I am from Appalachia, central Appalchia to be exact. Northeastern Kentucky to be even more exact. My roots have a bit of a split personality. Part Appalachian, part Swedish! What a combination which probably accounts for my split personality and eccentric leanings. Someday, I will write about my Swedish family. Now I want to write about Appalachia. Appalachia breaks my heart.
I have always lived geographically close to Appalachia and spent almost 30 years teaching students who came from the region. I did not grow up deep in the heart of Appalachia but I frequently visited my grandparents and other family who lived in the Central Appalachian region. As I grew up, their culture was my culture, their values were my values, their way of life was my way of life. By the time I was becoming a teenager, Appalachia’s best days were behind it but I didn’t know it. My grandfather had worked hard to insure that his eight children, including my mother, had left the region in order to get an education and seek their fortunes. One had to go elsewhere for an education. There were only two universities reasonably close by and the terrain of the region is geographically isolating.
Poverty was the calling card of the region. My grandfather was a landowner, a successful farmer, and had gas and oil wells on the rich land. When I looked out his front door, I saw acres of corn and tobacco growing and many dairy cattle grazing. He was the exception not the rule. He refused to let his family work in the coal mines, but coal mining was one of the principal industries. Much of the region is not suited for farming as it is too mountainous. Manufacturers did not bring their industries to Eastern Kentucky. There were no good roads.
The people opposed interference from outside the region. They feared that their culture would be taken away, their way of life stolen, their children corrupted. They feared cultural change more than they feared poverty.
My grandparents are gone now but the old farmhouse still stands. Do you know what I see when I look out the door now? Trailer parks. Very poor, hopeless people. Children playing in the dirt yards. Starving dogs surviving on table scraps tied out in the yard. I know enough about the area to know what lies within some of those trailers. Drugs. Heroin. Pain pills. In that county, there is little economic activity with around a 33% unemployment rate. Farming is gone. The gas and oil wells still pump but the owners of the mineral rights live far away or the mineral rights were unfortunately sold along with the land. The people lost their way of life but not to manufacturers or education. They lost it to drugs and poverty.
Appalachia breaks my heart. #appalachia #poverty #drug abuse
Watch this space for much more on Appalachia.
At a very young age, I witnessed the poverty you write about. Only a radius of less than 40-50 miles separated us from the extreme poverty of this region. It is worse 60 years later. If a young person has the determination and drive to obtain an education, they leave the Appalachian hills of Easteen Kentucky and go elsewhere for jobs and raising their families. Farming is nearly nonexistent, with the cash crops of tobacco and cattle gone. The cash crops are now growing pot and making meth. Untaxed whiskey, moonshine, is much harder to manufacture than pot and meth. All are illegal and hurt innocent children most of all.
It is heartbreaking to witness the extreme poverty and hopelessness of Appalchia. Prescription drug abuse is is rampid. People break state and federal laws daily to feed their children. Industry growth is not an option, so the cycle repeats itself. Social Security benefits, with free commodities, subsidized housing, free phones, medical, food stamps, and other benefits make it easy to remain dependent on the government for survival. President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty legislation has created four generations of welfare dependent people. Federal jobs programs for forty years have failed miserably and cost billions of dollars. Without a learrned work ethic, people who have never worked, have no incentive to work and be productive. A sad irony for the leader of the free world.
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