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War On Poverty Oral History Project  

This guide will help you find primary source oral history interviews pertaining to the War On Poverty.
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Annotated Guide to the War On Poverty Oral History Project: Part I

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

Guide Compiled by Suzanne Maggard

Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek

2006

90OH290 APP 282  

LYNN FRAZIER

Date: November 9, 1990

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer: John Glen

Length:

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Lynn Frazier is the former head of the Kentucky State Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).  He was born in Crittenden County in western Kentucky.  A former editor of the Owenton News Herald and a speechwriter for Governor Edward T. Breathitt, Frazier secured a position in Governor Louie B. Nunn’s administration as special assistant for Manpower and for federal programs which included the Office of Economic Opportunity.

Frazier discusses the political aspects of the War on Poverty.  He states that the resources that came into eastern Kentucky were not applied well.  Frazier describes the politics of the War on Poverty at the local and the national level.  He talks about working for Gov. Nunn and recalls having to explain the purpose of the Appalachian Regional Research and Defense Fund to him.  Frazier states that Nunn wanted to make sure that the money was well spent, and recalls how Nunn attempted to exert control over the anti-poverty agencies.  Frazier worked through Governor Wendell H. Ford’s first legislative session when Ford replaced him with a political supporter. 

Frazier secured a position as a Community Action Program (CAP) director after he left state government.  He established a manpower training program, and states that a large percentage of people who went through the program were successful in getting jobs and staying employed.  Frazier describes other results of the War on Poverty including the advancement of women who received training as teachers’ aides through the Head Start program.  Yet, the lasting legacy of the War on Poverty, according to Frazier, is the hope that it brought to a lot of people.

 

90OH291 APP 283 

JESSE AMBURGEY

Date: November 2, 1990

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky

Interviewer: John Glen

Length:  1 hour 40 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Jesse Amburgey, an executive director of the Kentucky Youth Association Community Action Committee, was born and raised in Knott County, Kentucky.  He saw poverty firsthand in the heart of Appalachia.  He attended Berea College and became a teacher in central Kentucky before returning to Knott County in 1963 as the principal of a consolidated school.    Amburgey describes how he became involved in the Knott County Development Association.  The group later joined with nearby counties and became the LKLP (Leslie-Knott-Letcher-Perry) Community Action Agency.  Amburgey became so interested in the group that he asked to be released from his contract as principal and went to work for LKLP full-time.  After a year, he became director.

Amburgey discusses the hope that pervaded Appalachia when the War on Poverty was announced, but states that the resources available never matched the philosophy of the program.  He discusses how LKLP tried to work within the county systems by completing projects on roads and bridges.  Amburgey believes that the whole political system of eastern Kentucky has changed due to the work of the community action groups. 

Amburgey describes the differences between the War on Poverty in different counties and different parts of the state.  He explains that he believes that the VISTA [Volunteers In Service To America] workers alienated people, and he describes how he dealt with this insider/outsider conflict.  Amburgey also discusses an attack by Governor Louie B. Nunn on the Community Action Programs, and the role of Lynn Frazier in the Nunn administration.  Amburgey explains the current community action programs that help people to find work.  He states that hope is the lasting legacy of the War on Poverty because it showed local populations that someone cared about them. 

 

90OH292 APP 284 

LARRY GREATHOUSE

Date: September 28, 1990

Location:  Frankfort, Kentucky

Interviewer: John Glen

Length:  2 hours 10 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Larry Greathouse, a member of the Workers Compensation Board, discusses his experiences during the War On Poverty.  Greathouse grew up in Tennessee and Indiana where his father worked for the Dupont Corporation.  He attended Berea College, but he states that ended up working for the War on Poverty by accident.  An injured hand kept him from starting a master’s degree program at the University of Indiana.  He ended up doing a survey project for Berea College on high school dropouts, and eventually received a job on a project for the Department of Labor.  Greathouse describes his work and the lack of knowledge regarding program implementation on the part of the federal government.   He also states that the federal directors of War on Poverty programs had already formed ideas about what kinds of resistance they would receive in Appalachia even before the programs began.

Greathouse eventually attended law school.  He mentions defending Flem Messer, an Appalachian Volunteer (AV).  He describes the positive results of the split between the Council of the Southern Mountains and the Appalachian Volunteers.  He talks about the Office of Economic Opportunity’s (OEO) and his belief that the OEO officials did not have any idea about the political dynamics of the Appalachian region.  Greathouse also discusses his work with the legal services board and states that the legacy of War on Poverty is the emergence of new local leadership.

 

90OH293 APP 285 

H.B. HARRIS

Date: November 2, 1990

Location:  Frankfort, Kentucky

Interviewer: John Glen

Length:  1 hour 20 minutes

Audio Conditions:  Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Reverend H.B. Harris is a native Kentuckian.  He went to school in Georgia but came back to Kentucky to work in a small church in Barbourville in the 1960s.  Harris explains that he started to work at a community center and that is how he first became involved in the War on Poverty.  He describes working with Irma Gall and Jim Kindrick and his disagreements with Mr. Hollis, a director of programs in Knox County. 

Harris recalls the atmosphere in Kentucky when the War on Poverty began.  He remembers that it was something new and people believed that there would be many new jobs.  He describes some new positions that were created with the building of a furniture factory.  Harris recalls that he did not encounter any problems with the VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) workers and states that the legacy of the War on Poverty is the pride it instilled in people.  He explains that the War on Poverty played a role in opening Appalachia to the outside world and he is glad to see how the work that he and others did actually helped people.  Harris also describes racial issues in eastern Kentucky, especially in Corbin.

 

90OH294 APP 286 

FLEM R. MESSER

Date: October 26, 1990

Location: Danville, Kentucky

Interviewer: Thomas J. Kiffmeyer

Length: 2 hours

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Born in Clay County, Kentucky, Flem Messer experienced an uneven education. After dropping out of the fourth grade at the age of fifteen, he eventually returned to school and graduated from Berea College. While at Berea, he studied the political history of his native county and came to understand how “political machine” politics worked in eastern Kentucky. This understanding led him to become an activist for political change as he became involved in the Council of the Southern Mountains and the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs). According to Messer, the concept of “maximum feasible participation” was the key to the War on Poverty.

Messer states that the young people who came into eastern Kentucky from other states, such as the Appalachian Volunteers and the VISTA workers, sincerely believed that through participation in the various poverty programs, the poor could achieve tangible benefits. Unfortunately, local politicians perceived any demand for change as an attack on their political power. As a result, county officials attempted to assert their control over the various federal programs. As frustration over their continuing failure to affect real change in the region mounted, Messer believes the Appalachian Volunteers began to become more radical, and he decided to disassociate himself from the group. He felt the radicalization of the Appalachian Volunteers would ultimately destroy it. He states his pessimism about the effects of the War on Poverty and the future of eastern Kentucky. He believes that few individuals benefited from the federal programs and that little positive change occurred because the fundamental causes of poverty ― inadequate school systems and economic base ― were left unaltered.

 

90OH295 APP 287

GEORGE BROSI

Date: November 3, 1990

Location: Berea, Kentucky

Interviewer: Thomas J. Kiffmeyer

Length: 2 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, George Brosi attended college in Minnesota where he was exposed to the Civil Rights Movement and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). After dropping out of school, Brosi obtained employment at a hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee where, in the summer of 1963, the Council for the Southern Mountains held their annual conference. He became involved with the CSM and worked that summer with Milton Ogle. Later that year, he learned about the Roving Picket Movement in eastern Kentucky, and the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organization. Brosi was assigned to the Ann Arbor office after joining the SDS and ERAP.

While visiting the Council for the Southern Mountains headquarters located in Berea, Kentucky in January of 1964, Brosi participated in the first Appalachian Volunteers (AV) school restoration project. He states that he realized from the beginning that these types of projects would not alter the economic situation in Appalachia because by repairing buildings, the AVs were merely reinforcing the power of the local politicians who were not interested in funding adequate educational facilities or educators for their communities. Brosi claims that once the AVs saw the same facilities fall again into disrepair, they came to the same conclusion and became more radical.  Although Brosi believes that the War on Poverty helped to make people more aware of the need for change both in and out of the region, he feels that many of the outsiders, who he calls “foreigners,” who entered Appalachia in the 1960s, had a detrimental effect. By adopting a paternalistic attitude and acting obnoxiously, the AVs and VISTA workers offered the mountaineers the choice of siding with them or with the local politicians, with predicable results.

 

90OH296 APP 288 

JOSEPH T. MULLOY

Date: November 10, 1990

Location: Huntington, West Virginia

Interviewer: Thomas J. Kiffmeyer

Length: 3 hours 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Joseph Mulloy, a native of Louisville, Kentucky joined the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs) in the fall of 1964.  He states that he was motivated to become involved in the reform movement by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech that challenged young people to do something for their country, and also by a presentation by Jack Rivel, an AV staff member, at the University of Kentucky. Mulloy participated in the AV’s school renovation projects, and states that these types of activities were selected because they had an immediate impact on the local communities, and helped secure a better education and a better future for the mountain children. He believes that the AV effort was a “do gooder” work that fulfilled some basic needs that should have been addressed by the local authorities.

Mulloy states that the Appalachian Volunteers’ focus began to evolve because of their interaction with the local population. The AVs began to confront the issues such as strip mining that the local population was powerless to stop. Mulloy believes the AVs were “radicalized” by the mountaineers themselves. As a result, the AVs abandoned a “band-aid on a cancer” approach and, led by local activists, began to oppose strip mining. Following the Jink Ray incident where a Pike County farmer successfully prevented strip mining on his farm, Mulloy was arrested by the Pike County Sheriff on charges of sedition. He asserts that this was an attempt by the local coal operators to stop any effort to limit the power of the coal companies.  Other activists like the Carl and Anne Braden and Joseph McSurley were also arrested.

Though the law under which they were arrested was declared unconstitutional by a federal court, Mulloy concedes that the incident had a chilling effect on the Appalachian Volunteer movement. Just one day after the charges against him were dropped, Mulloy was drafted by the army. Because his efforts to obtain status as a conscientious objector were denied, Mulloy refused induction in the armed services. Claiming the war was an issue in Appalachia as well, he believed that the AVs would support him. Unfortunately for him, Mulloy believes that Milton Ogle felt that the sedition trial made the AVs appear to be unpatriotic and that the organization could not survive if it supported his anti-war stand, and so Ogle fired him. This marked the end of Mulloy’s involvement with the Appalachian Volunteer organization. Following the election of Richard Nixon, Mulloy believes that the War on Poverty became just another social service agency.

 

90OH297 APP 289

LOIS COMBS WEINBERG

Date: October 17, 1990

Location: Hindman, Kentucky

Interviewer: Margaret Lynn Brown

Length: 2 hours

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Lois Combs Weinberg, the daughter of former Kentucky Governor Bert T. Combs, talks about growing up in Prestonsburg, Lexington, and Frankfort, Kentucky. While a second-semester senior at Randolph Macon Women’s College in Virginia, she was interviewed by Gibbs Kinderman, who was a recruiter for the Appalachian Volunteers (AV) organization. Weinberg states that what interested her in the organization was her own personal commitment to being of service to people, and atmosphere of the times.

Weinberg describes her activities teaching school as an AV on Paynes Creek during the summer of 1965. She and another AV, Judy Martin, lived with a mountain family in a home with no running water.  To avoid being treated differently Weinberg would not tell people who her father was. She states that her involvement in community work caused some awkwardness with her father and his friends.

At the end of the summer, Weinberg moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as an evaluator for the Office of Economic Opportunity.  She states that she did not like the city or her job, but she believes it gave her a better perspective on how removed the administrators in Washington were to the people they were supposed to help.  The next summer she went back to Paynes Creek, and in 1967 Weinberg was hired to administer a Community Action Program (CAP) in Lynchburg, West Virginia, a primarily African-American, urban community. She believes her greatest contribution in this position was helping to forge a bridge between the black community and the white power structure of the county.  Weinberg also discusses her community involvement since her marriage.  She provides her opinions regarding the ineffectiveness of the CAP program, male-female relationships within the Appalachian Volunteers, images of Appalachia resulting from the War on Poverty, and the tensions that existed between the local population and the “outsiders.”

 

90OH348 APP 290 

LOYAL JONES

Date: November 19, 1990

Location: Berea, Kentucky

Interviewer: Thomas J. Kiffmeyer

Length: 1 hour 45 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Loyal Jones, a native of North Carolina, discusses his educational background and how he gained employment with the Council of the Southern Mountains (CSM) in 1958. He states that at the time of his arrival, the CSM was still a small organization that hosted an annual conference and provided some educational leadership in the mountains. Nevertheless, according to Jones, these yearly conferences inspired John Whisman to advocate for an Appalachian Governors Conference that, in turn, led to the formation of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). 

Jones believes that because the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) was hoping to cooperate with any established social service organization, the CSM interpreted the anti-poverty announcement as a great opportunity to expand their activities in the region. He says that initially the council proposed hiring Community Action Technicians (CATs) who, under the direction of the CSM, would help organize a new Community Action Program (CAP). Other programs initiated by the CSM included the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs).

Jones states that although the AVs embraced the more conservative philosophy of the CSM during the time of school renovations, they eventually became embroiled around such issues as strip mining, school politics, and free lunches for poor school children. As the AVs moved toward a more “radical” agenda, they attempted to pull the CSM along with them. Failing in this effort, the group attempted to oust CSM Director Perley Ayer. Ayer fired those involved and the AVs split from CSM as a result. According to Jones, the OEO wanted the AVs to remain with the CSM in order to keep the AVs under control. Jones, on the other hand, favored the split because the AVs were too controversial for the CSM that had to remain closely affiliated with religious institutions and Berea College. In the end, Jones believes that the activities of the AVs led to their demise because they alienated many of the very people they were supposed to help.        

 

91OH03 APP 291

ANN POLLARD

Date:  Novemeber 30, 1990

Location: Berea, Kentucky

Interviewer: Margaret Lynn Brown

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Originally from western Kentucky, Ann Pollard and her husband moved to Berea in 1949.  She began working as the assistant editor of Mountain Life & Work.  In 1965, she was hired to be the office manager for the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs) in Berea.  She recalls that the field men considered the Pollard residence a “second home,” and that there was always someone stopping by to take a shower, get a warm meal, or sleep for the night.

When the Appalachian Volunteers split from the Council of the Southern Mountains, Pollard chose to go with the new organization.  She attributes part of the split to the anti-Semitism of the Council.  Pollard describes a book project through which the AVs coordinated book donations to create small libraries in towns throughout eastern Kentucky.  She remembers that there were often local political confrontations over issues like this, and how these confrontations would affect the young, naïve AVs.  Pollard believes that the AVs must be understood in the context of the times.  She describes AVs who she was close to and where they are today.

 

91OH04 APP 292

TENA MESSER

Date:  November 28, 1990

Location: Danville, Kentucky

Interviewer: Margaret Lynn Brown

Length: 2 hours

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: None

Tena Messer grew up in Pasadena, California and studied to be a teacher in Santa Barbara, California.  She states that she did not feel ready to teach when she graduated, and so she volunteered to become a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) and was assigned to Appalachia in 1965.  Messer describes the five-week training course where she met her future husband, Flem Messer.  Messer describes the insider-outsider conflict among the Appalachian Volunteers (AVs), and explains her own sensitivity to the issue because her husband was from the mountains while she is not.  Messer also discusses the role of Harvard researcher Dan Fox with the Appalachian Volunteers.

Messer recalls her first assignment in a small school on Hurricane Creek in Pike County, Kentucky.  She began tutoring “problem children” who had been abandoned by other teachers.  She describes the poverty and the lack of government assistance in the community.  Messer explains that after she and Flem were married, they worked together to establish a community center in Mud Creek and an “outpost” for children who had dropped out of school.  They were able to persuade many students to attend and began tutoring them, but community leaders accused them of running a school to compete with the local schools.  The Messers were forced to close their community center.

Tena Messer states that she and her husband returned to his hometown where he worked for a Community Action Program (CAP), but the couple soon were involved in more controversy.  She explains that Flem was accused of spreading communism, and she was rumored to have broken up his first marriage.  Messer describes trying to maintain a normal family life for her young children and turning away from activism due to increasing family responsibilities.  Messer now works as a teacher and assists her husband with his insurance agency in Danville, Kentucky.

 

91OH05 APP 293

JUDY MARTIN

Date:  October 30, 1990

Location: Berea, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Margaret Brown

Length: 3 hours 10 minutes

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: Yes

Restrictions: Permission of Judy Martin Required During Her Lifetime

Judy Martin grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.   Her parents were Appalachian migrants and so she considers herself Appalachian.  She describes her parents’ homesickness, and her own awareness of being different at a young age.  Martin attended Berea College and became involved in weekend projects where she and other students would volunteer to paint schoolhouses and play with mountain children.  At the end of her sophomore year, she spent the summer on Paynes Creek as an Appalachian Volunteer (AV) with Lois Combs Weinberg.  She explains that she learned a lot about making the most out of scarce dollars.  The summer after her junior year she worked as part of a study group with Robert Coles.  She describes the class differences between herself and other members of the group who were Harvard graduate students.

After she graduated from Berea in 1967, Martin became the first and only female member of the field staff.  She supervised Appalachian Volunteers in Madison, Rockcastle, and Clay counties.  She states that people were condescending toward her, but it was because she was an Appalachian and not because she was a woman.  She talks about a parents group that she helped support in their quest for a hot lunch program.  Martin also explains how she helped families get government funds to dig wells.  She states that the entire experience gave her a deep belief that people can organize for change and that there is always a way around bureaucracy.

Despite her overall positive attitude toward the experience, Martin is a perceptive critic of the Appalachian Volunteer program.  She stresses the importance of involving people in community change who will make a permanent commitment to the area.  Martin explains that she has tried to incorporate what she learned as an AV into her work as a director of Appalachian Communities for Children, which sponsors parent programs in the schools, recycling, adult literacy programs, youth and community centers, and programs for pregnant teenagers. 

 

91OH16 APP 294

ANN OLSON

Date:  November 7, 1990

Location:  Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer:  Margaret Brown

Length: 45 minutes

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript:  Yes

Restrictions: None

Ann Olson grew up in Stamford, New York with her mother and her two sisters.  She attended Smith College in western Massachusetts, and during college she participated in a number of community service projects.  Upon her graduation from Smith in June of 1965, Olson explains that she applied to be a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) worker.  She describes and critiques the three-week training program.  She discusses the culture shock she experienced upon her arrival in the mountains.  She had never lived alone, or without running water, and this was her first experience with a coal stove.  She recalls that she became very close to the family who owned the small home that she rented.  Olson explains that she ran an after-school program for teenage girls and spent almost every evening visiting with community members.  She describes the “communist scare” that flared up against the Appalachian Volunteers and how she survived it by gaining the trust of the local people.  Olson explains that she came back to Carter County, Kentucky after she was married, to make her home there.

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