachian Center, provided fantastic insights, as did the former Appalachian Volunteers and Council of the Southern Mountains members whom I interviewed all those years ago.

A special thanks goes to the cats at the Drum Center of Lexington, especially the late Kevin Toole, another dear friend lost to cancer in 2007, and the folks at the Cave Run Bicycle and Outdoor Center, especially John and April Haight. These people provided the outlets needed—the escape—to refresh the brain.

Finally, I would like to thank my family. Bill and Mary Jo Kiffmeyer and Bob and Audry Dwyer helped me financially and, more important, emotionally. Their support was crucial this last, most difficult year. Kathleen, Laura, and Theresa gave me the strength, courage, and drive required to finish this project. Without their love and support, on every level imaginable, I would not have completed it. This project is as much a part of their lives as it is of mine. Kathleen has sacrificed more than any one person should, and, while acknowledging this in no way comes close to paying the debt—really a debt that can never be paid—I hope that it is a start. Laura and Theresa have never known me to be doing much of anything else except writing this book (Laura actually sat through two days of War on Poverty discussions at the University of Virginia in November 2007—probably not a fifteen-year-old's idea of a good time). I owe them time and attention, and I cannot wait to start repaying them—they deserve it. While I hope that I can learn from the past and make this world a better place, I pray that Laura and Theresa learn from my mistakes and make their world even better still.

A Time for Change

Looking back on the 1960s, one activist recalled that he was “motivated by a desire to do . . . good works and to be involved in change that was going on all over the country.” “It was a time for doing things; was a time of social activism,” he declared, “and that was sanctioned and supported and our President had told us to do that—President Kennedy.” Inspired by the new president's 1961 inauguration speech, “where he challenged the American youth to do something for the country,” this individual eventually did take action and, toward the middle of the decade, joined an antipoverty organization known as the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs).

About six years after Kennedy's inauguration, this same activist and the whole of the Appalachian Volunteers made national headlines as they faced accusations that they were “seditious” and “un-American.” Initially leveled by local officials in Pike County, Kentucky, these accusations reflected the growing frustrations that many people felt with the reform efforts that emerged from Kennedy's 1960 campaign rhetoric, his promise of another “New Deal” for Appalachia. While traveling through the West Virginia coalfields during that state's Democratic primary campaign, the senator from Massachusetts promised, if elected, to end the human devastation he witnessed in one of the poorest regions in the country. Though Kennedy did not live to fulfill his promise, the Appalachian Volunteers became, in 1964, one of the first programs funded by the War on Poverty. Created that year by Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, the War on Poverty sought to make good on the late president's pledge, end the plight of want in the country, and help create what the new president called a “Great Society.”

BOOK: Reformers to Radicals
12.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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