Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hidden America; Children of the Mountain

by Janet Crain
In an area where the people have been exploited time and time again, was the 20/20 documentary: Hidden America; Children of the Mountain with Diane Sawyer just another exploitation?

The show has angered many and prompted strong, too strong perhaps, denial that these conditions of poverty and neglect exist, by many other present or former residents of the central Kentucky region. Some others from outside the region have expressed much symphathy, others dismiss the Appalachian people as shiftless, drunken, drug addicted Hillbillies. They forget or never knew that these people's parents and grandparents contributed mightily to the defeat of Hitler and the Nazis. Signs were posted in the coal company stores, with a picture of Uncle Sam and the words; "Don't be a slacker, the country needs coal!"

And the older men and rejects from the draft board labored underground 12 to 16 hours a day in a mighty effort to meet that need. While their healthier sons and brothers died in greater numbers in battle than from any other region in WWII.

But to really understand the conditions and how they came to be, read Harry M. Caudill's 1963 book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area
, the seminal work on the subject of how Big Timber and Big Coal destroyed the land and many of the people with it.

First the timber was sold off by people who had no idea of its value beginning back in the 1880's. And hard rains then washed away the topsoil making it much harder to earn a living by farming. The people were glad to see the coal mining come in and worked very hard for a few dollars a day. Most of their wages ended up in the company store and they drew little hard cash.
Many have been on the "dole" and prescription painkillers for over fifty years through no fault of their own.

Company doctors were unskilled and behind the times and begain the drug problem by dispensing pain killers for the slightest symptoms. Depression was the main illness from living in a dreary coal camp where women soon learned the futility of trying to keep their house clean. The company doctor would prescribe pain killers for "nerves" to dull their misery. Later when good doctors were brought in during the boom times when the industry was doing really well, they refused to prescribe the precious pills and the people would not go back to them. If they needed something serious like surgery they would go to the company hospital, but sought out the old doctors for their everyday complaints.

So you see the dependency started early. And just got worse. The land and the people have been exploited over and over again and I just don't know how this situation could be made better. But the young people are their treasure, if only their lives could be made better

Yes, many have excelled and prospered. And for many years in a row, only about 5% of High School graduates stayed in Appalachia. The region contributed their natural resources and their best and brightest young people to the rest of the nation and received very little in return.

How many times can your heart be broken until you just simply give up?

A wiser person than I once told me, "Just remember, there but for the grace of God go I."

And I will leave it at that.

Cross Posted at You Have to Be This Tall to Go on This Ride

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