Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In the Midst of Poverty by Pat Gish

Pat Gish speaks out on newspaper reporting
Mountain Eagle newspaper, Whitesburg, KY

Nieman Reports
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
Vol. 53 No. 2 Summer 1999
War Crimes, Human Rights and Press Freedom:
The Journalist's Job


In the Midst of Poverty,
People's Stories are Hard to Tell
Small Staffs, Lack of Resources, and Families' Fear of Reprisals
Add to Difficulties in Coverage
By Pat Gish

Twenty-one Appalachian counties lie along or near eastern Kentucky's border with Virginia. It was the people who live here who gained national attention in the early 1960's when New York Times reporter Homer Bigart came to the Kentucky mountains and reported what he saw and heard. Bigart was drawn to eastern Kentucky by the book "Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area," written by Harry M. Caudill, an attorney who grew up in one of those counties and came back home to practice law.

What Bigart saw and reported became fodder for policy discussions in the Kennedy White House when the first of his articles appeared on a Sunday in October 1963. President Kennedy moved immediately to get help into the area, and those 21 counties later became a principal focus of President Johnson's War on Poverty. In the nearly 35 years since that war was declared, many things have changed for the better. But much of the deep poverty and the consequences it brings to families who experience it remains.

The Kentucky State Data Center in Louisville, which keeps track of population and social circumstances that the census tracks, reported in April that the poverty rate had decreased in all but one of these 21 Appalachian counties from 1989 to 1995. The center keeps records by groups of counties known as "area development districts" (ADD), and the 21 counties are divided into three such districts. The decreases are not large, one percent in one ADD, 2.5 percent in another and 2.7 percent in the third but at least they are decreases. During this same period the median household income rose by more than $6,000 in each development district.

Beneath those statistics there lies a continuing thread to the stories that Bigart uncovered. In these three districts live nearly one quarter of Kentuckians whose incomes place them at poverty level or below. In 1989 the total was 165,856 persons, or 24 percent of all state residents in poverty, and in 1995 it was 162,496, or 23.5 percent of the state number. And four of the five Kentucky counties with the highest percentages of residents at poverty level are included in these districts. Three of these counties are included in the Kentucky River ADD, which has an overall poverty level of 33.6 percent, the highest of any development district in the state.

In Owsley County, the state's poorest, 46.6 percent of all residents and 65.4 percent of residents under 18 are considered to be living at poverty level or below. In adjoining Lee County, 39.1 percent of all persons and 54.7 percent of those under 18 are poor. In Wolfe County, which lies next to Lee County, 38.9 percent of all residents and 57.2 percent of all under 18 live at poverty level or below. Magoffin County, the fourth in this group, is a part of the Big Sandy district; 38 percent of all its residents are considered to be in poverty and 51.2 percent of those under 18.

In January, payments to families in Kentucky's Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP), formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), averaged $224.15 per family, or $94.69 per person. All of these families are past the first 30 months of the five-year period during which they can receive their lifetime allotment of welfare money. State family services workers in public assistance programs in all 21 counties are trying to find ways of getting jobs for these families when their five-year transition period ends. Committees which include workers for the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children and interested private citizens are meeting frequently to look at possible solutions, but so far the results are discouraging. In my county, Letcher County, a new data entry company has set up shop and has hired some workers who were receiving K-TAP money. But those 15 jobs represent only 2.3 percent of the 680 families in the K-TAP program in this one county. The question now is what to do about the other 97.7 percent.

Two years ago, a group of citizens in Letcher County, where I live, got together to write a proposal to the state Cabinet for Families and Children on how welfare reform might be carried out in our county. I was not a part of that group, but The Mountain Eagle, the local weekly newspaper that my husband and I have published for the past 42 years, carried the proposal in full. And since its publication, we have followed its slow progress. The group spent five months developing the plan, which was completed in October 1997. The planners had three goals: to create a diversified, strong local economy, to find new ways of attracting capital into the county, and to assure a better way of life for Letcher county children.

The plan proposed a new local credit union to help low-income families; a new small business technology cooperative specializing in digital service industries; a business development network using retired and active businesspeople as trainers; a program to train people to repair existing homes and to build new ones; more child-care services, which also could train welfare mothers to care for other people's children in their own homes; classes to move welfare recipients into jobs in the health care industry; creation of wood industry jobs by expanding existing businesses or helping people create new ones to use the area's large supply of timber, and establishment of a "one-stop shopping center" where welfare recipients trying to make it on their own could get help with counseling, education, job placement and other services.

A representative of the state Cabinet for Families and Children has promised to come to Letcher County soon to look at possible quarters for the one-stop center. The other proposals in the plan are still being discussed. Meanwhile, several groups of interested citizens have been meeting every month with the state workers responsible for getting the 680 families in our county off welfare and into some kind of work.

The fundamental problem is that the jobs are not here, and the families are not equipped to move away. One group of local businessmen is meeting every month to look at possible job development. Another group of church and welfare workers and interested citizens meets to look at problems and possibilities; I have attended most of this group's meetings. The Eagle tries to keep up also with what the businessmen's group is doing, but it meets on Monday night, which is deadline night at the newspaper, and we can't always free someone to attend.

This problem of small staffs and little time is one that was cited frequently by editors and writers at other eastern Kentucky newspapers when I called to find out what problems they were having in covering welfare reform. Most of the papers are weekly; a few publish two or three issues a week. There are two small dailies. When I asked whether papers had provided coverage and if they had any difficulties getting information, these were some of the responses:

"We haven't covered it as much as we should. We've included all the wire-service [AP] stories. It's hard to get a local angle and we're kind of short-staffed. In the near future we're going to do an in-depth story on it."

"No, not really. That's on my list. It takes so much personal research."

"A lot of people in our area are shifting from AFDC to SSI (Supplemental Security Income). It doesn't have any cutoff date." (We agreed that we admired their ingenuity.)

"I don't expect we'll get people complaining to us until the [five-year] deadline gets nearer."

"We've had a little coverage, but nothing lately, nothing we have generated. It's difficult to devote reporter time. We don't have enough staff to give time or attention to issues beyond breaking news. It's sad to say when there are so many people involved, but it's hit or miss with us."

"We have an interest in it, but have we covered anything? Not really. I would want to devote study to it. Local people here are afraid to have their names out."

"It's hard to get much out of the local social services department, but we have done some coverage on a welfare-to-work program and the area development district has been very helpful to us. We have only two people, and we haven't had much time to devote to it."

"We have stayed on top of Vision 2000, but information from that is a lot lighter now. They've let up on what they're sending us." (Vision 2000 is a state-set standard for local welfare reform efforts.)

"We've had a couple of stories, but our coverage has been kind of limited. The biggest problem is that some people don't want to be identified. We don't get a lot of releases from the local agencies, and also we're limited on space."

"I have found people very willing to talk and give information."

"To tell you the truth, we haven't really tried."

"We've done a few stories. We've talked with people who would lose their welfare and what alternatives they might have. We've also used AP stories. We should probably deal with it more than we have. It seems always to be there."

"We haven't run into too much of a problem. We've been to two years of meetings. We got into doing that and have been fairly successful in getting most of the information we've needed. Last year in our 'progress edition' we did a whole section on welfare reform. We haven't done too much lately."

"Cover welfare reform? Not really, other than releases. I hadn't even thought to check into that."

The Wall Street Journal recently carried a long, moving article describing the trials of one eastern Kentucky woman who accepted a grant from the state of Kentucky and relocated to the Cincinnati area after receiving training in her home area. That article, which followed the woman and her family over an entire year, would have filled a large part of the news space in any eastern Kentucky weekly and certainly took more time, energy and money than small county newspapers can afford.

A reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently spent a week in Letcher County looking at welfare reform issues and other aspects of eastern Kentucky life. He did this story as part of a series of articles about the 35th anniversary of the War on Poverty. He also had ample time and resources to assemble the information he needed.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky's largest daily, recently completed a six-month study of welfare reform in eastern Kentucky and published the results in a three-day series titled "Welfare Dilemma in Eastern Kentucky." In the paper's issues of May 2, 3 and 4, that series took up a total of eight and a fourth full-size newspaper pages. It required two reporters, a photographer and a graphics artist. The small newspapers in eastern Kentucky do not have the resources to provide that kind of coverage.

A reporter for a large Kentucky daily newspaper said it was difficult to find welfare recipients to be interviewed for feature stories on the problems or the successes of welfare reform. Cooperation from local offices of the state welfare system was not good. Local state employees were not willing to ask questions of recipients and relay information to reporters. Recipients were afraid to talk to reporters and didn't want their pictures taken. State welfare officials were upset by questions from news reporters and tended to be "a little bit defensive."

In eastern Kentucky jobs are scarce for everybody and especially for un trained or inexperienced workers. "You can't put a person in training on how to work a mop for five years," the reporter at this large Kentucky paper pointed out. "It's a national issue. State officials shouldn't be so thin-skinned." In one instance, this reporter had been talking with a welfare recipient for some time about her problems, but after a call from an official in the Cabinet for Families and Children in Frankfort (our state capital) the woman would no longer return the reporter's telephone calls. Presumably she had been told by someone in the state or local welfare office that she should not talk with reporters.

Fear of losing jobs or benefit checks is not new to people in the Kentucky mountains. For many years local politicians and/or coal company officials had almost total control over the lives of many mountain families. A coal miner who did or said something his bosses didn't like could find his furniture out on the street when he returned to his company-owned house. For many years, local political powers had a major say about who received welfare and who didn't. Those lessons were absorbed quickly and thoroughly. Tales about such punishment perhaps have become embellished over the years, but they continue to affect mountain residents' actions.

Welfare recipients who live here have good reason to be hesitant about talking to reporters. It's part of the legacy of their forebears' lives and circumstances, but it does make it difficult for those who genuinely want to learn about their situation and tell others so that positive changes can occur, as Bigart's effort shows they can.

Pat Gish has lived in Letcher County for the past 42 years. She grew up in central Kentucky and her husband, Tom, grew up in a Letcher County coal camp. Married since 1948, they bought The Mountain Eagle in 1957, a weekly which they and their children still operate.
Why Identify Welfare Recipients or Quote Incorrect Grammar?
At The Mountain Eagle newspaper we do not use photographs of welfare recipients as welfare recipients. It's hard enough to have to be one without having to face the prospect of someone taunting you or your kids over a circumstance beyond your control.

We do, of course, use their pictures in different circumstances, such as a birthday, engagement, wedding or school honor.

We also use correct grammar when we are quoting someone, welfare recipient or not. Our observation is that newspapers generally do not quote any other group of Americans in dialect whether they are Kennedys in Massachusetts, Dodger fans in Brooklyn, Mexican-Americans in California, or African-Americans in Alabama. We see no reason why Appalachian residents should be challenged for speech brought here by settlers from the British Isles centuries ago.

The Case for Appalachian Studies by Jim Branscome

The development of Appalachia has varied tremendously from one part of the mountains to the next, depending upon geography, availability of natural resources such as coal, timber and water, and historical circumstances such as early settlement patterns of the choosing of sides in the Civil War. But the major factor in creating the complex social, economic and political problems of today came with the gradual industrialization of the area over the past 70 to 80 years.

The reaction of mountaineers to industrialization is one of the most misunderstood and untold stories of American ethnic history. Usually, the more industrialized a particular area has become, the more the people seem to be like most Americans; but in Appalachia, these are only surface appearances. Appalachia today is still primarily an agrarian region where the way of life developed over 200 years of pioneer settlement retains a strong and lasting hold upon the people.

If these elements of a pioneer culture are unique in comparison to the rest of America, it is because geography and historical circumstances have combined to lessen the impact of industrialization upon the people. For example, there are still people today who live entirely off the land, needing only salt, guns and steel tools and some cloth from local stores for outside necessities.

However, most mountain people have had contact with some forms of industry. Despite this, the practical outlook of the pioneer life and the tough individualism which made it possible still form the basis for many social attitudes and values practiced today.

Historically, the first white settlers were the frontiersmen or "grazers" who talked of "elbow room" and who wanted no nearby neighbors. What they were saying in economic terms was that they needed a great deal of woodland to profitably maintain their large herds of cattle and hogs, which ran wild in the woods, living off nuts, roots, and undergrowth. For over 100 years the main source of income for these residents was livestock. In the middle 1800's, an estimated 150,000 hogs and thousands of head of cattle moved through Asheville, the marketing center for western North Carolina. Further north, an estimated 81,000 head of swine, alone, came through the Cumberland Gap from East Tennessee and East Kentucky.

Hard on the heels of these early settlers were the real agricultural farmers who sought out the major river valleys where land could be cleared for larger farms. To maintain these farms some capital and a large labor force was needed, and many of these early farms had slaves. With this group also came the merchants and storekeepers who provided the essentials and luxuries which could not be manufactured locally. Also, from this group came the educated individuals who could operate the schools and academies which sprang up wherever communities were large enough to pay a teacher and provide a building. Generally, both groups of settlers were of similar origin, being British, Scots, Irish, with a sprinkling of Dutch or German.
By the middle of the 1800's, the South was still primarily an agricultural economy, and even that economy had a limited effect on the land. For example, in 1860, only one-fifth of the total land surface in North Carolina was cleared and in use. In Tennessee, the figure was 23 per cent. Kentucky had 31 per cent, and these were figures for the entire state. In the rougher mountainous regions, only isolated patches of land were under cultivation.

With the coming of the Civil War and then the Compromise of 1876 (in which Northern railroad men and bankers agreed to invest heavily in the South in return for electing Rutherford Hayes president), a new chapter began in mountain history. The Civil War's effect upon the South was pronounced. Most of its native manufacturing industry and agricultural economy was destroyed. The railroads lay in ruins. The industrial base of the South, limited as it had been, was devastated. The mountain areas, isolated and with a more independent economy, did not suffer as badly as did the more populous areas, but the results of the war and the Compromise were to have a major impact there too.

The first incursions into the mountains were tenuous ones. Railroads were built into the major river valleys and along the mountain ranges to larger market centers or to sources of coal and timber. Along the foothills, where waterfalls marked the Piedmont plain, textile mills were established to take advantage of cheap water power. By 1890, the industrialization of the area was well underway.

But this process was a gradual one. Geography, local politics and a lack of knowledge about the interior slowed the advance of most businessmen. In fact, in the early 1900's, where Horace Kephart, in Boston, was trying to find the remotest spot in America, he chose western North Carolina because he could find little in writing or detail on maps about that particular area. When Kephart came South, he found the timber and coal companies had already begun major operations. In fact, from 1890 to 1930, the timber companies managed to strip away the greatest hardwood forest on the American continent. By the late 1930's, only isolated stands of virgin timber on the most remote slopes of the southern highlands had escaped the saws of the timberman. In the mountain coalfields, mining was already a major operation, marked by harsh living conditions and bloody strikes.

Even so, in all these areas, the local residents clung to values and life styles which made them more and more unique as the majority of Americans moved into the so-called "midstream" of western society. But the varying forms of economic development also had diverse effects on particular areas.

For example, in the highlands of western North Carolina, people managed to keep their traditional family holdings while also taking jobs in the mills and factories built along the larger waterways. In this area, as is true in most of the region where people still live and work on farms, the traditional mountain culture is clearly visible. The people have ancestral roots and their stories, parables, and music are keyed to a long and stable relationship to the land around them. Family ties and neighborhood attachments may date back through several generations. The pace of life is still based upon a time cycle of seasons or years.

The eight-hour day is still a minor factor (but an increasingly important one) in the development of their values and lifestyle.

In the coalfields of central Appalachia, industrial development took an entirely different turn, and the result has been a reaction quite distant from that of other rural areas. In central Appalachia, most of the land is owned by land-holding companies or coal companies. Railroads were built into mine locations and companies built entire towns or coal camps to house the thousands of workers needed to run the mines. Gradually, over a period of years, local mountaineers were lured down from their farms to the camps by the glitter of high wages and material benefits. Unscrupulous land speculators and coal operators cheated early settlers out of their lands by convincing them to sign away their heritage for a few dollars in periods of hard times or personal financial crisis. Other thousands of workers and their families were brought in by railroad car to work the mines. The result is the most densely populated rural area in the country where it is quite common to find three or four thousand residents strung out along a narrow hollow or roadway. In these settlements, most of the people are dependent upon coal mining or government subsidy for income.
Because they do not own the land and because there is rarely space for a garden, many have lost the traditional farming skills. But despite the fact that some skills have disappeared, the people have kept the attitudes and values familiar to anyone traveling from one part of the mountains to another. Along with these values they have also clung to their own separate identity - an approach to life which is quite distinct from middle America. This fact can clearly be seen in the large migrant colonies of the North where thousands of mountain people have been forced to migrate over the past 20 years as mines closed down and small farmers were unable to meet mortgages or compete with larger farms.

Despite the fact that migrant families may be a thousand miles from home, they retain the old family structures and the same highly personalized relationships to the people around them. It's not uncommon to talk with a migrant who still defines "home" as the hills of East Kentucky or Tennessee despite the fact that he may have lived in Detroit or Chicago for past twenty years. Certainly, anywhere mountain people have settled, the easiest identifiable part of the culture is the music - whether it be traditional mountain ballads or the more modern bluegrass or country music. But the cultural roots and the common identity which form the basis for personal pride, go much deeper than simply playing music. Along with the Blacks, Appalachians form the largest single ethnic group in America -- a fact even most Appalachians are just beginning to realize.
A rising awareness of Appalachia's unique place in American history is slowly developing among mountain people. With little doubt, one of the largest factors influencing this rise in consciousness has been the increasing willingness of American Blacks to stand up for their rights and teach other Americans that minorities have a place in American life and that their contributions, and their differences, are legitimate and should form the basis of pride -- not shame. Blacks, overall, form a very small percentage of the total mountain population (about 6 per cent by some estimates) but they have taken leadership roles in building poor people's organizations out of all proportions to their numbers. This has been particularly true in the coalfields, where Blacks were brought in to work the mines and settled in relatively large communities.
In these areas, especially in Kentucky and West Virginia, Black individuals have played leading roles in building unions, welfare rights organizations, tenant rights groups, and other groups organized to represent grassroots interests.

In the face of massive problems throughout the area, the major task facing Appalachians today is to develop leaders who are authentic and who can respond to the genuine needs of the people, not to the large industrial interests who have laid waste to the area for the past eight decades.

But any discussion of local leadership must sooner or later deal with the role the public school system has played in mountain life. The development of the modern school has paralleled the rise of the modern industrial state and schools tend to follow the same structures and operate upon the same assumptions as the institutions they serve.

The same patterns of thought, i.e., authority and discipline needed in business are also carried over into schools. It is not without accident that the most conspicuous element of Appalachian schools is the emphasis placed upon discipline and submission to authority. Along with this "outside" emphasis has been added the natural influence of a culture which, due to rigors of frontier life, was oriented along authoritarian lines in family life -- although adult relationships were based on staunchly equalitarian ideas.

Education in America has always been an avenue of escape for ambitious youth eager to leave home for the lure of big cities or adventure in a new and unfamiliar world. Such is still the case in Appalachia where thousands of young people have left the region to enter the military services, the mills and factories in the North, or (more rarely) to attend college. Large numbers of mountain born Americans have gone on to distinguished careers in government and industry, but the school system which sends them out of the region has also contributed enormously to the lack of enlightened local leadership which exists throughout the area.
The role of the school in mountain communities is inherently a political one, given the nature of mountain politics and life. Since the earliest days of settlement, only a very small percentage of mountain-born Americans have ever been able to finish secondary school, and an even smaller number have entered college. In Appalachia, as is true in the rest of the country, it is usually the children of those already affluent or educated who succeed in finishing school. Many of these formally educated mountaineers leave the region, preferring jobs elsewhere. Of those who do return home, many do so out of family ties, loyalties, or because of job security.

But there is another factor operating here. In most places in America there is a choice of jobs for college graduates, either in business or governmental social services. But in Appalachia, especially in economically depressed areas, the school system is often one of the largest stable employers in a county. Thus, the school system very quickly becomes a focal point for patronage since the school board and superintendent are usually elected officials. In practice, this means that the only people able to hold jobs in schools are those with family ties or political loyalties to politicians already in power.

The result is politically controlled education, and, in turn, an attitude of compliance and a general unwillingness by educated people to criticize or question commonly accepted practices. It goes, almost without saying, that in such situations innovative or experimental educational practices are discouraged or halted. When this attitude is coupled with the differences in lifestyles, class and religion of most college graduates compared to community residents (even though the teachers may be natives), it is understandable that most of the community views the general school system with distrust and suspicion.

The attempts to impose, through the schools, another culture and a system of values upon mountain people has meant that the schools have become alienating forces and isolated from the people.

Despite the pressures of years of forced schooling, despite the daily bombardment of TV and other mass media which present a stereotyped and degrading image of the mountaineer, Appalachians have maintained their own set of values and practices which are quite distinct from those of middle America. If nothing else, the high dropout rates, which run over 50% in some schools, are indications of the failure of American education to assimilate the mountain individual into mainstream American society.

It is worth mentioning here that the idea of "dropping out," which has gained acceptance recently in middle-class America, has been a hallmark of Appalachian resistance to middle America for more than a century.
Education for most Appalachians has meant learning to live outside the regular way of life, and the American public school system must be viewed as a force imposed upon the people -- not as a tool of their own creation. Because of this, any individual who has gone through 12 years of public school and then several more years of college, is usually viewed with suspicion. The willingness to submit to 12-18 years of humiliating ritual in order to be certified as sane by most Americans is usually an indication of alienation from

Appalachian culture.
Perhaps the most important question to ask about schools is: "What kind of society do we want to create?" The answer to this question will determine the structure and intent of any school. Therefore, if the answer is a democratic form of government and society, then the school will need to reflect democratic concepts and processes. If the answer is a totalitarian government, then the schools would need to reflect that concept.
The present Appalachian school systems do not, by any stretch of the imagination, begin to represent an attempt to build democratic beliefs. With their heavy reliance upon force, authority, compliance, and physical repression, it is little wonder that the typical Appalachian views it with suspicion and bitterness.
Few of the returning migrants from Chicago to Breathitt County, Kentucky -- and there are an increasing number of them -- probably ever heard of Mike Royko or read his book Boss. And even if they did read it, they would probably be bored by all its descriptions of Mayor Daley's doings; for, in Breathitt County, "Ma" Turner and her clan have been out-doing Daley for thirty years. In Breathitt County, they say that the only thing that the Turners don't control is the flood-prone Kentucky River, and that "Ma" hasn't stopped it because it always floods the home of one of her few remaining rivals.

The Turners came to power in the Depression days by controlling patronage jobs provided by the government's public works programs. Using this patronage, they gained control of all locally elective offices, including the school board. Though "Ma" herself is no longer school superintendent, one of her chosen is. She has always seen to it that the county judge, the county's chief fiscal and administrative officer, is close kin to herself or her late husband, himself a county judge. Her daughter, Treva Howell, is the director of the four-county Middle Kentucky River Community Action Program, which controls Head Start and several job programs. Treva had some trouble keeping her job during the Nunn administration -- a Republican one that frowned upon the blatancy of "Ma's" Democratic machine -- but the Governor lost. Treva's husband Jeff is the representative to the Kentucky General Assembly from Breathitt. Jeff had a little problem getting elected again last year -- he didn't receive the most votes -- but a special committee of the General Assembly found some "irregularities" in a couple of precincts and named him the winner. Jerry Fonce Howell -- close kin again -- is a former State Senator who chairs the board of the eight-county Kentucky River Area Development District, which controls all Appalachian Regional Commission money directly that comes into the area and, indirectly, passes on all federal funds coming into the area except for Social Security.
The Breathitt County school system -- as are most in Appalachia -- is the largest single employer. With seventy-five per cent of the people on welfare, the Turners usually have plenty of applications for the jobs of teachers, janitors, school bus drivers, etc. Kinship is the main criteria for employment, and lacking that, a person can usually get a job if both he and his kin (and their ancestors) have had a loyal voting record.
Ostensibly, in spite of this control, the school system continues to improve. New buildings are obvious. Only one of them was built entirely with ESEA Title I funds, something which the law says may be illegal. The Turners got around that by naming the school "LBJ Elementary" and getting "Lady Bird" down to dedicate it. The Nunn administration tried to raise a stink about the school's funding, but "Ma" got a blue-ribbon state elementary school. That shut everybody up. The Turner family is well connected with national Democratic politics, particularly with Representative Carl Perkins, who represents the interests of Breathitt County well as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "Well" is used here in the sense that he keeps the patronage money coming and doesn't bother about strip mining, something which the Turner family is also involved in.

Most of the teachers hired in Breathitt County are offspring of present teachers or students chosen even in high school as the ones to return and teach after graduation. Most of them also are trained at one of two of the state's teacher institutions, just like their parents and former teachers before them. The teaching faculty at these institutions are products of the same kind of school system themselves and are careful not to implant any "foreign" ideas in their students' minds. It is these same institutions, too, which receive the federal EPDA monies to improve the deficiencies found in their former students' classroom performance. All in all, it is a vicious cycle where what is important knowledge-wise is how to maintain the present system.

The power of families like the Turners over the educational system is not eroding. The first week in June the Kentucky River Area Development District announced that it had been granted authority to develop and administer an "over-all educational plan" for the eight counties under its influence in eastern Kentucky. Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, this eight-county educational planning board will consist of 41 members; 22 will be school superintendents or board members, 11 others will be appointed by local politicians, and another seven will be appointed by the KRADD's regular board. Apparently there is no need by parents, students, or even teachers.

A six-million dollar joint ARC-AFDC (Social Security) program for children, called the Kentucky Infant and Pre-School Program (KIPP), equally benefits those in power. Widely heralded as a "national child development experiment," the program has become bogged down in local politics and has yet -- even after three years -- to provide any actual services for children. Last year a reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal found that the program's "professionals" were being screened and hired at the local highway maintenance garage offices -- the patronage offices -- of several eastern Kentucky counties, including Breathitt. There was a minor scandal, but the politicians won -- as always. The Turners and dynasties like them all over the mountains will survive until the consciousness of mountain people has been raised and their broken spirit restored by allowing them the keys to the storehouse of information about their history and culture

Community People and the Demand for Appalachian Studies
Critics of Appalachian Studies say that the idea comes from radicals more concerned about social reform than students' well-being. The following description of educational problems, and the response of the parents to these problems in Blackey, Kentucky, should help dispel this notion.

Blackey, Kentucky is a small town on the North Fork of the Kentucky River. Like most eastern Kentucky towns, which in many ways it is, since it was once a coal "boom" town. The turn of the century prosperity is no longer visible, however. The remnants of the underground mining industry are everywhere: abandoned tipples, slag heaps, railroad spurs, and decayed buildings. The overloaded coal trucks hauling strip mine coal now ply Route 7 - a narrow, twisting road between Whitesburg and Hazard -- as if it were their own highway, which in many ways it is since the Appalachian Regional Commission built its own dangerous and twisting three lane "developmental highway" between the "growth centers" of Hazard and Whitesburg, bypassing Blackey altogether. Despite the welfare economy of the area and the devastation wrought by the strip miners and their supporters in government, the people of Blackey are still a fighting people, a people still willing to wade against the torrents of bureaucratic naysaying to preserve what they feel is the last thing they own -- "their" school.

On Sunday morning, March 5, 1972, the Blackey Elementary School was totally destroyed by fire. By 2:00 p.m. on the same day, largely due to the efforts of Gaynelle Begley, the store clerk, more than 200 persons from the community gathered to decide what to do. As a temporary measure, the 130 students and their seven teachers were transferred to a nearby school. After meeting with representatives of the State Department of Education, the parents won a concession to renovate three structures in Blackey - a store, the former bank building, and the back rooms of the Presbyterian Church -- and in less than three weeks they had their children back in Blackey.

Sensing that the state bureaucrats were not willing to provide funds to rebuild their school in Blackey, the community appointed a committee of twenty-five to draft a proposal defending the need for a school in Blackey, rather than busing the children to one of two large consolidated schools in other areas of the county. That proposal, "A School in Search of a House," eloquently puts forth the parents' feeling about their school

"We don't believe that a school is a building full of children and teachers. Nor is it just a group of students and teachers. We believe that a school is a living part, the heart, of a community, and that the community is all the people, bound close together in body and spirit.

"We believe that we have now a real community in Blackey, that we have now a real school struggling without our community to help our children and the rest of the community grow. What we lack is a building.
"We are a community and a school in search of a house."

As might be expected, their proposal was not well received in Frankfort. In the words of Gaynelle Begley, "They showed up and told us what we could and couldn't do. They acted as if it were the first time they had ever consulted with a community people. All that the planners were worried about was the number of square feet, exits, commodes, and money. I'm all for exits and such ... but we figure it takes as many commodes in a consolidated school as in one of our storefronts. We're concerned about money, but we're more concerned about children."

The community's record in caring for its children seems to back up Mrs. Begley's claim. The Blackey parents and teachers have sponsored their own Mountain Music Festivals for children, and brought in such diverse groups as an Appalachian Puppetry Caravan from Berea College and traveling plays sponsored by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Inside the schools themselves they have sponsored the only breakfast program in Letcher County, instituted students-teaching-students programs, and invited local adults in to lecture on the history of the area.

The latest from the State Department of Education was that the students would be bussed from Blackey, but the community has not given up the fight. In the words of one parent,

"we lose our purpose when we lose our children. We think it is important for our children to have a sense of continuity of their lives as they flow from lives of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. If our children are moved to a large consolidated school, we lose touch with them and they lose touch with the community. They will become citizens of nowhere."

The Case For Appalachia Studies Courses in the Schools
Whatever happened to Appalachia is a question one hears frequently.
Ten years after the rediscovery of Appalachia by John Kennedy, the question looms important, although Appalachia itself has receded from the forefront of contemporary American issues. The region's problems remain; little has been solved. The land and the people are still the victims of a vicious economy; miseducation or no education plague the area's youth; malnutrition, black lung, parasitic infection still are commonplace. As always, justice is elusive. Appalachians still have no voice in the affairs of their region.
Worse yet, they have no sense of their own identity. Not only has the land been robbed and raped, but also the birthright of Appalachians to a unique cultural heritage has been systematically and cruelly violated. All the intensive analysis by sociologists, the euphoric activity of college students turned organizers, the federal dollars -- whatever else they have done -- have had no positive impact on how Appalachians see themselves or their sense of group identity and purpose.

The old forces of fragmentation and isolation, which have contributed their share to the dismal past, continue to rob Appalachians of a pride in and knowledge of their culture. In fact, the folkways, the arts -- the entire spectrum of Appalachian life has been held up to national scorn and ridicule by Mainstream America. In short, nothing much has changed except the profile of the region from high to low. Whatever happened to
Appalachia is, in fact, still happening.

The people of Appalachia eventually will solve their own problems; the solutions will not be quick or easy. Regional development will depend on the slow maturation of plans and programs. It is clear that one of the things which must be done is to recognize Appalachian culture as a valid alternative to the life style of middle America. There is a need not only for economic development in Appalachia, but also for strong and positive cultural identity. There is no reason why this cannot be. It is a cruel quirk of fate that this has not already happened at a time when other ethnic minorities have successfully created their contemporary identities out of the heritage of their past.

Appalachian culture has survived many forms of culture shock, not the least of them being the hostility of the region's school system to things Appalachian. The schools represent the best place for beginning the reaffirmation of the value of Appalachian culture.

This means that there must be a curriculum change to meet the needs of the people, not the needs of the national norms. This would mean that materials be written in the language terms that the Appalachian could understand. Thus, instead of changing the child's basic language habits, an effort should be made to add a second dialect to an already rich expression of culture and experience. It may be necessary to supplement or add standard English to the dialect of pupils whose speech could disadvantage them educationally or economically.

By giving Appalachian students an awareness of the structure and origin of their own particular speech patterns, and at the same time giving them instruction in standard English, which might necessarily be taught much as one would teach a foreign language,

They could deal with writings and other communications from outside the region but would not be forced to adopt speech patterns alien to them unless and until they so choose. This method of dealing with these children is superior to the present method (and usually unsuccessful one) of forcing these youngsters to adopt alien speech patterns and teaching them to be ashamed of their background and that of their parents.
Sadly, Appalachians are also taught to apologize for their music.

Just watch how apologetic (not defensive, apologetic) these mountain young get when for the first time (and the second, the thirty-first and the hundredth) they are outside the region and the "outsiders" (e.g., the New Jerseyites) start "making fun" of their mountain music. Had these young mountaineers been exposed to these ballads and "pickins" from an early age by sympathetic and appreciative teachers who told them of the beauty and background of their native music, then, when they were, years later, confronted with the basically hostile forces of the outside world, they could and would stand up for and/or at least be able to intelligently discuss the relatives merits of their culture's music, and certainly have a more healthy outlook.
But, as it is, most of the mountain youth never really learn about their culture, and thus lurk silent and apologetic when it is attacked, or, as an alternative, and probably more often, laugh with their attackers. They give up their cultural identity so they won't be oppressed, instead of learning what being Appalachian means and throwing off the stereotypes.

When cultures meet, there are always problems, ranging from bafflement to actual shock. The problems are not so severe, however, if individuals have a firm sense of who they are and a knowledge of cultural differences.

It would greatly benefit thousands of young Appalachians if the schools of Appalachia had in the history and culture of Appalachia, courses that teach cultural differences. The ideal would be courses in Appalachian history and culture that compare Appalachian experience and values with Mainstream American experience and values.

It is clear that in responding to the Appalachian culture, the middle class outsider is sometimes incapable of interpreting correctly the evidence before him. For example, Jack Weller -- while, of course, forever reminding his readers that he is passing no judgment on the culture -- describes mountain music and literature as "backward looking", "nostalgic and melancholy", and over all "regressive" (in Yesterday's People).
Thomas Merton, on the other hand, after hearing some mountain music for the first time at Gethsemane (Kentucky), gave another interpretation when he exclaimed, "It's apocalyptic". Apparently the only fair hearing that the culture will receive is from persons who do not assign ultimate importance to the things that the state and the seminarians have blessed in modernity.

The music of Hazel Dickens and Red Foley should be found in Appalachian classrooms, alongside that of Beethoven and Bach; and elementary and pre-school readers should depict Appalachia, not New England life styles, to give the children pictures to attach their words to. History should be personalized in every grade and discussion techniques should be built into the classroom structure to ensure that the pupils will experience what is put before them.

In school, the middle-class youngster encounters an educational environment which reinforces his already learned value system and life style. For him, school is an extension of life as he lives it at home and in his community. On the contrary, the Appalachian student quickly learns that he is different and that he must erase those cultural traits which contribute to his diversity. His value system and life style are hardly reinforced.

The educational system's process of credentialzing fails to recognize that the experiences of young people in the coal camps of Appalachia teach them to wrestle more successfully with real human problems and the demands of their lives than does the very sterile experience of middle-class youngsters and the artificial world of suburbs and affluence.

Thus, the propensity of teachers and the educational system to "culturally enrich" our "culturally deprived" Appalachians is unsound. This approach has dealt not so much with why there are such disparities between the child and the school system, but with all means to eliminate the cultural differences of the child. Treating cultural differences as negative traits which must be schooled out of the child causes irreparable damage to his self-esteem and pride. What many fail to realize is that the actual deprivation is on the part of the educational system because it is not prepared to present these children with materials and environments and teachers conducive and complementary to the differences of their unique cultural identities and life styles.
A sympathetic Appalachian studies curriculum would enable the public school students of the region to achieve greater insight into themselves and sharper awareness of the problems and opportunities in the region.

College students also should have an opportunity to develop a keen sense of their own identity as well as a sensitivity to Appalachian problems.

As it is, however, the Appalachian young person does not have to go to Cincinnati or Chicago to experience "culture shock" and conflict. Even our regional colleges somewhat understandably see their role as processing their native raw material into a product capable of functioning in Mainstream America. No institution of American society, in fact, is more divorced from Appalachia than the higher educational system which resides within it.

If possible, the student is relieved of his ignorance, his biases, his accent, and -- as a result -- almost all of his old identity. He may graduate not being quite sure who he is. American education has been preoccupied with programs and standards that homogenize and assimilate persons. Individual differences have been tolerated only until they could be changed.

The colleges continue and intensify a channeling process begun by the earliest elementary teacher to send the culturally different student -- ashamed of his background and ill-equipped to meet the needs of his region -- into middle-class society outside the region or out of productive society entirely.

In fact, these institutions seem to do more of a disservice to the region than a service to the extent that they accept within their walls the "cream of the crop" -- the valedictorians and salutatorians -- and not only refuse to promote a regional consciousness on the part of this potential leadership -- but rather encourage them to get "educated" so they will be able to "get out" of the region.

If he works and studies hard, the math student is told, he may be able to get a job with IBM In New York. If he works and studies hard, the business administration major is told, thing of the opportunities ... perhaps he can land a job with the Sheraton in Honolulu! If he works and studies hard, the medical student is told, think of the opportunities! Perhaps he can practice in one of the newest and most modern hospitals -- with corresponding equipment -- like in Dallas, or perhaps, an almost-as-well-equipped hospital in some wealthy suburb.

In fact, there is a not at present a single Appalachian studies program in the region which could begin to rival the offerings of Far Eastern Studies or astronomy.

A student can, and most do, go through four years of college in the region's institutions of higher education without having a think in the classroom related to the problems of the mountains surrounding them.
English majors seldom if ever hear a word -- much less whole courses -- on Appalachian literature.
Art majors in the region seldom if every study within these institutions about the beauty, value and history of development of Appalachian crafts.

Economics majors sitting right in the middle of the strip mining country never hear a work about the economics of Appalachia and what strip mining and the outside corporations mean to the economics of the region and how economists might think of addressing the problems of the region.

Sociology majors sit for four years in institutions in the heart of Appalachia and seldom hear a word about the different life patterns of the Appalachian people. Political science majors graduate without hearing a word about Appalachian politics and the effect or non-effect it has had on the plight of the people of the region around them.Education majors never get any instruction on the special problems of Appalachian youth and how to meet these problems with their teaching.Medical students are taught to treat medulla tissue on the brain, but know next to nothing about how to practice in rural areas.

Nursing students graduate with experience in urban and local hospitals, but few have real training in public health with field work in the region. History majors learn about English history, Far Eastern history, "American" history, Russian history, Latin American history and, lately, sometimes "Black " history, but not a word about Appalachian history.

Home economics majors are taught to cook fine French dinners with the correct wine and to prepare for receptions for New York society, but not a word about the dishes of the mountains or nutrition training for poor mothers. Presently, most colleges and universities are not in the business of granting academic credit to students working to solve immediate and indigenous community problems. But the world of needs beyond the classroom is a learning environment that is grossly underutilized. The most sensible approach to education would be to help students examine their own experiences as creatively and critically as possible. Formal education too often provides little opportunity to learn how to learn or how to solve problems that are not hypothetical. Little attention is devoted to analyzing life styles, to understanding processes, to examining how institutions influence behavior. Most current emphasis is still on factual information, content delivery and the preparation of specific skills. But research now tells us that within five years that kind of education is either forgotten or outdated. Appalachian schools of high education spend little time b2thinking about the community below their own mountainside.

Too often, the university-community dialogue never becomes dialogue, since the university provides its services from its storehouses of wisdom and rarely does the university recognize the educational uses of the world beyond the classroom.

A college Appalachian studies program should utilize the community as a learning laboratory, allowing the student to be autonomous, and identify resources for learning about Appalachia.
Community awareness and involvement are not inborn -- people must acquire them. Appalachian youth are no different in this respect. Regional studies must provide a stimulus that will promote learning -- a learning of oneself, of one's people, one's region and one's

Inasmuch as the region needs more than 200,000 college graduates -- a minimum of 6,400 physicians, many more thousands of nurses, teachers, businessmen, government leaders, ad infinitum, the region's schools must develop a sensitivity in their youth to the problems of the region.

The Appalachian studies programs would strive to familiarize the students with the economic and social history of the region, its politics, its religion, its education, and its current social institutions. It would also provide insights into the "psychology" of the mountain people and the development work being done, while endeavoring to sensitize the participants to the qualities of mountain life which deserve preservation.
Students should be given the flexibility to develop their own courses in Appalachian studies. The major objective of most of these courses would be to do original research on Appalachia which can be printed for distribution and/or placed in he libraries for future reference. One of the problems in studying Appalachia is the lack of written materials. These classes could be utilized to provide speakers who represent the Appalachian institutions or who are experts in these fields for these classes and/or the entire student body. Following each speaker, there could be class discussions to synthesize the material presented in relations to the students' past experiences.

As a beginning, these institutions could offer courses such as "Social Welfare Policy and Service in Appalachia," "Values and Cultural Themes in Appalachia," The Social Problems of Unemployment in Appalachia," Appalachian Politics," Education in Appalachia," Economics in Appalachia," "Appalachian Literature," ad infinitum, which would provoke thought about who speaks for Appalachia, the uniqueness of the culture and people, and an analysis of the ways that regional institutions have and have not responded to the problems of Appalachia.

If we accept the premise that Appalachian problems are not, in general, the result of terrain inadequacies incidental to American development, or to any special lack of ability or maturity in its people, then we logically hold that the opposite is the case, that much of Appalachia has been subjected to an economic and political neglect which largely made the mountain area a colony for the use and pleasure of the larger part of the country and for corporations. Therefore, it makes sense to set up Appalachian studies programs which will benefit both the student, who will get a much more relevant and meaningful education than that to which he is now subjected, and the region as a whole, which will benefit from the students' research as to present Appalachian poverty, the reasons for Appalachia's low rank as contrasted to the rest of America, and the social and political factors behind these problems. As minerals are, in most of Appalachia, the largest natural resource, it also makes sense specifically for these students to research this source of power and wealth.
Pride and knowledge of a region, however, is not enough. The region's educational system must contribute to finding ways for their young people to remain in Appalachia

Inasmuch as the region needs more than 200,000 college graduates -- a minimum of 6,400 physicians, many more thousands of nurses, teachers, businessmen, government leaders, ad infinitum, the region's schools must develop a sensitivity in their youth to the problems of the region.

The Appalachian studies programs would strive to familiarize the students with the economic and social history of the region, its politics, its religion, its education, and its current social institutions. It would also provide insights into the "psychology" of the mountain people and the development work being done, while endeavoring to sensitize the participants to the qualities of mountain life which deserve preservation.
Students should be given the flexibility to develop their own courses in Appalachian studies. The major objective of most of these courses would be to do original research on Appalachia which can be printed for distribution and/or placed in he libraries for future reference. One of the problems in studying Appalachia is the lack of written materials. These classes could be utilized to provide speakers who represent the Appalachian institutions or who are experts in these fields for these classes and/or the entire student body. Following each speaker, there could be class discussions to synthesize the material presented in relations to the students' past experiences.

As a beginning, these institutions could offer courses such as "Social Welfare Policy and Service in Appalachia", "Values and Cultural Themes in Appalachia", The Social Problems of Unemployment in Appalachia", Appalachian Politics", Education in Appalachia", Economics in Appalachia", "Appalachian Literature", ad infinitum, which would provoke thought about who speaks for Appalachia, the uniqueness of the culture and people, and an analysis of the ways that regional institutions have and have not responded to the problems of Appalachia.

If we accept the promise that Appalachian problems are not, in general, the result of terrain inadequacies incidental to American development, or to any special lack of ability or maturity in its people, then we logically hold that the opposite is the case, that much of Appalachia has been subjected to an economic and political neglect which largely made the mountain area a colony for the use and pleasure of the larger part of the country and for corporations. Therefore, it makes sense to set up Appalachian studies programs which will benefit both the student, who will get a much more relevant and meaningful education than that to which he is now subjected, and the region as a whole, which will benefit from the students' research as to present Appalachian poverty, the reasons for Appalachia's low rank as contrasted to the rest of America, and the social and political factors behind these problems. As minerals are, in most of Appalachia, the largest natural resource, it also makes sense specifically for these students to research this source of power and wealth.
Pride and knowledge of a region, however, is not enough. The region's educational system must contribute to finding ways for their young people to remain in Appalachia.

Byrd Watching

By: Betty Dotson-Lewis (B. L. Dotson-Lewis)
Written for the http://www.dailyyonder.com/
Robert Byrd is the longest-serving U.S. Senator. He grew up in — and lived through — times most of us can't imagine. And he's not leaving us without a fight.

Robert Byrd of West Virginia has lived long enough to filibuster the 1964 civil rights act and to support the first African-American to become President of the United States.

Even the New York Times spends time Byrd watching.

“Byrd watching” in Washington, D.C., these days consists of recording and responding to every move the 92-year-old Democrat Senator from West Virginia makes. Whenever there’s a close vote in Congress — such as the Senate decision on the health care bill in late December — Democrats and Republicans alike hold their breath and watch for Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The New York Times in a story on December 23, 2009 described the arrival and attendance of Byrd to the Senate floor to vote as a “poignant ritual.”

The Times goes on to say, “It is his third appearance of the week, each prompted by a vital vote.”

From all appearances Bob Byrd takes his job seriously despite his age and reportedly frail health. On June 12, 2006, Byrd became the longest-serving United States Senator in the history of the United States. On November 18, 2009, Senator Byrd became the longest serving Member of Congress in our history.

The Times implies a pretty dismal future for those of us who are looking forward to living rewarding lives at age of 92 or beyond. Apparently, the journalist has shorter-term expectations. One of my grandmothers lived to 98 years old and the other past 94.

They both grew up during hard times in the Appalachian coalfields not far from where Robert Byrd lived as a young man. Their diets were completely wrong, according to Dr. Oz, Robert Byrd lived as a young man. Their diets were completely wrong, according to Dr. Oz, and both had little medical attention. I believe my grandmothers grew tired of the routine life here and being treated as elderly because they simply closed their eyes and moved on to the hereafter. There was nothing wrong with their mental capacity when they died and neither suffered physically. Sen. Byrd’s own party members appear as surprised as the Republican opposition when the senior senator is on the job. The papers report that Sen. Byrd is greeted by a procession of colleagues: Harry Reid, patting his arm, Barbara Boxer, Democrat from California, applauding his entry. In late December, Byrd was entertained with standing ovations, waves, hugs and even tears for doing the job West Virginians have elected him to do for nine consecutive terms.

Byrd has built an impressive vita, including the election by his colleagues to more leadership positions than any other senator in history. Perhaps this achievement Perhaps this achievement is because of this unyielding desire and determination to do his duty. Byrd once said, “What is sometimes considered to be the result of genius is more the result of persistence, perseverance and hard work."

He is now the President pro tempore, the second highest-ranking official in the United States Senate and the highest-ranking senator in the majority party.

Byrd’s own story, the classic American saga of struggle and achievement in the Appalachian coalfields, may help explain his physical and mental toughness.

Robert C. Byrd was born on November 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Cornelius and Ada Sale. They had four other children – three sons and a daughter. Byrd started his life with the name of Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr. Before his mother, Ada Sale, died of influenza on November 11, 1918, she asked her husband to give their sons to other family members to raise. Baby Cornelius (Robert Byrd) was given to his mother’s sister and brother-in-law, Vlurma and Titus Byrd. The Byrds adopted Cornelius and changed his name to Robert Carlyle Byrd.

In 1920, when Robert was about two years old, the Byrds moved to Bluefield in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, where his adoptive father got a job driving a wagon and team for a local brewery. Titus moved from job to job trying to make a better life for his family. He worked more than one job at a time – a coalminer and a farmer. The family moved from town to town but eventually settled down in Mercer County, in the southern West Virginia town of Algonquin (later called Lamar). Robert Byrd's first job was at gas station in Helen, West Virginia

Robert attended a two-room school, finishing four grades in two years. Studying by an oil lamp, he developed a thirst for knowledge at a very young age. When he was in the eighth grade he walked three miles to catch a bus and ride four more miles to school in Spanishburg. Robert graduated as valedictorian of his class of '28 at Mark Twain High School in Stotesbury in 1934.

In the middle of the Great Depression, following graduation from high school, Robert wanted to go on to college but there was no money. Eight months after graduation he finally found a job pumping gas in Helen four miles from his home. He started work in the middle of January, without a car and or a coat to wear. He borrowed a coat and walked or hitched a ride to work – many days walking eight miles to and from the gas station.

Awhile after, he was offered a job as produce boy for the Koppers Coal Company in his hometown of Stotesbury. Koppers owned the coal operations in Helen and Stotesbury. This job would mean he no longer had far to walk to work.

In 1937, Robert married his high school sweetheart, Erma Ora James, a coal miner’s daughter. When they married he was making $75 a month. The couple lived in two upstairs rooms in a coal camp house where Mona, their first daughter, was born.

Robert was constantly looking for ways to make a better life for his family. He picked up meat cutting skills by watching the meat cutters at the Koppers Coal Company store. He read everything he could get his hands on about the process. After acquiring the skill of meat cutting, he worked in supermarkets in Fayette and Raleigh counties and at night he took classes in welding at Beckley College.

When WWII broke out, Byrd worked as a welder building warships in the shipyards of Baltimore and Tampa. In 1945, when the war was over, Robert Byrd brought his wife and two daughters back to Crab Orchard, West Virginia, to settle down. He returned to West Virginia with a new vision of what his home state and country could be.

It was during this time period in the ‘40s when a young, ambitious Byrd became affiliated with one of the most noted hate groups this nation has every witnessed – the Ku Klux Klan. Byrd, in his memoir, recalls recruiting approximately 150 friends and associates to form a chapter in Crab Orchard. It cost $10 to join and the local KKK collected $3. for the robe and hood.

Byrd acknowledges he lacked good judgment. He has said he viewed the Klan more as a fraternal group and as a way for a person with little financial means or power to launch a political career by connecting with doctors, lawyers, clergy and judges who had the money and power he lacked.

"It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career, and reputation," Byrd wrote when he was 87 years old. Byrd has seen and done a lot. He joined the filibuster of the 1964 civil rights act, and he campaigned for the first African American to be elected president.

In 1946, he made his first run for political office and was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. In 1950 he finally began to pursue a college education by enrolling in classes at Morris Harvey College. He was not able to attend college full time but took classes around his work schedule and duties as an elected official.

Byrd earned his law degree cum laude, from American University in Washington, D.C. in 1963 after ten years of study in night classes.

In the halls of Congress, Robert C. Byrd is renowned for his knowledge and defense of the United States Constitution and the institution of the Senate. Byrd “may come closer to the kind of senator the Founding Fathers had in mind than any other,” according to the Almanac of American Politics.

Those words may apply in more ways than the Almanac intended.

On September 17, 1787 the United States Constitution was signed and agreed upon – the oldest and shortest written constitution of any major government in the world.

Benjamin Franklin was 81 years old when he signed the United States Constitution. He was suffering and because of his poor health, needed help to sign the Constitution. As he signed the document, tears streamed down his face. Benjamin Franklin, the oldest framer to sign the Constitution, was in fragile health. Although his body was deteriorating, his mind remained active. He was in constant pain from gout and gallstones. He could barely walk. Franklin would enter the convention hall in a sedan chair carried by four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia.

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, declared in a speech on the Senate floor before the health care reform vote, “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote.” Many assumed he was talking about Robert C. Byrd.

Coburn’s plea may not be getting the full attention of the Man Upstairs; it will take more than a prayer from an opposing senator to move a mountain like Robert C. Byrd.